When moderator Maria Stephanos asked the candidates if there was any problem with the way Boston Mayor Thomas Menino speaks, it was apparent that the second televised debate was going to be a little different.
This was one of several new issues injected into the mayoral race during Thursday’s roundtable debate at WFXT studios in Dedham, the last televised debate before the preliminary election on September 22.
Candidate Kevin McCrea agreed with city councilors Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty that Menino’s style of speech is irrelevant.
‘He should be highlighted for knowing he has this deficiency,’ McCrea said.
Menino said the subject was beside the point.
‘People criticize me for the way I speak, it’s not about the way I speak,’ Menino said. ‘It’s about getting the job done for the city of Boston.’
The Boston University Biosafety level-4 laboratory was brought up for the first time in a debate by Flaherty, who was speaking about the threat of terrorism in Boston.
‘We don’t have a comprehensive evacuation plan,’ Flaherty said. ‘That’s why we shouldn’t be opening a level-4 biolab in our neighborhoods.’
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was discussed at length for the first time as each candidate was asked when the last time they rode the T was. Each candidate said they had, although Flaherty confessed he did not know how much it cost.
Yoon and Flaherty both said Boston needs to have a greater role in working with the MBTA to improve service. Menino admitted ‘there is a problem with the T,’ and said he has been working with the governor on improving the MBTA, touting his support of the MBTA Indigo line, a plan to mix commuter rail service with rapid transit.
McCrea, who said he most recently used the T to attend the funeral for Sen. Ted Kennedy, said he wanted to hire the person in charge of the Tokyo subway system to improve the MBTA, but added that he was only ‘half-joking.’
On the issue of transportation in general, Menino said one reason it is difficult to get around by car in the city was because the city’s roads ‘are all cow paths that just became roads over the years.’
McCrea pounced on this comment, continuing to portray himself as a government outsider.
‘Blaming cows from 400 years ago for our problems is typical politician-speak for not taking responsibility,’ McCrea said.
Yoon and Flaherty also mocked a new political advertisement from the Menino campaign that began airing this week. In the television ad, an empty mayor’s desk and chair appears in several redeveloped communities around Boston as an announcer praises him for being ‘a man who doesn’t conduct business behind closed doors but out in the neighborhoods of Boston.’
‘I think of that desk as 24,000 empty desks out there, kids who don’t have a future, and aren’t employable,’ Flaherty said.
‘Mayor, you’ve been sitting in that chair 16 years,’ Yoon said. ‘It’s almost like you’ve become the chair.’
Education was also once again a hot topic as Flaherty, McCrea and Yoon decried the state of the Boston Public School system, while Menino insisted the parents he had talked to were ‘enthusiastic’ about the city’s schools.
‘Nothing bothers me more than hearing a story about another young family leaving the city looking for an education,’ Flaherty said.
McCrea promised to spend one day a week focusing on the school systems if he were elected mayor and asked if any of the other candidates would do the same.
‘These three people have stood by while the Boston Public School System goes downhill,’ McCrea said.
In a Twitter post immediately following the debate, Yoon called the one-day-a-week challenge ‘Pretty gimmicky. In a political way.’
Yoon stuck with the script he has followed since the first televised debate, charging that too much power is put in the hands of the mayor.
‘City government is broken and it needs to be fixed,’ Yoon said.
Menino, responding to Yoon’s challenge to support term limits for the mayor’s office in the future, said, ‘I have term limits every four years. I face the voters of Boston. They’re the ones I rely on.’
Before the field is narrowed to two, the candidates will appear once more together at a MassVote forum at the English High School in Jamaica Plain on September 17.