WGBH News reporter Adam Reilly and contributing editor Peter Kadzis on thesecond debate between Boston mayoral candidates John Connolly and Marty Walsh.
REILLY: I felt like the debate we just watched here at WGBH was the antithesis of the one we saw at WBZ last week. Instead of looking like two guys who were afraid to engage each other, John Connolly and Marty Walsh went right at their opponent's perceived weak spot.
We had Connolly hammering Walsh for those third-party fliers that his supporters have been sending out, arguing that Walsh's inability to squash them shows he won't be able to get tough with unions. And then, conversely, there was Walsh calling on Connolly to open up the books from his law practice — the strong implication being that there was something … untoward about Connolly's legal career.
If I had to pick, I'd say Connolly's attacks seemed a bit more effective. What about you?
KADZIS: Walsh and Connolly are getting their sea legs. This, after all, is only the second big league debate they've engaged in.
Connolly was more focused both on the attack and in terms of policy. I think the legal career is a nonstarter. First of all, there is lawyer-client privilege — not that that might matter. I think the unions are making a mistake in trying to turn Connolly into Romney.
Having grown up in Dorchester, I see these two guys as different sides of the same coin. Yes, Connolly is white collar. And, yes, Walsh is blue collar. But Walsh enjoyed a six figure salary from the Boston Building Trades Council, and according to the Herald his total income topped $200,000. In St. Gregory's parish, that would pass for pretty white collar.
REILLY: Fair enough. But — not to be too cynical — if a barrage of third-party mailers paint Connolly as a child of privilege and Walsh as an everyman, does Walsh's enviable salary really matter?
Also, I wonder how effective Connolly's portrayal of Walsh as a union yes-man is going to be come November 5. After all, the problem with Connolly's argument that Walsh can't make his union surrogates stop their negative attacks is that Walsh isn't supposed to make his union surrogates stop their negative attacks. In fact, campaign-finance law says illegal for him to work with them at all.
And what about Walsh's argument, which he's made throughout the campaign, that his own union background makes him uniquely qualified to ask unions to make tough sacrifices?
KADZIS: I think this debate was about Connolly staying competitive. My sense is that since about a week before is the primary, momentum shifted. Connolly was the favorite, but he's not any more.
Walsh's union-fueled field organization is probably worth three to six points at the polls. And Walsh's rapport with other elected officials has garnered him an impressive portfolio of endorsements. The organization and the endorsements equal a one-two punch, that I believe has put Connolly on the defensive.
Tuesday night Connolly not only stayed in the ring, he won the round. Let's take the exchange where Walsh accused Connolly of not stepping forward during the contract talks with the teachers' union. That, as Joe Biden would say, is malarkey. Connolly held two marathon city council hearings at which parents, teachers, students, representatives of the business community, foundation experts — almost everyone but the Pope — testified. I was there.
These hearings left it crystal clear that Boston needed a longer school day and that principals needed more authority and flexibility in running their schools. The big question is: How many people will remember? The next big question is: Will the dailies point out this discrepancy? My hunch is that Scot Lehigh of the Globe will.
REILLY: And that wasn't the only point where Walsh may have needlessly damaged himself. His worst moment, I thought, came when he criticized Connolly for backing a city tax break for Liberty Mutual — and was then forced to admit that he'd backed that tax break himself in his post at the Building Trades Council.
That said, let me ask yet another question: Shouldn't we be grading Connolly and Walsh on a curve here? After all, Connolly is a former debate star who graduated from Harvard College. Walsh, meanwhile, is cut from the same political cloth as Tom Menino; he's got an everyman persona and isn't a sterling orator. And yet, while Connolly may have won tonight on points, it was reasonably close.
KADZIS: Walsh is an incredibly warm person and one-on-one has a quiet and effective charisma. That comes through. It can't be suppressed.
I was talking to a sharp young guy who writes for an online site right after the debate; he overrated the effect of Walsh's fumble near the end when Walsh was asked about how well Menino used the mayoralty as a bully pulpit. I think the public will cut Walsh slack. Sure, the political junkies were still watching, but I think John and Jane Doe watching will say to themselves, "Big deal."
My bottom line may appear eccentric, but here it is: This debate was not about Walsh. It was about Connolly. Connolly showed that he had the wit to stay in the game. But he has to muscle up. If I were his political adviser, I'd tell him to take the money Stand for Children has offered. My gut tells me that the only way to beat Walsh's organization is with a highly motivating ad campaign. That, I believe, is the hallmark of Stand for Children. This race is tighter than anyone realizes.