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Menino, Boston’s longest-serving mayor, dies at 71

October 30, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — Thomas Menino, whose folksy manner and verbal gaffes belied his shrewd political tactics to govern as Boston’s longest-serving mayor and one of its most beloved, died Thursday. He was 71.

Menino died in the company of his family and friends, spokeswoman Dot Joyce said in a statement. He was diagnosed with advanced cancer in February 2014, shortly after leaving office, and announced Oct. 23 he was suspending treatment and a book tour so he could spend more time with family and friends.

Menino, a Democrat, was first elected in 1993 and built a formidable political machine that ended decades of Irish domination of city politics. He won re-election four times. He was the city’s first Italian-American mayor and served in the office for more than 20 years before a series of health problems forced him, reluctantly, to eschew a bid for a sixth term.

Less than three weeks after that announcement, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260. Menino, who had undergone surgery on a broken leg just two days earlier, checked himself out of a hospital to help lead his shaken city through the crisis.

At an interfaith service three days after the bombings, Menino, in a symbolic act of personal defiance, painfully pulled himself to his feet from his wheelchair to declare that no act of violence could break Boston’s spirit.

At the end of a daylong manhunt when Police Commissioner Edward Davis informed him that the surviving bombing suspect had been captured, Menino tweeted: “We got him.”

President Barack Obama hailed Menino as “bold, big-hearted, and Boston strong.” Reaction poured in from leaders around the U.S., including Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime U.S. senator from Massachusetts, who said: “Tom Menino was Boston.”

Gov. Deval Patrick ordered flags lowered to half-staff at the Statehouse and all other state buildings in Boston until further notice.

Menino was anything but a smooth public speaker and was prone to verbal gaffes. He was widely quoted describing Boston’s notorious parking shortage as “an Alcatraz” around his neck, mentioning the famed island prison rather than an albatross.

He often mangled or mixed up the names of Boston sports heroes. But while such mistakes might sink other politicians in a sports-crazed city, they only seemed to reinforce his affable personality and ability to connect with the residents he served.

He never sought nor showed interest in running for higher office. Mayor, it seemed, was the only political job to which he aspired.

His tireless public schedule amazed and exhausted many of his closest aides. In his new memoir, “Mayor For A New America,” he made clear that was his greatest legacy.

“I paid attention to the fundamentals of urban life — clean streets, public safety, good schools, neighborhood commerce,” Menino wrote in the memoir, released in October 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “Call my City Hall and you never got an answering machine. People trusted government because it heard them. Because they could talk to it. Because it kept its word.”

Menino’s health was often a concern, and he was admitted to the hospital several times while in office.

Menino left City Hall on his final day in office Jan. 6 to thunderous applause from city workers. Later, he tweeted: “Thank you Boston. It has been the honor and thrill of a lifetime to be your Mayor. Be as good to each other as you have been to me.”

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