By Katie Lannan
LOWELL -- Seventy-seven days before he leaves office, Boston's longest-serving mayor said he doesn't really care who replaces him in City Hall.
Speaking at UMass Lowell as part of the university's Lunchtime Lecture series, Mayor Thomas Menino said Monday it's more about the staff his successor will select than which of the two candidates wins the city's first open mayoral race in two decades.
"The key to whoever takes over as mayor is the people they put around them," Menino said. "Are they going to be able to reach out to some of the bright individuals we have in the city, the business community?"
Menino has not endorsed either City Councilor John Connolly or state Rep. Marty Walsh and declined on Monday to say which of the two will get his vote on Nov. 5.
"It's a secret ballot," he said at the event at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center.
He also kept quiet about his own plans after he leaves office on Jan. 6.
Menino said colleges including Boston University, Harvard University, Suffolk University and Northeastern University have offered him lecturer positions.
His decision on whether he will accept any offers, which he said will be made in the next few weeks, will be based on which opportunity gives him the freedom to stay involved working with Boston's youth.
Often referred to as Boston's "education mayor" for his focus on the city's public schools, Menino called a commitment to education "the most important thing we can do."
"One thing I worry about as I leave office is what's going to happen to my public-school system," Menino said. "We've made a lot of progress in the past few years, but it's still not perfect."
Despite noting that Connolly and Walsh both differ from him in their approaches to education, Menino said this year's election is not just about the schools or any one issue, but about bringing Boston "to the next level."
Menino first entered politics in 1983 with his election to Boston City Council.
He represented the city's Hyde Park neighborhood for nine terms, before he was tapped as acting mayor in 1993, when then-Mayor Ray Flynn was appointed as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
Menino said his greatest accomplishment in his political career was transforming Boston into "a different city," without the reputation of racism that plagued it throughout much of the 20th century.
"Boston was a real racist city at one time," he said. "I think I brought people together more than ever before. We understand there's diversity now, and the strength of our city is that diversity. When I took over, Boston was a racist city. You don't read about that anymore."
The city has transformed in other ways during his tenure, he said, crediting Boston's business community, universities and hospitals as engines of growth. The next mayor, he said, needs to be a friend to those industries, which create jobs.
Other cities, like Lowell, can also benefit from efforts at progress, Menino said after the event.
"Cities always have to continue to change," he said. "If you stay status quo, you're moving backwards. You have to look at what your population is and what their needs are, and how to satisfy those needs. You have to have the idea about where the city's going and how to get there, and what young people want in the city."
In recent years, Menino said he's seen companies that had moved out to the suburbs in pursuit of tax breaks return to Boston, finding it tough to recruit young workers who want to live somewhere, thriving.
The emergence of a technology district on the waterfront, he said, is propelling a move of Boston's epicenter out of the downtown area. It's partially for that reason that Menino said he'd like to see a new Boston City Hall built on the waterfront.
He pointed out that a travel magazine has bestowed the title of world's ugliest building to the current City Hall, an asymmetrical concrete structure built in 1968.
"The architecture is -- wow," he said. "It's dreadful."