The recent stealth transfer of Tom Menino to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital underscored the jarring fact that the public has not laid eyes on the mayor in more than a month. And, despite assurances from Menino's doctors and aides that nothing should deter him from maintaining and extending his rule over the city indefinitely, this latest development was the last straw for a couple of vital local commentators.
If, in fact, we are entering the final year of Menino's reign, yesterday's Scot Lehigh column strikes me as a big marker on the trail. Lehigh is highly respected in city political circles, and is not seen as someone repeatedly eager to give Menino the boot. So, it carries a lot of weight for him to conclude his column with these lines: "I expect that Menino will make the right decision — for himself and the city. The time has come to call it a (legendary) career."
The great Eileen McNamara weighs in today on the WBUR web site, with a similarly blunt message: "It is time for Tom Menino to retire. He and Boston will both survive."
I'm not suggesting that Menino is going to call Ed Jesser today and say that Scot and Eileen's arguments have convinced him to call it quits. But columns like these both reflect and stoke a growing sense that Menino is vulnerable. This encourages mayoral aspirants to seriously consider running.
There are two categories of potential candidates: those who would never run against Menino (including city councilor Rob Consalvo and sheriff Andrea Cabral) and those who would (including city councilor John Connolly and former city councilor Michael Flaherty, as well as already-announced candidate Will Dorcena). If any strong challengers from the latter group decide to get in the race, or move overtly to organize to do so, that will start putting members of the former group -- the ones Menino likes -- behind the eight ball. They will start pressuring Menino to decide quickly -- either announce he's running and start demonstrating that he's capable of campaigning and winning, or announce that he's not running so his prefered successors can get in the game.
Mind you, I still think it's likely that by mid-January Menino will be back in City Hall, kicking ass and looking unbeatable. But there's no question perceptions are spiraling rapidly away from that view -- and perceptions can shape reality pretty quickly.