In testy debate, mayoral candidates miss mark

Martin J. Walsh was off on a bill he filed on labor arbitration, and John R. Connolly was off on his role in creating “green jobs.”
Yoon S. Byun/Globe staff
Martin J. Walsh (left) was off on a bill he filed on labor arbitration, and John R. Connolly was off on his role in creating “green jobs.”

During Tuesday night’s mayoral debate, Councilor at Large John R. Connolly and state Representative Martin J. Walsh engaged in several heated exchanges about unions, campaign spending, and negative tactics, all while tossing out facts and figures to bolster their arguments. Here, we take a look at a few of the claims, to sort out fact from fiction.

ISSUE: Did Walsh file legislation designed to ensure that a city or town could afford an arbitrator’s award?

When Walsh was attacked over arbitration legislation he has filed in the State House of Representatives, he defended the bill by suggesting it would beef up budgetary protections for cities and towns. “Built into that legislation was a provision saying an arbitration award would have to be based on the ability of a city or town to pay for that award,” he said. “That’s what the intent and the aim of my bill was to do.”


FACT: Walsh is wrong. His bill would not install new fiscal safeguards. Walsh’s legislation would eliminate the requirement that a city council approve arbitration awards for police officers and firefighters. The ruling of an arbitrator would be final and binding under his bill. State law stipulates that arbitrators must consider what a municipality can afford. That would not be an added protection, as Walsh suggested.

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ISSUE: Did unions give $2 million to Walsh’s campaign, as Connolly stated?

During a squabble about outside spending, Connolly said, “Marty’s got over $2 million of union money coming into his campaign.” Walsh hotly disputed that claim, saying, “There goes John again, exaggerating the facts. . . . John’s figure of $2 million is not accurate. I don’t know where he’s making that up.”

FACT: Connolly is correct about the $2 million figure, but overlooks the specifics. Walsh has garnered $2.3 million in support from unions according to campaign finance records, but the bulk of that — about $1.8 million — has been spent by outside groups affiliated with labor. About $550,000 in donations have come from unions directly into Walsh’s campaign coffers.

ISSUE: Was Walsh correct when he stated that 89 percent of students in the Boston public schools are children of color?


When the candidates turned their attention to education, both Walsh and Connolly said they would look for a superintendent who could work well in a diverse district. As part of that discussion, Walsh said that 89 percent of the students in the Boston public schools are children of color. Thirty-one percent of teachers are African-American, he said, and 16 percent of teachers are Hispanic.

FACT: Walsh is off, but not by much. According to data from April, the latest available from Boston school officials, 87 percent of students are children of color, 22 percent of teachers are African-American, and 10 percent of teachers are Hispanic.

ISSUE: Did Connolly help create “green jobs” and help launch the Innovation District?

When the two were allowed to question each other, Walsh asked Connolly what he had done to create jobs. Connolly said he “leveraged [an] environmental stimulus grant that created green jobs in Boston — and a whole lot of them.” He added that, “We created the Innovation District, working with Mayor Menino. That’s led to countless jobs . . . the Innovation District doesn’t happen if I don’t take those votes”

FACT: True, but a bit misleading. On April 14, 2009, Connolly, as chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Environment and Health, approved a $6.5 million federal stimulus grant designed to promote energy efficiency and create an estimated 338 jobs for workers weatherizing buildings. But that was a mostly routine action to channel the money that was flowing from Washington into Boston and cities across the country. The council was essentially rubberstamping a Washington initiative.


Regarding the Innovation District, Connolly voted in May 2011 for tax incentives to help lure Vertex Pharmaceuticals to the new high-tech district on the South Boston waterfront. The Connolly campaign said the councilor’s aides also testified before the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Zoning Board of Appeals in support of projects in the district. Nevertheless, the district is largely seen as the work of Menino, with councilors like Connolly playing a supporting role.

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