^ Charles Clemons, John Connolly, and felix Arroyo at SEBA Forum
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Last night’s Mayoral Forum at the Calderwood Center on Tremont Street asked the most pointed questions and addressed more topics than at any Forum we’ve observed so far. It being the South End, heart and stomach — excellent hors d’oeuvres were served in the foyer — of the “new Boston,” comprehensiveness was to be expected. Basic just won’t do for a locus of million-dollar condos.
Hosted by the South End Business Alliance — SEBA — the Forum gathered an audience of about 200. it was a well informed group, with definite preferences: favorable answers from the candidates drew approving cheers and applause; unfavorable ones were given the silent treatment. There was plenty of each.
That said, this Forum made clear what has portended for some time now : that the leading candidates, according to polls, are leading for good reason. They have greatest command of the issues — big and not so big — and of how to address them. Connolly, Walsh, and Arroyo made their points with specificity, each man inputting his own expertise and vision, each speaking his own language — and doing so with persuasive conviction. For Connolly, that meant the most modern of cities : zipcar, apple store, user-friendly, bicycles, lifestyle diversity — and biolab 4. For Arroyo, it meant a city in which pathways out of poverty are a priority. Marty Walsh saw a partnership city, between business and labor, the Mayor working in team with the City Council and with the Boston delegation to the state Legislature.
^ an audience informed and knowing what they want
The other candidates on stage — Charlotte Golar-Richie worked the foyer but did not sit in; Consalvo and Wyatt made no appearance at all — answered less strongly. Mike Ross, who has spoken eloquently at earlier Forums, seemed less in command here — perhaps it was the questions, which did not fit his vision of fun city — restaurants, liquor licenses, and neighborhood nightlife. His best answer fitted that slot : “Yes I am a supporter of food trucks (which SEBA’s restaurant members don’t like), but keep in mind that some good food trucks have stepped up to be bricks-and-mortar restaurants.”
^ Mike Ross : food trucks to restaurants
^ John Barros : seeing City hall from his neighborhood (Mike Ross to his right)
John Barros and Bill Walczak spoke from the viewpoint of their particular experience ; schools for Barros, the Codman square Health Center for Walczak. The tactic made their answers sound provincial. a Mayor should see the neighborhoods from City hall. Barros and Walczak did the reverse : looked at City hall from a neighborhood. And Walczak, as always, offered his “no casino” mantra.
Dan Conley stayed at the Forum only long enough to respond to a twenty-question round robin of “yes, no, or thinking about it” quickie answers to this or that one-word issue : casinos, liquor licenses, South Boston parade, audit the city, change the BRA, and such like. As for Charles Yancey and Charles Clemons, each made a couple of notable points — specific to their personal resumes — but both lacked preparation, and it showed.
Each candidate was asked what was his proudest moments, in public life and in his work. Marty Walsh answered thus : “protecting jobs. We passed legislation which has allowed technology companies to bring in new jobs that for he most part were in California. But hey, it wasn’t just about me. (It’s) working with a team. It’s not just you, it’s going to be working collaboratively.”
Then Felix Arroyo : “my proudest moment on the Council ? There was an attempt to close our city’s libraries. I was instrumental in stopping that. Before that, the work that I did in organizing janitors. They were making eight dollars an hour,. now they’re making fifteen.”
Connolly : “most important council work ? getting a strict energy efficient city code passed. as an attorney, my proudest moment wa represennting a client, pro bono, two guys here in the South End (who were victims) in a gay-bashing case.”
Another not so typical Forum question was then posed ; ‘have you started thinking about who you would include in your administration — in your cabinet — as Mayor ?” The strongest candidates gave the most intriguing and thoughtful answers.
Walsh : “a new superintendent of schools first…the hierarchy of the Police department should be revamped. Look at the Fire department too. Include all the city in my discussions and decisions.”
^ Marty Walsh : vows big changes at the Police department
Connolly : “new generation, new leadership. Superintendant of schools — how about one who is non-traditional ? A city-wide summit on public health. Begin overhauling city hall to be user-friendly.”
Arroyo : “A diverse cabinet that shares my values. A superintendant of schools who knows that you have to work with everyone.”
^ john Connolly and Felix Arroyo : will they work with the Council ? So they say…
Next came a question guaranteed to elicit an unreal answer: “how will you as Mayor work with the City Council ?”
Connolly : “We are better when we disagree. I want a council that is bold and independent. Disagreement makes us better.” (to which I comment : “sounds good, but that’s not how it plays out. The Mayor may let the council gripe, but he has the power and the Council doesn’t.”)
Arroyo — “The Council is there because the voters put them there. But more importantly” — and here he pointed to the Forum audience — “I want to work with YOU !” (to which I comment : “a slick way of ducking the question !”)
Walsh : “The city council is a partner. I would also include the Boston legislative delegation and also legislators from around the state. The mayor can’t do it alone, he’s not a dictator.” (to which I comment “no, but the Mayor often thinks he is.”)
By this time the Forum had shredded badly. Conley first, but then Ross, Barros, Clemons, even Connolly, one after the other, had to leave to attend other events. Only Arroyo and Walsh said they were here for the duration.
They all apologized, of course. But as the race is now well into crunch time, every candidate with any chance at all has more events on his or her daily schedule than could be attended in three days. And so it goes. rush, greet, rush, talk, rush, talk, greet, talk, rush. You want to keep up ? You will have to rush, rush too.
—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere