BOSTON (Reuters) - Thomas Menino, the longest-serving mayor in Boston history who led the city after the 2013 marathon bombing, died on Thursday at age 71 from cancer, his family said in a statement.
Menino, a Democrat, ran New England’s largest city for two decades before he stepped down in early 2014 at the end of his fifth term, saying he could no longer keep up the intense schedule.
Months after ending his final term, Menino disclosed he had been diagnosed with cancer. Last week, he said he would halt cancer treatments to spend more time with his family.
“With sheer determination and unmatched work ethic, he took a city that is not as big in size as we are in stature and put us on the world stage as a national leader in health care, education, innovation and the nitty gritty of executing basic city services,” said his successor, Mayor Martin Walsh.
His long tenure had many high points. He enjoyed celebrating three Major League Baseball World Series wins by the Boston Red Sox, starting with the epic victory in 2004 that ended an 86-year dry spell. He was instrumental in organizing the ensuing parade in which millions of people lined the city’s streets, a crowd that local media outlets called the largest in the city’s history.
He also presided at City Hall during completion of the long-running Big Dig project, a state initiative to bury a raised highway that for years had split the city in two.
Much of the city has been rebuilt. Following the Big Dig, luxury apartments and office towers rose on the seedy waterfront lots where gangster James “Whitey” Bulger murdered some of his rivals in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“For better or for worse, he was the guy that made the city grow in the way that it has, in part by just not being in the way,” said Dennis Hale, a professor of political science at Boston College. “The place is in better shape that it was 20 years ago. He had a slightly larger vision of it.”
Menino’s final year in office was marred by the attack on the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, when two homemade pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the crowded finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260 people.
At a memorial a year after the attack, Menino recalled painful conversations with the families of the dead and injured.
“So many of you have told me about this year of firsts,” Menino said on April 16, 2014. “First birthday without your beloved son, first holiday without your daughter, first July 4 where the fireworks scared you.”
Menino’s long time in office gave him a firm grip on power and left some prominent political figures wary of challenging him. When he decided not to seek a sixth term, he announced it eight months before elections, a move that allowed time for a competitive race.
“I will leave the job that I love,” Menino said in March 2013. “I never dreamed I would end up here, mayor of Boston, during its best years.”
On the national stage, Menino had stood out as an advocate for gun control and gay rights.
Menino was the first Italian-American to serve as Boston’s mayor, following a string of Irish-Americans.
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech