Upham's Corner Online

Boston State of the City Address January 11, 2011 - Reflections

Posted: January 11, 2011
Nancy J Conrad

City of Boston InsigniaGo to City Hall Plaza, look up and try to imagine the people inside. What are they like? What about the City's satellite locations throughout Boston? Walk up to any employee and ask for assistance.

No matter how gracious or helpful the person is, it is still one person, one event, one experience at a time. The  people comprising City of Boston services remain undefined.

Now schedule yourself to attend the State of the City Address on January 11, 2011. What you discover is that this is the perfect opportunity to see the many people who together work for the City or who care about our City government.

It is also a chance to gauge the tenor of the organization that Mayor Thomas Menino has put together over his 18 years of governance.

We arrived early on January 11 and wound our way to the end of the long fence that formed the waiting aisle for entry into Faneuil Hall. Ahead of us, we could see people bypassing the line, so we tried getting in, too. "Excuse me, I've got an invitation.  Can I get in now?" "No," the policeman replied, "You need to wait in line."

Back in line we could hear the people around us talking about metal detectors and increased security and how "they" must be setting up a lot of them inside. Seriously! People said: "You can't be careful enough these days." And then they talked about pat-downs and how they were hoping they wouldn't have to go through that to get in.
At exactly 6:30 PM, the large battalion of police seemed to fade into the background as we were motioned to enter Faneuil Hall. Bright smiling faces dotting the banister up to the second floor were handing out copies of the State of the City 2011 Program. Printed on glossy card stock, it set an appropriate tone - the City of Boston insignia on the front, and inside, a formal photo of Mayor Menino and a simple list of the evening's events.

Entry to the first floor seating was guarded.  "I've got an invitation.  Can I sit on the first floor?" "No," he said politely, his long arm pointing upwards, "Seating is on the second floor."

Sitting on the second floor was in some ways an advantage. Yes, we couldn't hobnob with what appeared to be the in-crowd on the first floor, but we had the advantage of being able to look down and watch and listen. 

Taking it all in ...

Music sounding of coronations, inaugurations and royal events was coming from somewhere and it sounded live.  Yes, there it is - a  chamber orchestra  to the right of the stage.

The crowd of people, mingling on the first floor, who were they?  Friends, family, special guests, the "best" at City Hall?  On the second floor and next to us, a retired eletrician who had worked for the City and over there, Flavio, our Neighborhood Services Rep and hundreds more.

But soon we were drawn to the centerpiece between the stage and the seating area.  The tall, modern looking, spacious wooden chair stood like a throne but empty.  Could this be for the Mayor?  Nowhere else did there seem to be a point of welcome for the Mayor.  Yes, it had to be  - the chair of accession for Mayor Menino in his final term in office. 

Where was the Mayor? Look as you might, you couldn't find the featured speaker anywhere in sight.

Several times a faceless voice called out over the people's hum: "The program is about to begin. Would you please take your seats. Please take your seats now." 

On the first floor there was so much movement and hugging and conversation and glowing faces, it looked like there weren't enough people to fill the seats, but there were. On the second floor, the seats filled and filled and filled some more, until not one open spot remained.

At precisely 7 PM the program opened with the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, the invocation and the Boston City Singers. Simple, short, well done, these events set the stage for the evening's primary focus, the Mayor's speech.

Where are you, Mayor Menino? Your chair remains yet empty.

Then unannounced, we heard the Mayor's voice while two screens played a video of the City of Boston 2010 accomplishments.  Photos and headlines rolled a chronologial log that took us back to those celebrated Boston events while Mayor Menino's voice underscored what was especially important to him. 

When the video ended, 2010 was behind us.  The stage was set for the one event remaining - the State of the City Address 2011.

Yet the Mayor was nowhere to be found.

An announcer stepped forward and spoke briefly with an air of excitement:

"The Honorable Thomas M Menino, Mayor of Boston" and everyone fell into applause.

On the first floor, people rose from their seats and turned, looking to the back of the hall, watching what was only visible to them, their eyes embracing an image we could not see, while time seemed to stand still.

We waited, wondering:  "What are they looking at?  It must be the Mayor."  Then from beneath the second floor balcony, we watched a man emerge and take form, a man whose gait was set by the crutches he wore.  He moved slowly, one careful and well-thought-out step at a time.  The more progress he made, the more clapping we heard.   The people had turned into a cheering crowd. 

"Come on, Mayor Menino!  You can do it. You can get to the finish line."

The Mayor and his crutches made their way forward - another step up and a short walk to center stage. He removed his crutches, placing them behind the chair, and stepped forward to the podium, his eyes twinkling as he greeted us and expressed his thanks.

More than to anyone else, he expressed a memorable "Thank you" to his wife Angela whom he called his Florence Nightingale. She turned around, love radiating from her face, and waved to all of us.

Mayor Thomas M MeninoMayor Menino's State of the City 2011 address is neither the purpose nor the focus of our words here today. The Mayor prepared his speech in advance.  His words were broadcast live on Channel 5.  He delivered it well and it is now history.

Read prepared text of State of City 2011 address

What interested us were the people in attendance - the first floor, the second floor, the press, the rapt attention being paid by everyone to the speaker in front. 

Come alive here this night were the people who work for the City inside the building and behind its cold, poured concrete facade.  These were the faces we could only imagine when we looked up at City Hall from the plaza below.  These were the faces whose colors we couldn't know, not the ages, the genders, the personalities, not the warmth and not the spirit of cooperation and teamwork.  Come alive, visible, faceless no more.

Mayor Menino is an intelligent spokesperson and visionary for a tough agenda - guiding us onto a path of economic and social recovery and leading Boston to become a sustainable and prosperous City of the World.  You can't do this as a single person. It requires a team of cooperative, even devoted people who understand the vision and want to make it happen.

At the close of the Mayor's speech, we watched below us the congratulatory hugging and celebrating amongst the people on the first floor. And we listened around us to the balcony crowd where we were.

The group energy, earlier centered on a single point delivery, was dispersing throughout the hall like a wave. Around us the air was charged and the people abuzz with conversation.  It seems they had enjoyed the evening, and they had liked what they heard.

"That was a really good speech."

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