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City Council candidates square off on police contract, casino

Four of the eight candidates seeking a spot on the Boston City Council squared off Monday over whether they would consider shutting firehouses to save money, whether the council should vote soon on the controversial police contract, and whether the Nov. 5 referendum on an East Boston casino should proceed as scheduled.

The debate, streamed live on Boston.com, featured Jack F. Kelly III, former neighborhood coordinator; Jeffrey Michael Ross, immigration lawyer who ran for state Senate in 2007; Michelle Wu, former staffer on Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 campaign; and Councilor At Large Stephen J. Murphy, who has seeking a ninth term.

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The hour-long informal dialogue two weeks before Election Day shone a public spotlight on candidates who have been largely overshadowed by the historic race to replace Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Asked whether they would consider closing firehouses to save money, Murphy, Kelly, and Wu said they would. Ross said he would look into the issue.

Wu, Murphy, Ross, and Kelly wrestled with whether the current council should hold a vote soon on an arbitrators’ decision to award police officers a 25.4 percent raise over six years.

Ross said that as councilor he would urge an independent auditor to study the issue and review the impact the vote would have on the city.

“ I want to see a vote before the election. I think it is fair to residents of the City of Boston. And it levels the playing field so voters know where we stand on it.”

Wu stressed that police officers are owed a raise after years without a contract, but ultimately she said she would not vote for the contract if she were on the council.

“I think it’s a very expensive contract,’’ she said. “It is a priority for the city to have good jobs. But that money is coming out of other priorities.”

Murphy noted that the council is trying to get answers the public deserves and will hold a hearing Wednesday to address critical issues in the contract.

“It’s not like anybody is going to be kicking the can down the road,’’ he said. “We are doing our part during the discovery to try to get the most information before making our decision.”

The candidates also whether an Election Day vote proceed on an East Boston casino plan.

Ceasars Entertainment was dropped from the proposed venture at Suffolk Downs late last week over concerns that the gambling giant would fail a mandatory background check. The decision has sent the Menino administration and casino supporters scrambling to find an anchor for the project.

Murphy said the City Council went through “great pains” to ensure an Election Day vote to maximize voter participation in the mayoral and council races. He said it would be difficult to change the vote because of the election laws. He added that he’s confident a new operator will be found for the project.

(Later Monday, Secretary of State William Galvin said the casino referendum must go forward as scheduled Nov. 5.)

With a casino operator now uncertain, Wu said voters will not have an opportunity to make an informed decision on the casino plan.

“I believe there should be another period of time when the host agreement needs to be amended,’’ she said. “There should be a period of time when voters really understand what will this new casino look like.”

Kelly also noted that voters in East Boston should be concerned that the Ceasars’s deal “broke down at the eleventh hour’’ but he contends the vote should proceed.

“This is all part of the process,’’ Kelly said. “Let them vote.”

The four candidates are facing off against Martin Keogh, a West Roxbury lawyer; Annissa Essaibi-George, an East Boston high school teacher and small-business owner; Michael Flaherty, former council president; and Councilor At Large Ayanna Pressley, who is seeking a third term on the council.

Their debate on Boston.com is set for tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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