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.”