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    Walsh declines to debate before Sept. 26 preliminary election

    Alex Place of Milton and Kristine Acevedo of Dorchester staged a sit-in inside the lobby of the mayor’s office suite in City Hall Friday to press the mayor to debate his challengers.
    Alex Place of Milton and Kristine Acevedo of Dorchester staged a sit-in inside the lobby of the mayor’s office suite in City Hall Friday to press the mayor to debate his challengers.

    Mayor Martin J. Walsh has repeatedly said he would debate his challengers before next Tuesday’s preliminary vote, contending that it was the democratic thing to do to have all four candidates on the same stage.

    But with seven days to go before voters cast their first ballots in the mayor’s race, Walsh apparently won’t be in a debate involving all four candidates after all.

    Walsh campaign spokeswoman Gabrielle Farrell said in a statement the mayor will spend the next week focused on directly engaging residents and working as mayor on behalf of the city.


    “At this point, we don’t see how it’s possible to plan a debate before the preliminary that would work with all four candidates’ schedules,’’ Farrell said.

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    The mayor has been adamant in public interviews that he would debate his main contender, Councilor Tito Jackson, and the two other lesser-known candidates, Robert Cappucci, a former police officer, and Joseph Wiley, a customer service representative at MassHealth.

    “When we have a debate in the primary, we are going to bring in all four candidates, because that is how it works,’’ Walsh said after a Sept. 7 visit to Brighton High School.

    But throughout the debate negotiations, Walsh’s team has declined invitations for a preliminary debate, including two proposals to have all four candidates on stage.

    The mayor’s campaign has said that it received invitations from nearly every major news organization in Boston for a Walsh-Jackson debate.


    A consortium of news organizations, including the Globe, initially proposed a series of debates — one before the preliminary, on Sept. 12, and another before the Nov. 7 election — for a Walsh-Jackson matchup. The consortium includes: WBUR radio; the television stations NBC Boston, NECN, and Telemundo Boston; and the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

    However, the consortium said it did not set a debate date because it got no agreement from Walsh or his campaign.

    After Walsh insisted that all four candidates debate, the consortium proposed two new debate dates — a week away — on which a preliminary election debate could be held with all the candidates.

    “The Walsh campaign said no to those two dates,’’ according to a statement from the consortium that was signed by Robert Turner of UMass Boston and Tom Melville, executive news director at WBUR.

    The group is still proposing to host a broadcast debate — before a live audience, on radio and television — on Wednesday, Oct.25, one that would include simultaneous translation into Spanish on Telemundo Boston, the statement said.


    “But, again, this debate has not been scheduled as there has not been formal commitment from the candidates,’’ the statement said. ‘We remain hopeful that we will get agreement from the two finalists for a general election debate.”

    Walsh’s initial indecision prompted a Facebook petition drive urging him to participate in a debate. A pair of progressive activists staged a sit-in inside the lobby of the mayor’s office suite Friday in City Hall to press the mayor to debate his challengers.

    “I don’t see why this has not happened yet,’’ said Kristine Acevedo, a 46-year-old Dorchester resident who joined another activist at the sit-in. “We are only [a week] away from the election.”

    Jackson has repeatedly said he is willing to debate the mayor alone or with the other contenders, and he chided Walsh for rejecting the early debate. He said the mayor has not been willing to appear on the same stage with him, and noted that the mayor was also a no-show at a July forum in West Roxbury when all four mayoral contenders were invited to the voter-rich neighborhood.

    “Mayor Walsh is running from his record,’’ Jackson said in an interview. “He is showing a disregard and disrespect for the voters of the city of Boston and democracy by not participating in a debate with all of the candidates.”

    Political historians say that Walsh is seizing the advantages of incumbency and marginalizing Jackson by not debating him one-on-one until after the preliminary contest.

    TaShonda Vincent-Lee, who is Jackson’s campaign manager, said the Jackson camp did not know until around the beginning of this month that the consortium’s original proposed date — Sept. 12 — was no longer in play.

    The consortium officials acknowledged that both campaigns were invited to tour the debate space in late August, but only members of the Jackson team, including Vincent-Lee, showed up. All agree that Walsh’s campaign had not signed off on a debate date.

    On Sept. 5, Jackson tweeted that he was getting set for the Sept. 12 debate, even though there was no confirmation from Walsh.

    On the same day, consortium officials said, Vincent-Lee inquired in an e-mail about details for the proposed Sept. 12 debate. She was then notified that since the consortium had no agreement from Walsh, the date had long been off the table, consortium officials said.

    Jonathan Cohn, a progressive activist living in the Fenway who supports Jackson, said Boston deserves to have a mayoral debate before Tuesday. Four years ago, he said, a crowded field of contenders competed in the first open race for mayor in two decades. The public spent the summer getting to know the candidates and promoting their message.

    This year, the race is a low-key affair. An early debate would help breath new life into the race, Cohn said, putting a spotlight on the mayor’s record and the vision of the people trying to unseat him.

    “Being able to participate in a debate is showing respect to the voters in the city,’’ Cohn said.

    Donald “Buddy” Ryan, a Dorchester property owner who supports Walsh, said the mayor is being politically strategic by delaying the debates. But, he said, it is “not the right thing to do as far as I’m concerned.”

    “That turns me off. Have a debate. What are you afraid of?’’ said Ryan, who lives in Quincy and cannot vote in Boston.

    The mayor has been attending some community forums — though not with the other candidates present — and appearing before journalists and audiences. But he rubbed some residents in West Roxbury the wrong way when he did not attend an all-candidates forum held by Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale on July 13.

    Organizers said they tried repeatedly to get the Walsh campaign to commit to attending the forum, but eventually Walsh was a no-show. The mayor and his campaign said the organizers were informed in advance that he had a scheduling conflict.

    Cappucci, Wiley, and Jackson attended the forum, held from 7 to 9 p.m.

    According to Walsh’s private calendar, he had “MJW Time” from 5-6:30 p.m. on July 13. At 7 p.m., he was a guest on “Talk of the Neighborhood” on BNN.

    Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.