When he was sworn into office, Tom Menino became Boston’s first Italian-American mayor.
Leading the biggest city in a state that prides itself on a history of firsts Mayor Menino didn’t appear focused on making history but he wasn’t afraid of breaking barriers either.
A good example is the city’s first female police chief, Kathleen O’Toole.
O’toole was passed over when Menino picked his first police chief, Paul Evans, but when Evans left Menino passed over several men, deciding O’Toole was the best person for the job.
“I know Kathy has the ability to really deal with the issues that are in our neighborhoods, who understands the diversity of Boston,” he said.
Menino also played a part in Ralph Martin becoming the first black man elected Suffolk County District Attorney.
Martin was appointed by Gov. William Weld but when it came time to run for the office Menino, a staunch democrat, chose not to publicly support Martin’s democrat opponent and sources say he quietly put his foot soldiers to work helping Martin get elected to the job.
Mayor Menino also stood up to make Boston a more gay friendly city.
When a fast food chain, whose executive spoke out against gay weddings, wanted to put a restaurant near Faneuil Hall Mayor Menino spoke up and said no.
Mayor Menino won.
Menino was the first Boston mayor to march in the gay pride parade.
That was after he broke ranks and stopped the tradition of Boston mayors marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade because that parade kept homosexual veterans from participating.
And when same sex couples got their first chance to receive a marriage license at Boston City Hall, Mayor Menino was glad to stand there and congratulate them.
“Once again we’ve broken down a barrier in the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts and that’s what this is all about,” he said.
“This wasn’t token support or sporadic support or support when it was convenient. He took some stances that were really unpopular,” Grace Sterling Stowell, a gay rights advocate, said.
Perhaps because he was unafraid to do the unpopular, Tom Menino actually became one of the city’s most popular mayors ever.
Though he rarely set out to make history, that’s just what he did.
He did it because he thought it was his job.