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Mayoral candidates spar at last forum before election

Both incumbent Mayor Thomas Menino and City Councilor-At-Large Michael Flaherty accused each other of misleading voters on the issue of education at Tuesday’s MassVOTE mayoral forum, the final meeting between the candidates before the Nov. 3 election.

The Faneuil Hall forum, attended by more than 700 people, covered mostly familiar topics, but the rhetoric between Flaherty and Menino was more heated than usual.

Menino attacked Flaherty during the forum for repeating his charge that 100 out of 143 Boston Public Schools were underperforming.

‘We use that term very liberally here,’ Menino said. ‘It doesn’t mean the school is underperforming, it means a particular program is underperforming. Let’s inform the public of the correct answers that are out there, not half-baked answers.’

In a press conference after the forum, Menino said Flaherty was ‘trying to confuse the issue of underperforming schools.’

‘I want to make sure they get the right information that’s out there and not continue to mislead them with innuendos and half-commitments about what going on in our city,’ he said.

In an interview with The Daily Free Press following the forum, Flaherty didn’t back down from his claim and said the mayor wasn’t being entirely truthful on public education either.

‘Only 59 percent of our students graduate within four years,’ Flaherty said. ‘He gives this inflated number of 75 percent that go onto college. I can assure you that that’s not the case.’

Flaherty also reminded voters that Menino once told them to judge him harshly on the public schools and once promised that he wouldn’t run for reelection if there were not ‘significant gains in enrollment, in [graduation] rates and Boston Public School kids going onto college’ during his first term.

City Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon, who Flaherty has promised to appoint as deputy mayor if elected, said Flaherty seemed to be more aggressive than in previous debates.

‘It was very palpable,’ he said. ‘I think knowing this is the last chance to control the terms of the debate, I think he took full advantage of that.’

Menino took on Yoon and Flaherty’s oft-repeated accusation that the mayor has been a dictator of sorts at City Hall.

‘It’s not about Tom Menino alone,’ Menino said. ‘It’s about the community groups that partner with us.’

Menino also countered Flaherty’s catchphrase ‘Boston is stuck in neutral.’

‘The city is going forward,’ he said. ‘I see one candidate who wants to go to the left. I want to make progress.’

Menino insisted that in his administration, transparency was ‘the thing we do best’ in response to a question from WTKK radio host and panelist Michele McPhee about making public records more accessible.

Flaherty attacked Menino over the developing controversy involving thousands of emails improperly deleted by top mayoral aide Michael Kineavy, currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office for public records violation. The mayor touted putting 12,000 emails carbon-copied or sent to Kineavy online.

‘While I appreciate the mayor turning over 12,000 emails, there are actually 48,000,’ Flaherty said. ‘I would prefer he turned over all 48,000 before the secretary of state had to do it.’

Menino was also asked if he thought the South End was the best location for Boston University’s Biosafety Level-4 laboratory. He argued that there are currently BSL-4 labs on college campuses, such as Georgia State University.

‘Would they put a level 4 biolab on a [college] campus if it was dangerous? I doubt it,’ Menino said.

The mayor also promised that the biolab would not open until it meets all the requirements of the Boston Public Health Commission.

Flaherty said he was opposed to the biolab because he said the city lacked a comprehensive evacuation plan.

‘A snowstorm a couple of winters ago brought Boston to its knees,’ he said. ‘Of all things we couldn’t handle snow.’

Flaherty also said the process of determining the BSL-4’s location was unfair to the residents of South Boston.

‘The cake was baked,’ he said. ‘The decision was made before the community actually got a chance to weigh in.’

The candidates had a lighter take on the issue of term limits when asked where they stand on issues relating to Boston’s senior citizens.

‘I don’t believe in mandatory retirement,’ Menino said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

‘[Seniors] should be able to stay in a job if they are capable, with the exception of the mayor of Boston,’ Flaherty said.

The candidates made one final appeal to the audience in their closing statements, answering moderator and Harvard University Law School professor Charles Ogletree Jr.’s question, ‘Why should we vote for you?’

‘This campaign is all about people,’ Menino said. ‘It’s all about the future and how we’re going to get there.’

Flaherty called on voters to reject four more years of Menino, who has been in office for 16 years.

‘If you want to be part of something new, if you want to be part of something historic, join Sam Yoon and I,’ he said.

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