Monday, September 8, 2008

Menino's Junket

Also see: Whom Mayor Menino Met in Italy

"Menino, in Italy, talks of home; At economic forum, recalls challenges" by Donovan Slack, Globe Staff | September 8, 2008

CERNOBBIO, Italy - As Vice President Dick Cheney conducted high-level talks about the crisis in Georgia with European leaders at a villa on Lake Como yesterday, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston was preparing to give his own talk in another section of the villa.

Menino delivered his final speech at the international Ambrosetti Forum to a group of up-and-coming young European executives, giving them tips on leadership and recounting some of the challenges he has faced during his 15-year tenure.

In an unusually personal address, he talked about how friends have been some of his greatest assets, how berating staff members does not build loyalty, and the difficulties of changing with the times. "I sit here today in this beautiful resort, thinking about what the future will hold," Menino said. "The world is changing around every day."

The mayor was one of roughly 60 speakers at the forum, dubbed "mini-Davos" after the premier economic conference held each year in Switzerland. The others included political luminaries such as Cheney and President Shimon Peres of Israel, Nobel laureates in science and chemistry, and top executives from multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola and Fuji Xerox.

Menino, who was invited by former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge, was the only US mayor at the three-day conference held at the Villa d'Este, a five-star luxury resort nestled in the Italian Alps on Lake Como. The conference drew about 300 political and business leaders from around the world.

His formal remarks on Saturday focused on how cities can drive growth in a globalized economy by educating their residents, creating beautiful and livable neighborhoods to retain them, and supporting core industries where they can contribute their skills - in Boston, higher education, technology, medicine, and research. And he unveiled plans to create an "alumni network" of former Boston residents in an effort to market the city and harvest innovative ideas to improve it.

Since he arrived at the forum Friday, the mayor spent much of his time networking, collecting business cards, and selling Boston as a great place to do business and a great place to live. He often talked about the city's cherished institutions, from the Red Sox and Celtics to the Boston Symphony and Museum of Fine Arts.

And who paid for the trip?


"We undersell ourselves. We don't brag enough about what we have," Menino said between sips of cappuccino during an interview in a parlor lounge.

"Everybody knows Boston," said Federico Pastura, a European private equity executive who attended the session where Menino spoke yesterday. "The Big Dig, is it finished yet?"

Buddy, he doesn't want to hear about the Big Pit!

Ridge, the former homeland security chief, said he invited the mayor to the forum because of his engaging personality and because "Boston has a great story to tell." Ridge met Menino in 2004 when he was secretary of homeland security and Boston was preparing to host the Democratic National Convention.

"I'm a big fan of the mayor's. He's a plain-spoken man, very approachable. "Plus," Ridge said, motioning toward the majestic villa and the lake, "I didn't think he'd mind spending a few days out here."

Taxpayers do if we are picking up the tab for his schmoozing!!

Menino plans to do some sightseeing with his wife, Angela, before returning to Boston tomorrow. They hadn't had much time outside the villa during the conference, and the mayor said he would like to see Bellagio, a storybook village across the lake that inspired the design of a casino of the same name in Las Vegas.

The mayor, whose grandparents came from a small village in southwestern Italy, said this was his first time here, in the Italian lakes region. "This is great, isn't it?" he said.


Elitism has its privilege.