Mayoral candidates Marty Walsh and John Connolly each had a major objective going into Tuesday’s debate, their final televised encounter before the Nov. 5 election. Walsh needed to convince skeptical voters that he isn’t in the pocket of labor unions. He failed. Connolly needed to draw distinctions between himself and Walsh without coming across like a sourpuss. He succeeded, for the most part.
Walsh, a state representative, painted himself into a corner years ago when he first sponsored legislation on behalf of the state firefighters’ union that would wipe out the ability of city councils to vote up or down on arbitration awards to public-safety unions. Walsh defended his actions better than he did in the last debate. Still, he couldn’t defend the indefensible. In contrast, Connolly looked mayoral when he declared, “We can’t compromise the fiscal health of the city.’’
Connolly, who can at times seem dismissive, appeared more agreeable last night. Take, for example, when Boston Media Consortium moderator R.D. Sahl asked, “Why not him [Walsh] for mayor?’’ He began by praising Walsh’s qualifications, before gently asserting that his own strengths better address “the needs of Boston right now.’’ All in all, Connolly came across as a decent guy who was ready to confront the need for systemic changes in the city’s schools, police department, and other agencies.
The night, however, wasn’t always genteel. Each candidate accused the other of negative campaign tactics. Connolly objected to nasty flyers from outside groups supporting Walsh. Walsh accused Connolly of disseminating negative information under the guise of an unbiased poll.
But it was a quiet exchange that best highlighted their differences. Asked by Sahl how City Hall could help the poor, Walsh talked about attacking high unemployment by bringing jobs to the neediest neighborhoods, presumably through his union contacts. Connolly spoke about opening public schools at night so parents could study toward a better future. Walsh is more immediate. Connolly takes the longer view.