Candidates Ebb in their First Debate
Debate Lacked Audience, Defining Moments, from Connolly, Walsh
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 22:10
As the Boston Red Sox went head-to-head with the Detroit Tigers in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series Tuesday night, a matchup of a much different kind was taking place in Boston.
The final two candidates in the race to become mayor met in the first of four debates, and while Marty Walsh, BC ’09, and John Connolly, BC Law ’01, addressed the cornerstone issues of their campaigns, it appears that the majority of the city’s residents chose to watch the baseball game instead.
Those who did tune into the debate saw relatively passive exchanges between the candidates, who agreed on many of the issues that moderator John Keller of WBZ-TV presented in their first one-on-one meeting, a stage that differed greatly from the candidate forums in which they participated during the preliminary election.
Both Walsh and Connolly pointed to improving relationships between community members and the police force as a vital step toward stopping police misconduct, as well as bringing more diversity into the police department to better reflect the city’s demographics.
Furthermore, they shared similar views on public transportation reform, proposing collaborative efforts between the city and the state legislature for improving MBTA service. Connolly emphasized the importance of maintenance for existing rail lines and extending the hours of service as a goal if he were elected.
The candidates also met on the issue of sexual education in Boston schools. The topic had not been given much attention in the race up to this point, but recently became more prominent after the president of the Massachusetts chapter of Planned Parenthood pointed out that neither candidate’s platform included a comprehensive plan for sex education and dealing with teen pregnancy.
Walsh connected sex education to further topics of drug and alcohol education, and highlighted that we cannot hesitate to teach our children about the dangers of substance abuse and its role in neighborhood violence.
“We need to get this into the schools earlier, we need to have good programming and we need to make sure parents aren’t afraid of it,” Walsh said. “We need to be able to explain to our young kids what to expect.”
Connolly discussed the increased risk for teen parents to drop out of school, and related sexual and health education with social and emotional support services for students.
“Too many children are coming to our school who are broken, battling trauma, mental issues,” Connolly said. “When you’re dealing with any of those issues in your life and you’re coming to school you’re not ready to learn and that’s why we’ve got to be really smart on sex and health education.”
Connolly also took the opportunity to point out his experience as a teacher that will make him an “education mayor.” Better emotional support services are just one facet of school reform that Connolly said he hopes to enact if elected. Other proposals include lengthening the school day, reducing the “top-heavy” school bureaucracy to better allocate funds, and establishing productive partnerships between public and charter schools. Walsh agreed on the top-heaviness of the education department and advocated for public and charter schools to share ideas in order to create world-class public schools to go along with the city’s world-class universities.
With regard to perpetuating the legacy of outgoing Mayor Thomas M. Menino, both candidates noted that they would continue his hands-on approach to governing, going into neighborhoods and being accessible for their constituents to learn directly about the challenges they face.
A point of contention during the debate arose when Connolly criticized Walsh’s ties to unions and his acceptance of outside funds throughout the campaign.
“I’m just concerned that when your campaign is taking over a million dollars in outside money and when you also work in two roles for these unions—that will influence what you do when you’re mayor,” Connolly told Walsh, a former laborer and union official. “And we’ve seen that it certainly influences the legislation that you file.”
Walsh chose to respond to Connolly’s claims with a simple, “no comment,” yet later told reporters at Masslive.com that he considers his experience working with unions to be a strength.
Despite a lack of harsh challenges from either side, the debate revealed an underlying struggle between city and state government. Both Walsh, a state representative, and Connolly, a city councilor, pointed to their own records and policy accomplishments in their respective positions, while also calling for more collaboration between City Hall and the state legislature on issues that affect Boston residents.
Polls show that Connolly is still leading Walsh in the race to succeed Menino. However, Walsh has received a boost in recent days, earning high-profile endorsements from the state legislature’s progressive caucus as well as John Barros, Felix Arroyo, and Charlotte Golar Richie, three influential former challengers in the mayoral race.