One thing's for sure: everyone in and around City Hall is watching anything that could be seen as a sign, one way or another, of Menino's intentions.

For instance, Menino-watchers suggest that if the mayor was truly thinking of this term as his last, he would be putting his political capital to work on some big, lasting mark on the city — along the lines of his (unrealized) plans for a massive office tower, or a waterfront City Hall.

Instead of such legacy projects, Menino has been churning away at the relatively small-bore projects that his supporters say continually improve city life, and skeptics say are aimed to win votes.

Highlighted by both sides, for example, is the recent announcement of plans to move city administrative personnel into the long-dormant Ferdinand Building in Dudley Square — a development project likely to help reinforce Menino's strong support among African-Americans.

Menino has also just reached an important agreement with city unions over health benefits. He is pushing a range of new-technology initiatives, such as a pothole-spotting application for iPhones. He is also working on implementing education reforms — particularly relating to charter schools — passed by the state legislature last year, and trying to put together an interdisciplinary approach to reducing crime, especially youth violence.

Menino's recent appointments are also being read like tea leaves — some suggesting that they indicate a mayor in his final years.

In his previous term — when Menino was highly conscious of a likely strong challenge coming from Michael Flaherty — he made a series of appointments meant to show a national search for fresh thinking and an infusion of new ideas: Carol Johnson from Memphis as schools superintendent; naval officer Roderick Fraser of Rhode Island as fire commissioner; Ed Davis from Lowell as police commissioner; Dennis Royer from Denver as public works commissioner; and Starwood Hotels executive William Oates as chief information officer.

So far this term, there has been nothing similar. The most visible appointment has been long-time Boston cog, 65-year-old Peter Meade, to head the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). That has not exactly been seen as a forward-looking, long-term choice — although others credit Menino for getting someone of Meade's political heft to unclog the city's notoriously backlogged development projects.

Other appointees since Menino's 2009 re-election include Emily Shea of Action for Boston Community Development to head the Commission on Affairs of the Elderly; Menino-administration veteran Joanne Massaro to replace Royer at public works; and old Menino pal Howard Leibowitz as chief of projects and partnerships. Some kibitzers watching for 2013 signs say these local choices show Menino's short-term view toward his office. But others praise the picks — Massaro in particular has gotten high marks for her performance through this winter's snowstorms — and say Menino is building a strong team for however many years he wants to serve.


Then there's the administration's reaction to City Councilor John Connolly's exposure of outdated food in the Boston Public Schools' supplies.

Menino has a reputation for striking hard at any pols perceived as likely election challengers. Connolly, who clearly holds mayoral ambitions, falls into that category — and had already started making a name for himself as a strong advocate for parents, at times pitted against the schools and Menino's superintendent, Johnson.

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