BOSTON MAYOR : APPLE STORE-ING at the BOSTON INNOVATION FORUM

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^ Marty Walsh at his humble and practical best : at BostInno Mayor Forum

One candidate speaks the syntax of hi-technology, the other means well. The folks who bring us the media publication BostInno — voice of the “Innovation District,” Inno for short — know the difference. They go first-name with john Connolly, who helped set up the Inno; with Marty Walsh, not so readily. Yet at this morning’s Forum the moderators clearly appreciated Walsh’s humility and readiness to listen to the concerns of people very different from his base. Walsh’s 45 minutes of question and answer showed him at his best : not exactly ready with the answer, and willing to be seen as such. And when an answer was given, it proved practical; and the Forum attendees appreciated Walsh’s practicality and laughed at his self-deprecations. But his answers also proved revealing.

Walsh offered no radical transformations, sees no major shifts. He will bring new kinds of people into his circle of advisors. There will be diverse conversations, diverse decision making. Clearly, Walsh sees access to the Mayor’s ear as his top priority.

Some questions that Connolly would have dined on, Walsh ducked. Asked “how will you win the support of THIS community as you have the unions,” Walsh said “Innovation will be central to my cabinet.” To, ” a question about keeping the city open late at night, he offered “if people want to get a meal late or to install a juke box” — he laughed : “do they still call it that ?” — “it’s a matter of permitting.” Quizzed on what will be his Big Idea — the moderators cited New York mayor Bloomberg creating a technology campus high school — Walsh said “not sure….growing the City is what I’m focused on.”

At other points, however, Walsh outlined regionalized economic initiatives, innovation districts all through the city, arts festivals all weekend; and spoke of them all easily and in detail. Within his comfort zone, Walsh commanded the Forum-goers’ quiet attention, just as he had throughout the marathon of Forums held prior to the Primary. He may not win any debate prizes, but at the BostInno Forum he showed once again that when interviewed, he is an appealing figure.

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^ the passionate bold innovator : John Connolly being moderatored

Then it was John Connolly’s turn. He too ducked the toughest question. Asked how he would handle fights with the Teachers Union, he responded “I want to fundamentally alter the culture in city administration, make it like the apple store” — which is his mantra: but sweet ear candy to the folks at this Forum. He also gave boiler plate answers to many questions and talked on too long, in a drone that dissipated the drama. It wasn’t the strongest start I have heard from him, not at all. But then he found his feet and began to assert, as only he can do.

“We aren’t preparing kids to compete in today’s economy…We need highly talented principals… and reforming the teacher contract. We have one of the most antiquated contracts in the country. We have to change it. Seniority cannot be the only way to choose teachers.”

So why, asked the moderators, haven ‘t you changed it ? Connolly replied thus: ” on the Council I don’t get to make any decisions. All we (the Council’s education Committe, which Connolly chaired) could do was be a watchdog…and to redirect some resources. (And) we had hearings on the teachers’ contract. A thing that they hadn’t thought possible. We had parents testify, we even had teachers come in and say that the teachers’ contract was wrong.”

Connolly then mentioned Walsh’s bill to take away from City Councils the power to review labor arbitrators’ awards. He said “The mayor has to represent the whole city…be independent…he can’t just represent one interest. My opponent’s legislation would damage the City’s bond rating and hurt city programs.” He was then asked the same question that was asked of Walsh : “what is your Big Idea — like the Mayor Bloomberg technology campus ?”

Connolly smiled that broad teddy bear smile.”My big idea ? It’s that every child in Boston get a quality education !”

The Forum people loved it. Connolly was among friends, and the rest of his time on stage was devoted to technology advance questions, innovation district questions, late night open hours discussion. It was less a Q and A than an office conversation.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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