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Metro

Three mayoral candidates meet in miniforum

Discuss ideas for Boston economy, school board

Mayoral candidates Charles Yancey, Martin Walsh, and John Connolly faced off in a small forum at the Palm Restaurant before more than 200 people Tuesday.

Aram Boghosian for the Boston Globe

Mayoral candidates Charles Yancey, Martin Walsh, and John Connolly faced off in a small forum at the Palm Restaurant before more than 200 people Tuesday.

In Boston’s congested race for mayor, this may be the most creative idea yet: split the 12 candidates into small groups so voters can hear more than 90-second sound bites.

Three candidates squared off at a forum Tuesday to address the city’s economic future. State Representative Martin J. Walsh suggested that the city repurpose empty buildings once used by telephone and electric companies that remain scattered across the city.

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“Fifty years ago, those buildings provided opportunities for families in the community for work,” Walsh told an audience at the Palm Restaurant that included downtown business leaders, developers, and others. “Today, they sit vacant. We need to put some opportunities back in there, so people who live in the community can work in the community.”

Councilor at Large John R. Connolly promoted an economic development plan that he said would lure businesses to neighborhoods across the city, and not just the Seaport’s Innovation District, which has seen a surge of new companies.

“What matters to CEOs are rent and taxes,” Connolly said. “If we can work on incentives throughout the city, we can locate businesses that will work in Grove Hall, Mattapan, Allston, as well as the Innovation District.”

Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who is running both for reelection to his council seat and for mayor, said he would focus on basic city services, such as street cleaning, to help revitalize neighborhoods and promote economic development.

The forum — sponsored by the Chiofaro Co., CommonWealth magazine, A Better City, and the Boston Municipal Research Bureau — drew an audience of more than 200. The discussion will continue July 11 with four more candidates, and again on July 18 with the last four hopefuls.

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On Tuesday, a fourth candidate, Charles L. Clemons Jr., was invited but did not attend. Clemons did not respond to a phone message seeking comment. Clemons’s radio program, “The Morning Show With Brother Charles & The TMS Crew,” was scheduled to air Tuesday morning at the time of the forum, according to the station’s website.

The three candidates who were present tussled over transportation policy. (Yancey promoted the Fairmount Line commuter rail; Connolly urged the city to embrace buses and stop being subway snobs, while pushing later hours for mass transit; and Walsh called for more incentives to get people out of cars.)

They discussed building taller buildings, creating affordable middle-class housing, and developing more pint-sized micro apartments. They responded grudgingly to a question about their all-time favorite Boston mayor (Walsh and Yancey said Thomas M. Menino; Connolly said Kevin H. White ).

Menino, of course, has been known for decades as the Urban Mechanic. The candidates were asked what their moniker would be: Connolly claimed The School Transformer; Walsh took The Visionary; and Yancey said he will be The Great Uniter.

But the sharpest distinction came in response to a question about whether the Boston School Committee should continue to be appointed by the mayor or return to an elected body.

Yancey pushed for a return to an elected body because the appointed model has “not been a panacea.”

Walsh voiced his support for appointed School Committee members to “keep politics out of schools.”

Connolly said he was undecided because he too did not want to politicize schools, but also had concerns about appointed members acting like “a rubber stamp.”

To be continued.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.

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