So Tom Menino is 66. That’s a famous highway. It’s also a typical obituary number.
With credit to his challengers and critics, few have made much of his age in this Boston mayoral re-election bid. To be sure his four terms and 16 plus years in office, the longest serving ever, have made the debates and campaign literature of those who would take his relative throne in the concrete castle. There’s an implication there that he’s old, but the thrust is too long in office.
Cross-post note: This is one of those rare cases that seems to fit here and at Marry in Massachusetts.
I would not be the first or even the 900th to note that in some European nations and typical Asian ones 66 is considered a reasonable age for a chief executive to take office for the first time. That’s supposed to bring with it maturity, wisdom, experience, knowledge, expertise, savvy and even statesmanship.
In last night’s final debate before next week’s voting, his age was the only humor safety valve in a tense session. He got chuckles answering about city workers in general, “I don’t believe in mandatory retirement.’” Pause. Laughter.
Yet, Menino is just a little older than the youngest baby boomer. Judging from print, broadcast and blog chatter, many younger Americans would just as soon that such oldsters toddle off to Cape Cod or wherever they can get to…right now.
It’s easy to see them corking up jobs while ignoring the boomer role in keeping Medicare and Social Security funded for WWII and Korean era folk, putting the Gen-X and Gen-Y kids through college, caring for elderly parents and even age protection in employment law. The media melodrama of the 50-something multimillionaire subset is much more, well, dramatic.
So, again, Tom is 66. Is that too old to be mayor? The would-be replacement, Michael Flaherty is no child himself. but at 40, he’d be a decade younger than Tom when he became mayor.
We don’t see Mike smearing Tom for his age nor Tom asking if Mike is too young to be mayor.
For sure, Mike and the challengers who fell in September’s preliminary had strong arguments for replacing Tom. He has been there so long he’s out of ideas. He’s so entrenched that development, schools and other key functions seem stagnant.
Perhaps it’s to our credit that being a year past the traditional retirement age for the previous two generations has not been a campaign issue. Yet, I think the laughter at Tom’s retirement remark is just one indication that we do have it in the back of our minds. We’re all adults here, but we know that 66 is not 40.
Tom isn’t giving any indication of age-related shortcomings. He is known sarcastically for his long memory (in holding slights) and seems to have great short-term recall.
Now, I’d like him to be healthier and have offered several times to go on long bike rides with him or cycle into City Hall together. Councilor Steve Murphy (himself 50-ish) joined me in that offer. As fond of his mountain bike as he is, Tom prefers to tool solo around his part of our shared neighborhood instead. Yet, even in physicality, he’s far from limited by being mid-60s.
Of course, some pols stay in office after age has bested them. I think of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, whose brain had, if you pardon, gone South long before he died a few months after leaving office at 100, a very old 100. His voters returned him repeatedly past his freshness date in a combination of sentimentality and the self-interest of having such a senior legislator with power.
I doubt Tom has another 34 good years in office in him or that Bostonians would be so emotional and accommodating to a failing politician.
Meanwhile, our mayor has astonishing energy and focus. A key staffer told me she had trouble keeping pace with him as he did his job and campaigned non-stop. She’s in her 20s.
I think Menino’s opponents were wise in not raising the age issue. It’s better that they stick to more saleable contrasts in how they would do this or that better. Too long in office? Maybe. Too long on the planet? Not yet.
Tags: harrumpher, harrumph, Massachusetts, Boston, Menino, debate, mayor, Flaherty, age, boomers