An optimistic Menino returns to the public stage

Boston mayor highlights accomplishments, proposes education and housing initiatives

In a speech by turns sentimental and unabashedly bullish, Mayor Thomas M. Menino returned to the public stage Tuesday night after a lengthy illness and offered a buoyant vision of Boston, celebrating accomplishments and outlining initiatives for the future.

Menino entered Faneuil Hall to thunderous applause from a crowd of 800 that included Governor Deval Patrick, members of Congress, and scores of other elected officials and dignitaries gathered for the mayor’s State of the City address.

Waving to the audience, Menino — serenaded by a Kelly Clarkson pop anthem with the lyric, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” — used a cane to help navigate the 50-foot walk to the stage.

The standing ovation roared for 2 minutes, 46 seconds. Finally calming the crowd, Menino said that in two decades in office, he had never been so optimistic about Boston’s future. Young people are flooding the city, he said, not fleeing as in years past. Older Bostonians have returned home, drawn by what he described as the “era of the city” in the United States. Boston, he said, is “the city of the era.”

“Our progress is real,” Menino said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “Our future is bright. The state of our city is striking, sound, and strong.”

Menino offered few clues about whether he will seek reelection this fall, although he did make an oblique reference to 2017, which would be the final year of a sixth term. He unveiled several initiatives, however, that would appeal to key constituencies if he runs for reelection, such as a series of measures designed to make “Boston the premier city for working women.”

Menino used the opportunity for a campaign-style trumpeting of his administration’s accomplishments, a list that touched almost every corner of the city. He pointed to the big: the forest of construction cranes rising against the skyline, evidence of $1.6 billion in construction projects that broke ground last year. And he highlighted the small: the new gym floor and other improvements at the Shelburne Community Center in Roxbury.

Among new initiatives, the mayor proposed using 1 million square feet of city-owned property to develop affordable housing. He announced a partnership with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to bring cutting-edge online learning to Boston’s community centers. This year, he said, 68 recruits would join the police department. And he pledged $30 million in new money for schools to support a longer school day and upgraded facilities.

He began the address with a sentimental tone that rang familiar — a tone he has invoked repeatedly since his release last month after an eight-week hospital stay for an acute respiratory infection, blood clot, fractured vertebra, and diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Menino spoke of the unwavering support of his wife, Angela, who sat in the front row beside Victoria Kennedy, the wife of the late US senator. Menino evoked President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address as he thanked doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and hospital staff. “They embody the words of a young president,” Menino said, “who spoke of God’s work truly being our own.”

He thanked his staff for “not missing a beat,” while he was hospitalized, and gushed about the visitors, prayers, and hundreds of cards and get-well wishes. “I stand before you, a grateful mayor,” Menino said. “I am just Tommy Menino from Hyde Park. I can’t tell you how humbled I am and how lucky I feel. I don’t need fancy words to say this to all of you: Thank you. You pulled me through.”

The 70-year-old mayor must decide by May 13 whether he will apply for nomination papers, the first in a series of steps in running for a sixth term. On July 12, he will celebrate his 20th anniversary of taking office as acting mayor after his predecessor, Raymond L. Flynn, left to become US ambassador to the Vatican.

A major opponent has not stepped forward to challenge Menino, and the mayoral race is only months away. Menino has roughly $650,000 in his campaign account, less than half of what he had four years ago but more than most of his potential rivals.

In his speech, Menino focused on human potential and sought to link people who supported him during his illness to citizens of Boston rallying behind a common purpose.

“The point is this,” Menino said. “If we help our neighbors learn more, produce more, and succeed more, we will do more to help Boston than anyone can do for us.” To that end, Menino promised to expand opportunities for youngsters with autism, helping them find summer jobs and expanding access to after-school programs.

Menino highlighted his work against illegal guns with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York. He linked the massacre of 20 children in Sandy Hook, Conn., to shootings in Boston, including slayings on Woolson Street in 2010 and Harlem Street last summer.

In the audience, Menino identified Shirley Clarke, whose 13-year-old son, Gabriel, was shot and wounded earlier this month on his way to church choir practice in Roxbury.

“After her son was shot, she called for peace,” Menino said.

He contrasted that with the response of the National Rifle Association, which demanded armed guards in schools after Sandy Hook: “That is crazy! Every victim of gun violence and their families know that’s crazy.”

In trying to gauge Menino’s appetite for a sixth term, the most telling details may have been the initiatives aimed at women. Menino noted that women make up more than half of Boston’s residents, but own less than one-third of its businesses. Recent female college graduates earn less than their male counterparts, he said, and many working mothers struggle to find affordable child care.

To remedy the inequities, Menino said he would launch a forum for women-owned businesses. He pledged $1 million for low-interest loans for new child-care facilities and promised to make Boston the first city to help young women negotiate fair pay.

After the speech, well-wishers surged to the front of the hall to greet Menino, who sat in a chair. One man told the mayor he was “awesome;” another patted his arm and told Menino he had lost weight.

“The passion in his voice was real,’’ City Councilor Matt O’Malley said. “You could hear his gratefulness to this city that pulled for him. It was a strong, palpable moment.”

State Treasurer Steven Grossman heard something more. “I heard him saying that, ‘I’m ready to lead this city and bring these goals and these initiatives and implement them in the next few years,’’’ Grossman said. “I think everyone in this room is saying, ‘You want an encore, Mr. Mayor. We’ll give you an encore.’”