Long before he was mayor, Thomas M. Menino was cham­pi­oning public health.

In the late 1980s, when AIDS was rav­aging Boston, a med­ical study found that pro­viding clean nee­dles to intra­venous drug users could help stem trans­mis­sion of HIV, the virus that causes the disease.

Most politi­cians did not want to touch the sub­ject, but a lone city coun­cilor from Hyde Park spoke out in favor of con­sid­ering the dis­tri­b­u­tion of free needles.

It was Menino.

I thought, who is this guy. We hadn’t thought that was a dis­trict of the city where much atten­tion was being paid to AIDS,” said John Auer­bach, a health pro­fessor at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity who was then the state health department’s AIDS director.

When it was con­tro­ver­sial, and he had nothing to gain, he took a coura­geous stance,” Auerbach­ said. “That was a hall­mark of the kind of leader he is.”

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