The emerging narrative of Boston’s mayoral race is one of personality. City Councilor John Connolly and state Representative Marty Walsh are supposedly so alike on matters of policy that it is temperament and character that distinguish them. Connolly is Kevin White, the cool, cerebral mayor of Boston from 1968 to 1984. Marty Walsh is Ray Flynn, White’s successor, emotional and empathetic. Connolly is the analytical problem solver; Walsh the charismatic connector.
Judging by Tuesday’s debate, though, the narrative is fiction. It was Connolly who came across as the passionate reformer, while Walsh, less comfortable with the stage, seemed subdued and detached, wishing, perhaps, he was anywhere else but side by side with his opponent. About three-quarters through the debate, co-moderator Jim Braude pointed out to Walsh that he had spoken far less than Connolly and urged him to speak his piece. Walsh didn’t take up the invitation. Indeed, in one cringe-inducing moment, Walsh couldn’t find much to say even when answering a softball question about how a mayor might use his bully pulpit to promote change.
Judged merely by position papers and talking points, the two candidates are remarkably alike, be it worries about “two Bostons,” pushing for gun control, or advocating for later hours for the MBTA. But it was Connolly who appeared to actually care about making things happen. That was particularly the case when it came to education. Walsh wouldn’t criticize Mayor Tom Menino on the subject while Connolly, pointing out he got into the race out of frustration with the school system’s failures, was emphatic in his advocacy for reform, persuasively making the argument that he would take the political risks needed. Connolly, animated and more engaged, came across as far more enthusiastic about getting the job and then actually doing something with it.