When Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino steps down after 20 years, it will feel like the end of an era for many of his constituents, a generation of whom cannot remember anyone else at City Hall. But Dody Whooten, 92, is thinking back even further.
"Tommy was 12 years old the first time I saw him — a Little League ballplayer," said Whooten, whose family lived on the same block in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood in the 1950s. "Then he got ambitious!" Whooten said with a laugh, adding: "I'm proud to know him. He's done a hell of a job for Boston."
Unlike his old friends from Hyde Park, Menino isn't using his remaining time in office to reflect on the past. He is looking forward to helping Boston University launch its Institute on Cities, where municipal leaders from across the world can share ideas on urban issues, a job that begins in February. Meanwhile, his official schedule is still overstuffed with the usual meetings and public events.
Chief among his concerns is working with Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, who takes office Jan. 6, to ensure a smooth transition. Menino announced earlier in the year that he would not seek a sixth term, saying he could not keep up his schedule after a series of health problems.
"We're just keeping on doing our job," Menino said in an interview at his City Hall office, still packed floor to ceiling with books, photos and mementos from his five terms in office. "We have to make sure schools continue to work, public safety's there, snow-plowing gets done — make sure the administration is set up so we don't miss a beat."
Despite his insistence that "it's not about Tommy," Menino has submitted to the sort of honors that befall a popular official on his way out of office, including the recent renaming of the Hyde Park YMCA in his honor. At that ceremony, the mayor looked both proud and a little embarrassed as neighborhood leaders praised him and serenaded him with a chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."
"He's been mayor for so long," marveled Glendina Sillice, 41, of Mattapan, whose daughter attends day care at the YMCA. "He's definitely made a lot of changes in Boston. I hope he can take some time to take care of himself."
While Sillice, a Boston Public Schools counselor, said she wished Menino had been more successful at improving the city's education system, she added, "I do think he made a good effort."
Menino, who was widely praised for seeing the city through the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, would be the first to agree that even after two decades in office, he is leaving unfinished business.
"The crime rate's way down, you have more people employed in the City of Boston now than ever before, economic development's strong. Everything's happening right. But how do we bring it to the next level?" he said. "Inequality is an issue, not just in Boston but all around the country, and we can't let that continue. ... That's an issue that I'm going to work on, even when I'm out of office."
Menino also remains concerned about gun violence, and said he and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also is leaving office, will continue working with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the coalition they co-founded.
Menino plans to be available to help Walsh with anything he needs, even if he might feel an occasional twinge of nostalgia at the sight of another person sitting behind his desk.
"I'm at peace with myself," he said. "It'll be strange. It'll be different. But like I always say, things change, and change is good."
Above all, the outgoing mayor is looking forward to a change of pace. An academic job, he noted, is not going to require "being scheduled every hour on the hour."
His wife, Angela, said she was looking forward to that as well.
"When you're mayor, there are a lot of things you don't have time to do, so now we'll get to do those things," she said.
One thing the couple plans to do in January is take a vacation — although they were mum on where they were headed. And the vacation will be short.
"We'll take a week off," Angela Menino said. "Then we're moving on."