Candidates Butt Heads in Debate
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 00:10
When Boston mayoral candidates John R. Connolly, BC Law ’01, and Martin J. Walsh, BC ’09, met Tuesday night for their second head-to-head debate, the issues that have defined the race for City Hall were at the forefront once again—namely, education and labor relations.
Right out of the gate, Connolly locked in on criticizing Walsh for the negative ad campaign that has been directed toward Connolly and funded by outside labor groups in support of Walsh. Two groups, Working America and the Greater Boston Labor Council, have sent mailers to Boston voters attacking Connolly as a “son of privilege” who “doesn’t understand working-class people.”
The ads also wrongly characterized the school in which Connolly, a Boston city councilor, taught before attending law school and running for public office. The ad called the Nativity Mission School, a boys’ school for low-income immigrant families in New York City funded primarily by Jesuit donors, an “elite New York private school.”
Walsh, a former laborer and union official and current state representative, asked the labor groups to stop sending the mailers, yet more were released even after his request for them to stop. Connolly seized this fact as evidence that Walsh will not be able to transition easily from labor leader to mayor.
“They’re not listening to you now. How do we know they are going to listen to you when you are actually mayor?” Connolly asked.
Walsh, though, continued to try to use his union ties to his advantage, pointing to several occasions when he said he had sat down with labor interests and “[told] them the hard truths that sometimes they [didn’t] want to hear.”
The former union official further showed his niche with labor issues when the debate turned to contract arbitration for public safety officials. Connolly acknowledged that firefighters and police officers should be paid well, but qualified that the mayor must make balanced decisions that provide for the city’s overall fiscal health. Walsh responded to the topic with an answer geared more toward labor interests.
“I think there’s a clear difference here,” Walsh said. “I respect the public employees that work for the City of Boston. John just mentioned about drawing a line. That line is not how you negotiate. You do it by transparency, respect, and you put the cards on the table so you can see exactly what’s out there and we can come up with a contract.”
The candidates clashed once more when Walsh questioned why Connolly continually refers to his three years as a teacher, rather than his 12 years as a lawyer, and further called for Connolly to release his list of law clients. Connolly said that he has nothing to hide, but still tried to redirect the question by pointing to labor unions as Walsh’s primary source of income, while noting that he himself only earned $3,500 last year from being an attorney and focused on his position as city councilor.
Connolly defended the emphasis he has placed his years as an educator with a response that reflects his campaign tactic of running as the “education mayor.”
“I talk so much about being a teacher because it was the most impactful experience of my life,” Connolly said. “When you go into the classroom every day with young people who are facing that achievement gap and you see the challenges that young people face, that stays with you.”
In recent days, the race has intensified with regard to campaign funding, endorsements, and public polls. In the first half of October, Connolly surged ahead in fundraising, adding $620,000 in donations to his campaign funds, according to Boston.com. Walsh continued to fuel his campaign with a combination of fundraising efforts and contributions from outside groups, the latter component amounting to $1.3 million spent on ads on his behalf throughout the race thus far.
A poll released Tuesday by MassINC Polling Group for WBUR-FM and reported on Boston.com showed that Connolly still retains a lead in the race, though the gap between him and Walsh has narrowed.
Surveys conducted two weeks ago indicated that Connolly led Walsh by seven to eight percentage points, with that lead narrowing in a poll last week that showed Connolly ahead by only four points.
This week’s poll suggested an even closer race, with Walsh gaining more momentum.
“It’s very close,” Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, said in an interview on WBUR. “We have John Connolly with 41 percent and Marty Walsh with 39. That is about as close as you can get.”
As the Nov. 5 election approaches, a major question remains about who will gain the undecided vote. The MassINC poll indicated that 17 percent of likely voters are still undecided.
Contributing to Walsh’s momentum has been a string of endorsements from prominent public officials, including former mayoral candidates Felix Arroyo, John Barros, Charlotte Golar Richie, and, most recently, Michael Capuano. Several of these endorsements are particularly key to expanding Walsh’s support base as the officials represent districts that did not vote for Connolly or Walsh in September’s preliminary election. Both candidates have been campaigning intensely to sway these precincts in their favor.
Within the last few days, influential City Councilor at-large Ayanna Pressley announced that she will not be endorsing a mayoral candidate, even though she partnered with Connolly in her bid for the council two years ago. Instead, she is choosing to focus on her own re-election campaign.
“I think we’ll be well served by either of them,” Pressley told Boston.com. “They’ve both been incredible public servants and good friends.”