^ John Connolly : “our city is terribly segregated socially — kids of color see what’s available here and they say ‘no thank you.'”


^ Marty Walsh ; “there will be no discrimination in my administration, i won;t stand for it !”

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Last night’s Forum at CUPAC (Community United PAC) in the heart of Boston’s Black Ward 14 was one of the most elevated forums this dramatic Mayor campaign has yet seen. Addressing — then being questioned by — a room full of Black police, the Vulcans (Black firefighters), and several articulate community activists, first Marty Walsh spoke masterfully, and then so did John Connolly.

To a room full of people who aren’t exactly thrilled to have two “Irish” candidates put upon them, and trying to express his ordinary-guy status in life, Walsh said, “Yesterday I was at a meeting with Jack Connors — you know ? because he’s Jack Connors — on the 60th floor. I was uncomfortable. Later I was at a meeting in Grove hall. I was more comfortable with them.” The people understood his point.

Said Connolly an hour later — not an ordinary guy but, of sorts, a teacher (which he was) : “diversity is in my heart…if we want to reach every corner of this city, every (city) department needs look like the city. it’s vital that teachers of color be there to mentor kids. It’s also good for my daughter !” He was roundly applauded.

Both men had almost always performed with authority at Forums during the Primary. So it was no surprise to see them take command at this Forum. Impressed I was, however, to see them stepping up their forensics to the next level. Each articulated a vision of the city he wants Boston to be; and each could command the support of almost everybody. Still, there were significant differences in the two candidates’ grasp of issues questioned of them by CUPAC board members and several Forum attendees.


^ Former State senator Bill Owens addressed a question to Marty Walsh


^ Minister Don (Muhammed) addressed a very blunt race justice question to Marty Walsh

Walsh was questioned very bluntly ; would he commit to full inclusion, in his cabinet, of people of color ? Yes, he would. Would he commit to appoint a black police commissioner ? No, he could not commit to that. Did he support an elected school committee ? No, he felt that the appointed school committee simply needed to be expanded to include every community. How did be feel about his “own white privilege” ? The question set Walsh aback — Connolly, with his wider cultural reach, could have answered better — but he made a vow as firmly as I have ever seen him : “there will be no discrimination in my administration. I won’t stand for it !” Would he bring back civics to the school curriculum ? Said Walsh, “it’s a disgrace that we don’t teach our kids the history of our nation, the world, and the neighborhoods. Yes I support civics !” Would he as Mayor see that the neighborhood gets connected to the city’s tourism ? He saw this question differently from as it was asked : “tourists yes, but we need to bring pride to our communities. Not just tourists.”

How at a Forum sponsored in part by Black police could the BPPA arbitration award not come up ? it did. Would Walsh, known to be a union guy, balance the interests of unions and the taxpayers ? Answered Walsh : “My union experience will enable me as mayor to negotiate at the table. My intention is to settle a contract before it ever gets there (to arbitration). I have asked the BPPA and the Mayor to go back to the table. (and yes), when I am making a decision as Mayor the residents will always come first !”

He was well and long applauded. Then it was john Connolly’s turn.

Connolly was questioned on the themes that are his. What was his plan to recruit more teachers of color ? “Recruit more principals of color too,” he answered. “reach out and have community based organizations recruit teachers and principals of color.”

Had he a plan to eliminate the current trend of youth violence ? Yes, said Connolly, a plan that includes everyone and every program, because youth violence has so many causes. He would prioritize the search for a new school superintendent and a new police commissioner; and would have a city-wide summit on sate neighborhoods. Was Connolly amenable to having vocational programs put into the city’s high schools ? Yes, Connolly was amenable and presented his plan to have each high school offer a unique vocational program; some “partnering” with unions, some with a university, others with a non-profit organization.

To all of these questions the audience heard Connolly’s responses politely. there was some applause — not much. Things changed, however, once the BPPA award was put to him for opinion. “I’m inclined to vote against it,” he said. “Look, I know that you guys work hard and deserve good pay. But I want to rethink the entire contract, get rid of the flaws. You guys work way too many hours” — he was interrupted here by much applause — “we need to correct those flaws in the contract.” Applause there was.

Then came the question that cinched Connolly’s presentation for many — and for me. “Too many young people of color,” said the questioner, “with talent, graduate and move away. They see the discrimination in the city’s social life. What will you do to keep young people of color here, with social opportunity as well as work opportunity ?” Answered Connolly ; “Our city is terribly segregated socially. How many people of color do you see in the restaurants, the night spots ? Not many. Kids of color see what’s available here and they say “no thank you.’ And the downtown discrimination ! Clubs that get cited ! Other cities get it; we need to change !”

The applause was loud and long.


^ John Connolly : “other cities get it. we need to change !”

After it came more of the usual questions — the BRA, planning, affordable housing; and all were answered well and in detail, as Connolly, like Walsh, knows how; but for me, Connolly, by his savvy answer to the question on social discrimination, showed that he understands that he black community;s frustration with “two Irish candidates” is not simply political. it is social. It is cultural. Boston really Is a socially segregated city. Every night I see it, I feel it. It does need to end. talented young people of color are not going to stand for it and will take their talents elsewhere. And what of the white people they leave behind ? Are they any the more enriched for being separated from their contemporaries who happen to be of color — and maybe even of a different cultural bent ?

Connolly talked of how we get tourism in Boston “by luck, because we are an old city.” He is right ; we ARE lucky that way. But we need to become a destination city for who we are, not just for the history that happened here. Ending social discrimination in our city’s restaurants, night life, and friendships is the front line in this necessary battle.

Which is not to say that Marty Walsh’s heart is not in the right place. it is. Nobody in our politics has a stronger civil rights record than he. But the battle is not only political. it is moral and it is social. And this, John Connolly clearly gets.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere