What You Need to Know About Boston Mayor Thomas Menino

The Boston Marathon bombings thrust Mayor Thomas Menino into the national spotlight, one of the few times in his 20-year tenure, just as he's preparing to retire in November. Unlike former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s front-and-center style in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Menino has taken a lower-key approach as authorities dole out information on the attacks.

That's partly because Menino was in the hospital, recovering from surgery on a broken leg, when news first reached him of the attacks. He quickly left on early release to manage the crisis. Menino hasn't been leading the regular press conferences of Massachusetts leaders briefing the public on the latest; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has led them off, and Menino has been speaking from a wheelchair.

Menino, 70, is in his fifth term, making him the city’s longest-serving mayor. Known more as a pound-the-pavement mayor than as brilliant orator, Menino is nicknamed “Mumbles,” since he tends to fumble his words. He's also wildly popular in Boston; a recent Boston Globepoll puts his approval rating at 74 percent. The same poll found nearly half of Bostonians surveyed had personally met the mayor at some point.

Menino has been in and out of the hospital over recent few months. His most recent stay began after he fell on his way into a school in Dorchester. Doctors performed surgery on the leg Saturday and he had begun physical therapy when the Boston Marathon explosions happened. He was temporarily released from the hospital and returned Monday evening.

The mayor spent eight weeks in the hospital in late 2012, when doctors diagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes. He also suffered from a blood clot, upper respiratory infection, and spinal fracture. In 2004, doctors confirmed that Menino has the chronic intestinal condition known as Crohn's disease.

The series of illnesses prompted Menino to announce in March that he’d retire when his term expires in November. The first Italian-American mayor of Boston, he was a City Council member when he became acting mayor in 1993, and has won every election since. “Most important to me, we are a more open and accepting city,” he told supporters in March when he announced his retirement. “It was a new day when you picked a mayor with Italian grandparents. It’s a much newer day now.”

Menino is credited with helping to bridge some racial and social divides that have long plagued Boston. His career highlights include privatizing Boston City Hospital; opening a major shopping center in a previously-blighted part of the city; attempts at sparking redevelopment in parts of Boston; and successfully pushing a controversial school alignment process. Menino will step down as mayor just as Boston is experiencing an economic recovery, with development on the rise and new residents moving in.

Menino faced his most serious challenge in 2009, when he ran for reelection against three challengers, and won just over half of the votes in a preliminary September election. The second- and third-place finishers formed an alliance in a bid to defeat Menino in the November election. He still ended up defeating City Councilman Michael Flaherty, 57 percent to 42 percent.

The mayor has experienced a little of the national limelight. In 2004, he helped bring the Democratic National Convention to Boston. In 2006, he co-launched Mayors Against Illegal Guns, along with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Most recently in 2012, he told Chick-Fil-A’s president that the fast-food chain wasn’t welcome in Boston, after controversy over the fast food chain’s owner’s comments on gay marriage. Menino soon backtracked, saying: "I make mistakes all the time. That's a Menino-ism."

Despite such gaffes, Menino is a beloved figure in Boston, and his tenure has been marked with a focus on improving quality of life and neighborhood issues. The Boston Globe editorial board praised him recently, writing that “Boston has been lucky to have Tom Menino in the mayor’s office. The city has improved in almost every respect. “

Menino, an indomitable political presence in the city, has been an outspoken advocate for his constituents, and that hasn't changed in the aftermath of the bombings. “I’ve been the mayor for 20 years now and I've never seen law enforcement pull together, working together to solve crime in our city, as they have,” Menino said Tuesday. “This is a tragedy, but Boston is a strong city. We’ll get through this.”