BOSTON (AP) -- Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, struggling to keep his emotions in check, told well-wishers gathered at historic Faneuil Hall on Thursday that he won't seek re-election to an unprecedented sixth term after nearly two decades in office.
"I am here with the people I love, to tell the city I love, that I will leave the job that I love," Menino said, with his wife Angela and family by his side. "I can run, I can win and I can lead, but not in the neighborhoods all the time as I like."
Menino, who used a cane to walk to the podium, has had persistent health problems including a six-week hospital stay last year to treat a respiratory infection and a compression fracture in his spine. Menino also was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
But the city's longest serving mayor told the crowd that he is on the mend. Still, he said, it's not enough to maintain the pace that has become his trademark.
"I'm back to a mayor's schedule, but not a Menino schedule," he said. "Spending so much time in the neighborhoods gives me energy.... It may not be the only way to lead Boston, but it's the only way for me."
Menino spoke for about 12 minutes and received a three-minute standing ovation.
During his comments, Menino alluded to a poll that once indicated that more than half of the city's residents had said they'd personally met him.
He also acknowledged that his decision not to run again is expected to trigger a political stampede.
"I have no plans to pick the person to fill this seat," he said. "I just ask that you choose someone who loves this city as much as I do."
President Barack Obama praised Menino.
"Boston is the vibrant, welcoming, and world-class city it is today because of Tom Menino," Obama said in a statement. "For more than two decades, Mayor Menino has served the city and every one of its residents with extraordinary leadership, vision, and compassion."
Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who won a critical endorsement from Menino in last year's U.S. Senate race called him "the best mayor in America" and "the best friend to the neighborhoods and people of Boston."
Although Menino wasn't always the smoothest of political figures, he earned a reputation as one of the hardest working, from filling potholes to shaping the city's skyline.
A recent Boston Globe poll showed the 70-year-old Menino was viewed favorably by a wide margin of city residents, although less than half said they wanted him to run again. Most political watchers assumed Menino could have cruised to another victory.
Menino said he's not done yet.
"I have nine months left. Just think what I can do in nine months," he said. "We can have some real fun."
Menino's long stewardship of the city came a critical moment in Boston's history when traditional urban ethnic enclaves began to give way to waves of new immigrants and younger professionals.
He worked to make Boston more fun and livable. Despite its famously narrow, twisting streets, Menino ushered in a bicycle-sharing program and named a "bicycle czar" to negotiate conflicts between bicyclists and Boston drivers.
He also struggled to try to improve the Boston school system and wasn't shy about wearing his sympathies on his sleeve.
Last year Menino, a strong gay rights supporter, vowed to block Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city after the company's president spoke out publicly against gay marriage.
Lawrence DiCara, a former city councilor, said Menino's success stemmed from his attention to detail and -- unlike many of his predecessors -- his lack of interest in higher office.
"He kept his eye on the ball," DiCara said. "He was not interested in running for governor. He was not interested in running for Congress. He had one thing he wanted to do and that was being mayor of Boston."
Menino was the city's first Italian-American mayor, breaking a nearly century-long domination of city politics by Irish-Americans that began with John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the grandfather of President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Robert and Edward Kennedy, and included the legendary James Michael Curley.
Menino grew up in Hyde Park, far from the city's traditional political power bases.
"He grew up an Italian kid in an Irish city and he grew up in a neighborhood that no one came from," said DiCara.
Menino's departure will create only the second open mayoral election in the last half century and the first since 1983, when Kevin White chose not to seek re-election.