Thomas Menino wins fifth term as Mayor of Boston

5th term for Menino
With turnout high, mayor sails to unprecedented victory

Sixteen years after he rose to power as an unassuming master of street-level minutiae, Thomas Michael Menino cemented his place as a singular force in urban American politics yesterday, withstanding his fiercest challenge yet to capture an unprecedented fifth term in office and extend the longest mayoral reign in Boston’s history.

The 66-year-old former insurance salesman from Hyde Park easily defeated Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr., 57 percent to 42 percent.

More than 110,000 voters went to the polls, the highest number in a mayoral election since 1993.

Menino claimed victory in a jubilant speech before hundreds of supporters gathered last night at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel. Some in the crowd wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words “History Made’’ and the number 5 on the sleeves.

“The headlines may read that today we were elected to a fifth, historic term,’’ Menino declared to cheers. “Let’s be clear: We haven’t made history with this election, but we will, with what we create of it.’’

Flaherty, a 40-year-old lawyer from South Boston who was first elected to the City Council in 1999, appeared somber at his postelection reception at Venezia, an Italian restaurant in Dorchester, where supporters shouted “Never Give Up’’ and “Keep Fighting, Mike.’’

“Although the outcome of this election was not what any of us had hoped for, we have had some important conversations over the last year and we’ve also raised the expectations of Bostonians throughout every single neighborhood,’’ Flaherty said. ’’We’ve given a voice to many people in this city who have not been heard for years.’’

No resting on laurels, the victor promises

By Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff | November 4, 2009

The shirts said it all: “History Made.’’

For the celebration of his election yesterday to a record fifth term, many of Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s diverse group of supporters showed up wearing T-shirts with that message, along with the number 5 on the sleeve.

After 16 years as mayor of Boston, Menino faced his first grueling reelection challenge this year from Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr., but still coasted to a strong victory with 57 percent of the vote, to Flaherty’s 42 percent.

Last night, as he took to the stage with his family after his win was assured, Menino spoke graciously of his challenger but said he faces an even more daunting foe as he starts his next term.

“The stories may say that today we beat our toughest opponent,’’ Menino told about 400 supporters. “But we haven’t passed the biggest obstacle yet. Complacency is the highest hurdle we face. Let us fend off the temptation to rest on past accomplishments or to walk in familiar paths. When we do, let them write only then that we overcame our strongest challenge.’’

In the ballroom of the Fairmont Copley Plaza, a table was laden with plates piled high with brie and cranberries, smoked gouda and strawberries, and crudités with creamy dill dip. A cash bar offered $10 cocktails, $7 beer, or $5 water or soda.

The celebration drew not only powerful political allies, including developer Joe Fallon and labor leader Janice Loux, but also everyday supporters of the mayor who wandered into the ballroom to join the celebration.

“He’s a good guy. He’s very visible. He’s everywhere. What more do you want?’’ asked C. Paul Luongo, a voter and public relations manager who lives on Clarendon Street. He said Flaherty will be a good mayor in the future, and said of this year’s campaign, “It’s a dress rehearsal.’’

A leader in touch, in gear

Detractors compare Tom Menino to the late Richard J. Daley, who ruled Chicago for 21 years, the last of the big-city bosses. But Menino’s style also resembles that of William Donald Schaefer, a political free spirit who governed Baltimore for 16 years in the 1970s and ’80s, famous for phoning in fix-it orders for problems he spotted around the city.

With yesterday’s triumph, Menino steps into the history books in that rare company, bypassing in the process two local legends, James Michael Curley and Kevin Hagan White, to become the only Boston mayor to win a fifth four-year term in office. In a toxic political environment that imperiled incumbents all over the country, Menino was reelected by a comfortable margin in the toughest fight of his career.

Over the years, every mayor piles up enemies, the result of daily decisions that make people unhappy. With his long memory, Menino raised it to an art form. Those on the outs with the mayor knew it and sometimes felt it.

Menino once vowed to serve two terms in office. He’s just won his fifth - and presumably final - four years at City Hall. Now free of the demands of constituencies that kept him in office, will he rise above the moments of petty vindictiveness that undercut his many achievements? Will the “urban mechanic’’ aspire to be an urban architect or something greater as he works on his legacy?

If he is thinking grander thoughts, candidate Menino gave no inkling on his road to reelection.

Despite a constant pummeling by his opponents, Menino’s ratings in polls remained astronomically high. The outcome was never in doubt, much to the chagrin of those who have always underestimated him and never understood how this word-mangler from working-class Readville could be such a dominant force for so long.

In a series of debates and forums, Menino defended his administration vigorously and substantively as part of a positive campaign that will cost at least $2.4 million when all the bills are paid. He may not have been articulate, but he was sincere.

When he was sworn in as acting mayor more than 16 years ago, no one, not even Menino, could have imagined that he would one day become the virtual mayor for life.

For spirited Flaherty supporters, the end came quickly
Reality set in with Menino TV appearance

When all was said and done, it seemed to end so quickly.

As Michael F. Flaherty’s supporters tensely awaited the results in a Dorchester restaurant last night, the excitement of the months-long, grueling campaign for mayor came crashing down when Mayor Thomas M. Menino appeared on the television screen.

At first they booed. And then silence filled the air, and for the first time they realized their candidate had lost.

“You could see it on people’s faces, their expressions,’’ said Anthony Grimaldi, 21, a Northeastern University student whose mother, Teresa, had helped with the campaign.

As John Murphy of Neponset put it, “The whole room was disappointed.’’

It was not supposed to be this way.

Everyone said they were hopeful. But in more ways than one, Menino, appearing on screen before Flaherty’s crowd had even known the results, had stolen their glory in claiming an unprecedented fifth term in office.

“They did their best,’’ a disappointed Grimaldi said.

It was an emotional night for many.

Sam Yoon, a mayoral contender in the primary election who later turned his support over to Flaherty with the promise that he’d be appointed deputy mayor, tried to energize the crowd, and then ended his speech with a prayer.

Flaherty’s young sons were visibly upset. And so were many in the crowd, many still wearing T-shirts blaring, “Courage for Change,’’ the campaign slogan.

But Flaherty, stressing that his race for mayor raised issues that would have otherwise gone forgotten, promised his supporters a new Boston.

“This election raised discussions about serious issues in our city, and these discussions will not end because the ballots have been cast,’’ said Flaherty, 40, from South Boston who has served on the City Council since 1999. “In the past nine months, we’ve learned that this is our city, and this is our time.’’

Flaherty also called for applause for Menino and congratulated him on his victory.