Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 31, 2013 01:10
One week before the people of Boston head to the polls to choose their next mayor, City Councilor John R. Connolly, BC Law ’01, and State Representative Martin J. Walsh, BC ’09, met face-to-face Tuesday in what appeared to be their final significant opportunity to sway undecided voters.
The last of three main debates between Connolly and Walsh was broadcast widely on four television stations throughout the Boston area, likely reaching more viewers than previous debates due to the absence of a Boston Red Sox playoff game being broadcast simultaneously.
Keeping with the major themes of the race thus far, the candidates sparred on negative campaigning and Walsh’s relationship with union and labor interests, while also agreeing for the most part on several smaller issues.
In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 election, conflict has erupted between the candidates over negative ads sent by organized labor interests bashing Connolly and his upbringing. Connolly was quick to raise the issue as the debate began, pointing to Walsh’s refusal to sign a pledge barring money from outside interests in the campaign as a spark for the negative ads that “savagely attacked” him and his family.
“Representative Walsh opened the door to this type of campaign when he wouldn’t sign an agreement to get outside money out of this race,” Connolly said.
In response, Walsh charged Connolly with similar negative tactics, accusing his campaign of conducting “push polling,” which involves people pretending to conduct surveys over the phone while spreading negative information about the opposing candidate. Connolly denied Walsh’s claims.
The debate over negative campaigning opened the door for a related debate that the candidates have clashed on throughout the race—the influence of unions and labor interests on Walsh’s campaign. So far, outside groups representing labor interests have spent nearly $2 million on ads supporting Walsh, while Connolly’s campaign has benefited from around $300,000 of outside money.
Connolly questioned Walsh’s independence from the unions, pointing out that Walsh was a paid union official while serving in the state legislature and advocated for legislation that would eliminate the requirement that the City Council approve arbitration awards for public safety officials. Walsh responded by sticking to his guns and maintaining that his relationship with unions should not be cause for voters’ concern.
“I certainly have expressed many times on this trail my independence from organized labor,” Walsh said. “I am proud of who I support … but I also know that I can stand up to them when I have to.”
Walsh then used the opportunity to launch an attack of his own against Connolly and his background as a lawyer.
“We don’t need another lawyer in City Hall right now, watching our purse strings in the city of Boston,” Walsh said. “Let me be clear: I will be able to get to a negotiation because of the experience I have, because I have trust on the other side of the table.”
Beyond these points of contention, the candidates agreed on issues such as the need for more diversity in the Boston Police Department and support for charter schools as a facet of education reform. When asked about whether they would support the proposed construction of a casino at Suffolk Downs, both candidates attempted to steer their answers away from the question.
Walsh ultimately said that he would vote for the casino if he lived in the affected area, and Connolly argued that it was up to the residents of East Boston to decide.
The latest polls indicate that Connolly maintains a narrow lead over Walsh, yet both campaigns are in the mindset that it is still anybody’s race.
“It’s a statistical dead heat,” Connolly told campaign staff Monday, as reported by The Boston Globe. “I feel good. We knew this was going to be tight, tighter than we wanted it to be.”
The Globe also reported that Walsh, speaking at a campaign event Monday, told supporters that he can “feel it on the street” that the race is a dead heat.
An important factor to consider in the final days before the election will be both candidates’ ability to garner the support of the 70,000 Boston voters that did not choose either of them in the preliminary election.
“We’ve gone beyond social media, we’ve gone beyond the Web page,” State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez of Jamaica Plain told The Globe. “It’s going to be about how these two candidates get to people’s hearts, and not through their platform page. Both of them have done a lot of it. Their strategies and the individuals are different.”