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From backyard chickens to housing prices, mayoral candidates debate Boston’s role as a college town

Three candidates for mayor – Felix Arroyo, Martin F. Walsh, and Bill Walczak – discussed topics ranging from backyard chickens to housing prices on Tuesday, as they debated ways to encourage college students to settle in Boston after they graduate.

In an hour-long debate sponsored by Boston.com that focused on Boston’s role as a college town, the candidates all said they wanted to make the city more welcoming to young people by encouraging more late-night dining, entertainment and transit.

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Walczak, a former health care executive, and Arroyo, a city councilor, both said they would loosen city rules to allow clubs to host more shows for people under 21.

Walsh, a state representative, said he would need to study the idea, but said he was concerned that it is too difficult to host major events in Boston. He said the NHL needed 91 city permits to bring the 2010 Winter Classic hockey tournament to Fenway Park.

“I do think the city of Boston has to relax on some of its rules,” Walsh said.

Yet even as the candidates sought to appeal to young voters, they said that, if elected, they would crack down on student partying in residential neighborhoods.

“It’s important that people be able to sleep at night,” said Walczak, 59, who lamented that he can hear music coming from a club near his home at 1 a.m., “and it’s really annoying.”

Arroyo, 34, said stopping late-night partying is a matter of public safety, but added, “we have to have places in our city where young people – or older people – can go and be out and have a good time and party.”

Walsh, 46, agreed that “some of the partying is way over the top,” but added that he would also crack down on landlords who pack students into rental housing, saying those houses can be fire traps.

All three candidates said Boston police must be involved in investigating sexual assaults on college campuses, an issue that prompted a passionate response from Arroyo.

“We have to stop talking about this as a women’s issue,” he said. “This is, in fact, a men’s issue because the aggressor, more times than not, is a man. The men are the ones who have to be responsible here.”

Tackling a mix of questions during a “lightning round,” Arroyo and Walczak said they oppose Councilor Bill Linehan’s push to triple the fine for smoking marijuana in public, from $100 to $300. Walsh said he supports the measure.

On the matter of backyard chicken coops, the candidates all said they would encourage more homegrown poultry in Boston.

The candidates were more divided over whether the city should turn more parking spaces into “parklets,” tiny patios with benches and planters. Arroyo and Walsh were open to more of them; Walczak was opposed.

As they contemplated the city’s relationship to its young residents, the candidates said they would draw lessons from their own college experiences.

Walczak, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, said the school was “filled with people who have real-life experiences, and I really would love to see that in more of our colleges.”

Arroyo, who also graduated from Umass-Boston, said he worked three jobs in college. He was a weekend security guard at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a busboy at Sonsie in the Back Bay, and a work-study student at Umass’ Donohue Institute. The experience, he said, gave him an appreciation for the diversity of the city’s student population.

Walsh, a former union leader, said he dropped out of college after high school and did not get his degree until 2009, when he graduated from Boston College. He said a woman in one of his classes was 71.

“What I learned,” he said, “is it’s never too late to go back to school.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
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