GUSHING REVERENTIALLY ABOUT Boston’s longest serving mayor apparently only gets you so far.
Eight days after Sen. Ed Markey said the vandalized statue of Christopher Columbus in a North End park should be replaced with a statue of Boston’s first — and so far only — Italian-American mayor, Tom Menino, the late mayor’s wife threw her support behind his Democratic primary opponent.
Angela Menino endorsed US Rep. Joe Kennedy on Wednesday, accompanying him and his wife through her Hyde Park neighborhood to knock on a few doors and meet voters.
“I know my husband would have stood with Joe –– and that is why I’m here today,” Menino said in a statement released by Kennedy’s campaign. “Tommy always said, government is about helping people and to truly lead you have to be present in the community all the time, hearing what people are talking about, and having personal conversations. Joe does that –– he knows that for government to help people it has to listen to people and show up for those he represents.”
Kennedy said Menino’s reputation as a hands-on urban leader is exactly the kind of approach he’s tried to emulate in public office.
“Obviously thrilled and honored beyond words to be here today with Mrs. Menino,” Kennedy said, outside the small ranch home where she and her husband raised their two children and remained throughout his 20 years in office. “If anybody knows the community of Boston and knows what retail politics is about it’s the Menino family, and they’ve proved that literally over decades of service to this city. And it’s the same type of service I’ve tried to show over the course of my campaigns and over the course of my time as a member of Congress and the way we’ve tried to run this race.”
If there’s been one consistent message in the campaign Kennedy launched 11 months ago, it’s the idea that he “shows up” — that he’s been an on-the-ground presence in communities, especially those with the greatest needs, in a way that he says Markey has not.
Kennedy was asked about a charge from Markey’s campaign that rather than talking about issues, he’s closing out the race by complaining about “cyberbullying,” a reference to Kennedy campaign charges that he’s been subject to vitriolic online attacks — and even threats — from Markey supporters.
Kennedy used the question to return to the “showing up” theme, suggesting Markey would see him laser-focused on issues if he heard him speaking at recent campaign stops. He proceeded to name-check a list of communities across the state, emphasizing a string of working-class Gateway Cities where Kennedy needs a big vote to counteract Markey’s strength in more affluent areas.
Kennedy tried to brush off new polling results showing him trailing Markey. A Data for Progress poll this week had Markey up by 8 points, while a poll released today by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion shows Markey opening up a 12-point lead.
“We don’t know what turnout looks like, we don’t know who’s going to be there. There’s a lot of pieces of this race that we’re going to find out on Tuesday night,” Kennedy said, suggesting enthusiasm for his campaign remains strong.
His reaction was more measured than enthusiastic, but Brian Burns, a Boston firefighter who lives next door to Angela Menino, said Kennedy made a favorable impression on him. The 39-year-old congressman stopped in front of Burns’s house and spent nearly 10 minutes speaking with him out of range of a gaggle of reporters gathered for the event.
“I appreciated that he stopped and answered questions,” Burns said afterwards, holding his 4-year-old daughter Kaylee. “I don’t align with him probably on most of the stuff. But he was fine. It was a good conversation. He gave me the time of day. I already know what I’m getting with Ed Markey, which I don’t align with. I liked what I heard,” Burns said of his chat with Kennedy, which he said touched on the cost of child care and health care among other issues.
Angela Menino said her late husband, who died in 2014, had lots of conversations with Kennedy, both before his election to Congress in 2012 and after he took office. “Tommy was really impressed with him,” she said.
It was the second time in just over a week that Menino’s legacy figured in the Senate race, though the first time it was Kennedy’s opponent who invoked it.
Last week, in their final debate before the September 1 primary, WCVB-TV anchor Ed Harding asked Kennedy and Markey about the damaged statue of Columbus that has stood in Boston’s Waterfront Park. “Should it be returned or should it be permanently removed?” Harding asked.
“I think removed and put in a rightful place for history,” said Kennedy.
Said Markey: “I think it should be removed and replaced with a statue of Tom Menino. I think it represents who we are in the 21st century in Boston.”