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Menino a no-show at final forum before primary

City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon owes South Boston businessman Kevin McCrea a steak dinner.

Just before the forum, McCrea told The Daily Free Press he bet Yoon that Mayor Thomas Menino would not show up to Thursday’s MassVOTE mayoral forum at English High School in Jamaica Plain, the second missed forum for the mayor in as many days. McCrea was right.

‘Nothing that the mayor does about avoiding answering questions surprises me,’ McCrea said. ‘The voters should stand up and say this is not acceptable. Notice he comes to the rich, white forum on Newbury Street, but he doesn’t come into the neighborhoods where real people are facing difficulties.’

Menino’s absence at the final face-off for the candidates before the Sept. 22 primary also did not come as a shock to City Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty.

‘The real losers here are the people who took time out of their schedules to come here tonight,’ Flaherty said.

‘ Yoon was the only candidate to hold out hope that Menino would show up.

‘I thought there would be a real risk of letting everyone know how much he disrespects community organizations like MassVOTE and 50 others,’ Yoon said. ‘But he thought it was worth the risk.’

‘ MassVOTE Policy Director Cheryl Crawford called the mayor’s decision not to debate ‘very disappointing.’ The crowd of about 400 booed and hissed when she announced the mayor would be unable to make it due to a ‘prior engagement.’

‘The elephant not in the room here is Tom Menino,’ McCrea said. He then lifted the folding chair he had been sitting on into the air and asked the crowd, ‘How many of you would like to see an empty seat right here?’ before moderator Maria Gonzalez of Univision cut him off.

The questions from Boston School Reform Project Deputy Director Kim Janey, Boston Preservation Alliance Executive Director Sarah Kelly and the Mass. Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Director of Organizing Marcony Almeida covered familiar topics, focusing on education and the economy.

‘Our city has no excuse for not providing a world class public education because this is the Athens of America,’ Yoon said.

Yoon and Flaherty both expressed their support for charter schools, something that McCrea opposes.

‘We need a good public school education in every corner of the city,’ McCrea said. ‘Charter schools are another form of stratification of society.’

The candidates were also asked if they would alter the city’s charter to change the balance of power between the mayor and Boston’s City Council.

Yoon continued his attack on the ‘strong mayor system,’ and renewed his call for term limits as a way to increase voter participation in mayoral elections.

‘We’re hoping for a big turnout this election,’ Yoon said. ‘But if you have an open seat for mayor at least once every eight years, you know you’re going to have a high turnout.’

Flaherty said the system was not the problem.

‘You can still have a strong mayor form of government, provided you have a mayor that’s willing to roll up his sleeves and work with the people,’ he said.

Before the forum, Yoon and Flaherty offered some final thoughts to The Free Press about the campaign that could be over for one or both of them in a matter of days.

‘We’ve demonstrated that there is a real choice this Tuesday,’ Flaherty said. ‘Both Sam and Kevin have made me a better elected official and a better candidate.’

‘All the political pundits are saying this [race] is impossible to call,’ Yoon said. ‘The turnout is going to determine everything as far as I’m concerned.’

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