^ gulping down face to face the nectar of Negative Punch : Marty Walsh vs. John Connolly

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A month ago I wrote that the Final campaign had to go negative. 65 % of those who voted on Primary day did not vote for either Walsh or Connolly; each, and certainly the winner, would get the big majority of his votes from people who did not want him.

Last night at Debate Number three we saw that negative, at the beginning and at the end. It bookmarked the debate. Clearly both men were determined to assure that, of two men not liked by most voters, his opponent would be liked less.

Walsh attacked Connolly as a “corporate lawyer” and for not doing anything as a City Councillor. “Name one thing you have done,” Walsh challenged. “Did you as a Councillor bring any jobs at all to Boston ?” Connolly had a strong answer to that. Three strong ones, in fact.

Connolly attacked Walsh far more cogently, or at least I thought so. He cited Walsh’s now infamous House Bill 2467, which would take away City Councils’ power to approve or turn down labor arbitrators’ awards, and, at the end of the debate, he noted that Walsh, as chairman of the House Ethics Committee, “took no action” – Walsh’s own words, when asked — despite “one legislator going to jail,” as Connolly noted.

Listening to this attack, Walsh’s face grew grim, his eyes grimmer. If looks could kill…but he did not lose his temper, did Walsh, although at the grimmest point he seemed about to. He is said to have a terrifying temper. We almost saw it.

His record is open to substantial question; but so far the voters do not seem to care about what he has been and done. They want to know what he is going to DO. And during the middle of the debate — really more a Forum, with questions being asked by the moderator, than an actual debate — Walsh talked on and on about his policy proposals, numerous proposals — almost a policy wonk. It was very effective, because what newly watching voter expected “the union guy” to talk in detail about parks, young violence, the BRA, enterprise, budgets, etc etc ? Walsh talked abut them all. He sounded like a Mayor.

Connolly sounded like an insurgent; a challenger; the underdog. It was a shrewd role for him to adopt, as he did the day before the debate on the wings of his internal poll showing the race tied 43 to 43. It was also shrewd because the Walsh campaign’s attacks on Connolly, fueled by huge money, mailings, and an army of union door-knockers, had succeeded in getting voters to care a lot about what, said Walsh, Connolly has been and not much at all about what he would DO as Mayor. At the debate, Connolly time and again had to reassert that he is a City Councillor with a strong record of accomplishment.

It is never good when, at a campaign’s final debate, the man who looks like the challenger has to fend off accusations from the man who looks like the incumbent. But in this case, the man who talks like the incumbent isn’t. He doesn’t have a record to defend. Thus Connolly was punching not a bag but a might-have-been.

Today we found out, at 1:00 PM, exactly what the debate portended : a new UMass Poll finds Walsh now leading Connolly 47 to 40; that people really do believe that Connolly is a corporate lawyer, not a City Councillor; and that Walsh represents the poor and middle class.

Connolly’s hope is knowing that that poll did not take into accoungt the strong questions that he raised at the third debate about Walsh’s record and connections. Unhappily for Connolly, the poll does take in Walsh’s very weak performance at the second debate. If voters watching that debate did not decide for Connolly,. how will they decide for him now, after Walsh’s best debate performance of the three ?

Connolly has six days to change voters’ perception, to get them thinking about Walsh’s status quo attitude, his army of one interest group, his base in the city’s most unreconstructed communities — hardly a home plate whence to hit a home run for the future city. Can Connolly do it ? It’;s all up to him at this point.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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