In the final debate of the mayoral race before the election on Tuesday, City Councilor John Connolly and Mass. Rep. Martin Walsh talked about some of the most important decisions they would make as mayor, including selecting a new superintendent for Boston Public Schools and a new police commissioner for the Boston Police Department.
R.D. Sahl, journalism professor at Boston University, moderated the debate hosted by the Boston Media Consortium, and opened up the proceedings by asking the candidates about their campaigns this election because both Connolly and Walsh agreed to run a positive campaign.
“Tens of thousands of negative flyers were mailed out that came from an outside group, but Walsh opened up this kind of thing when he said he would take outside money,” Connolly said. “Marty couldn’t stop [unions] from sending out negative flyers. They’ve spent $2 million on his campaign, so it raises legitimate questions on whether or not he can display the independence needed as mayor.”
As mayor, Walsh said he would work with unions, but not be influenced by them.
“When I found out there was a negative flyer on John, I asked the group to stop,” he said. “This race shouldn’t be about negative campaigning.”
Douglas Kriner, professor of political science at BU, said debates rarely have a significant impact in the outcome of elections.
“The influence of the debate probably depends on how many people are watching and how much information viewers have about the two candidates entering the debate,” he said. “All in all, my guess is that the debate will have little impact on the ultimate outcome.”
Both candidates said choosing a new school superintendent and police commissioner would be the two most enduring decisions the new mayor would make, and leadership in Boston needs to reflect the wishes of the residents.
“We need [a superintendent] that is a good listener, a collaboration builder and an administrator that can attract good talent,” Walsh said.
Connolly said he would appoint an independent thinker that is not influenced by bureaucracy.
“The person needs to understand cultural competency and where our children come from,” he said. “When we appoint superintendents, it’s an assistant who’s usually appointed who is good at working around dysfunction, but we need someone who is going to remove the dysfunction.”
In regard to the new police commissioner, the candidates said racism within the BPD must be eliminated and leadership must reflect that goal.
“We need someone who will recognize that it’s not just about law enforcement [but also] tackling mental health issues,” Connolly said. “There’s racism in all of Boston, and we can see that in the Boston Police Department when there is not a single captain of color. This needs to be addressed, and we need to shift this culture so that we make sure we look like the entire city of Boston.”
Walsh said many former mayoral candidates of color, including City Councilor Felix Arroyo, former BPS committee member John Barros and former City Housing Chief Charlotte Golar Richie endorsed him, showing that and he is committed to diverse leadership.
“We need to make sure our police department reflects our communities,” he said. “The community needs to be a partner to solve the problems. We have to deal with the racism in the city because we talk about one Boston, but we don’t see one. We need to make sure we get into every neighborhood and make sure there’s a standard quality in each neighborhood.”
Walsh said he is the best candidate for mayor because of his career as a state representative.
“Because of my record and my accomplishments, I’m the most qualified for this race,” he said. “This race is about me and what I can do for the city of Boston I’ve created.”
Connolly said he should be elected because he is the education candidate.
“Representative Walsh is qualified to be mayor and he has a great record of service, but I think mine is better and addresses the need for Boston right now,” he said. “I’ve been a leader in education, students in Boston Public Schools eat healthier because of me, and I helped block cuts that would be made to students with autism. This is the issue that connects to everything else.”
The election to replace Boston Mayor Thomas Menino will take place on Tuesday.