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Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s decision to hire a criminally convicted ex-lawmaker to an $89,000-a-year job drew backlash Monday . . . at a lieutenant governor’s debate?

Indeed, the WGBH-hosted showdown between incumbent Karyn Polito and Democrat Quentin Palfrey provided the unexpected setting for the Walsh finger-wagging after his hire of Carlos Henriquez to work on antiviolence issues, among other things.

“That would not be a hire that I would support for my administration,” Polito said after being pressed by moderator Jim Braude, who noted the “good relationship” Polito and Governor Charlie Baker, both Republicans, have with Walsh, a Democrat.


“We have a zero-tolerance policy within the executive branch,” Polito added. “If what he did is accurate, that would not be someone that I would feel comfortable hiring in my organization.”

Henriquez was convicted in 2014 of punching a woman who refused to have sex with him, and soon after was expelled from the Legislature, including after Walsh himself called for Henriquez to resign.

Walsh now is defending Henriquez’s hire, saying through a spokeswoman last week that he “firmly believes in second chances.”

The line of questioning — prompted, in part, by Polito’s role chairing a domestic violence council — required more coaxing from Palfrey. After initially saying he hadn’t studied the case, Palfrey, who’s running on a ticket with gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez, agreed with Braude’s question that Henriquez’s alleged actions were intolerable “as you’ve described it.”

“As you described the case, which I haven’t studied, it looks troubling to me,” he said.

The back-and-forth was a rare departure in the debate from discussion about another non-state-level public official: Donald Trump. Borrowing lines of attack from his running mate, Palfrey repeatedly criticized Polito and Baker’s support for Geoff Diehl, a pro-Trump US Senate candidate, arguing it undercuts their argument that they’ve satisfactorily stood up to a president who’s deeply unpopular in Massachusetts.


Polito rejected that, arguing that neither she nor Baker voted for Trump in 2016 but had committed to backing this year’s Republican ticket in Massachusetts.

It opened Polito up to another line of questioning from Braude: Does she feel Trump’s often inflammatory rhetoric is contributing to incidents of violence or threats, including after the shooting deaths of 11 congregants at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday?

“His words over the course of this weekend were not helpful,” said Polito, who was again pressed for a further answer.

“I think there is a polarization on the national level, both on the extreme right and the extreme left,” Polito said, noting she and Baker have sought to inject “civility” and bipartisanship into their work.

Palfrey disagreed.

“I think that there’s something different about the Trump administration. I think there’s a cruelty to the Trump administration . . . that’s inciting the type of tragic violence that we’ve seen,” Palfrey said.

Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.