Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 31, 2013 01:10
Last Friday morning, Boston Innovation (BostInno) and the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) hosted “Coffee with Connolly and Walsh,” a two-hour question and answer session featuring the final two candidates in the running for Boston’s next mayor. The event, which numbered close to 100 in attendance, was held in the newly opened District Hall, a new hotspot for those in the Innovation District in South Boston. Moderated by Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital and Steve Kraus of Bessemer Venture Partners, both members of the NEVCA, the candidates were questioned on their vision for the future of innovation in Boston.
Each candidate was given approximately 45 minutes with the audience, which primarily consisted of members of the innovation and technology community. The two men were never in the room at the same time, which provided a more lax setting for candidates to converse with voters instead of sparring behind podiums. The format catered to the audience: questions were submitted from those physically present and those tuning in online via Twitter using the hashtag #NextBosMayor.
Candidate Marty Walsh began the session identifying himself as a Bostonian through and through—despite the late start, he managed to catch the end of the Sox game the night before. Walsh connected with Boston locals on multiple levels, seen in his contingency plan for keeping 20-somethings in the city: open the bars until 3 a.m. “There is a war for talent in the city,” a moderator said. With competition such as New York and Silicon Valley, how does a city “retain young talent?”
Walsh outlined four main strategies for Boston: keep the T open late, keep the nightlife open late, bring hot companies to Boston, and provide housing for all involved in this master plan. “A new mayor after 20 years is a good thing,” Walsh said. “We need to take our city into the 21st century.”
When asked the same question, Connolly outlined the same steps an hour later. In fact, both candidates have strikingly similar plans for the city: the struggle throughout election season has been identifying the candidates’ differences. Connolly stressed a “robust arts agenda” necessary in updating the cultural and social scene of Boston, linking the artistic community to the innovation community. In other words, “It’s about more than liquor licenses.”
According to BostInno, Walsh left audience members “hungry for policy-based specifics.” While he claimed that “innovation is the future of the country” and the “next mayor has the opportunity to grow the Innovation District” in Boston, the 46-year-old aged himself with a jukebox reference and admitted his tech skills were less than savvy. Walsh is a likeable character, connected to his fellow citizens, yet had no real vision for the innovative community going forward.
Connolly, on the other hand, caught the attention of techies in the room with one of the most noteworthy statements of the morning: “I want people to feel like they’re walking into the Apple store when they walk into City Hall.” As a “champion for the innovation community,” Connolly cited regionalization as a key component for technological progress.
Since Boston is a city of neighborhoods, the mayor has influence over several surrounding communities, including those across the Charles River. According to Connolly, collaboration with local officials in Cambridge is integral to his success.
When pressed on the heart of their campaign, both candidates left behind the buzzwords of the morning. Instead, one particular phrase presented itself in both campaign’s “big ideas:” the achievement gap. Specifically, both Connolly and Walsh talked of “closing the achievement gap,” which entails providing every child in Boston with a quality education. Walsh, a former union leader, focused on the gap from a monetary standpoint: his goal is to “help kids out of poverty” by economic growth. As City Councilor, former teacher, and Boston Public School parent, Connolly has been deemed the “education candidate.” Boston has the “capacity to leverage partnerships, transform on arts and culture, and front the spirit of innovation,” Connolly said in closing. “But, it’s about the achievement gap.”
Due to the unique audience and intimate setting, the event sparked dialogue unspoken in the mayoral race thus far. Connolly and Walsh showed their likeness in policies to enact as mayor of Boston, yet differentiated themselves by delivery and making connections to the voters. The final election will take place next Tuesday, November 5.