Boston Mayor Thomas Menino may be the most underrated politician in America. Marble-mouthed, no one’s idea of a matinee idol, just coming back from a serious set of health problems, the 20-year veteran of City Hall’s corner office nonetheless gave a bravura performance in his January 29 State of the City address.
The speech was brilliantly conceived but more importantly, it was pure “just Tommy Menino from Hyde Park” – a regular-guy delivery that masked a bold blueprint for the city’s future.
His key point? A laser-like focus on the status of women in the city.
Menino is a rare combination of old-style backslapper and sophisticated urban analyst. It’s amazing how many of us he knows: In a 2009 Boston Globe poll of Boston residents, 57 percent said they had personally met the mayor. At that rate, by now he could easily have met almost 70 percent of us. He spends most evenings going out to events, meeting with Boston’s citizens – showing up for a few words of support for this neighborhood initiative, that school meeting. Connecting. Being there.
It’s that connection that makes his focus on women so interesting. The mayor’s women-centered proposals for the next year are bold - and so Tommy Menino - because they address the desires and needs of his female constituents on both a personal and professional level.
Menino’s speech noted that, although women make up over half of Boston’s population, they own less than one-third of the businesses - and are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. To get more women working and running businesses, he proposed $1 million for low-interest loans for new childcare facilities; a “women’s workforce council” to make Boston the first city to help women negotiate fair pay; and a networking forum called Women on Main to help women gain access to the business community.
Childcare, fair pay, access: These thoughtfully conceived proposals come from listening to the many women he has met and others to solve the problems women face. He listens because he is Tommy Menino. He takes bold steps because he is Mayor Menino.
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These great women’s initiatives are a by-product of his leadership style and personal values. He sees the women initiatives and other things he mentioned as important because of how he sees his role as mayor. Following the way he interacts with the people of Boston, it’s clear he focuses on the responsibilities of the office rather than the power status.
That’s Tommy Menino. His looks and diction may not be movie material, but his personal and substantive commitment to women’s business issues bespeak a politician who knows where the future of his city lies.
Susan Adams is professor of management and senior director of Bentley’s Center for Women and Business.