Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Maybe Mayors Nudge It Out

The Sox won tonight 1 to 0, which was about the score for the first of four John Connolly v. Marty Walsh debates. The latter needs to up his game.

The vid will surely be up by tomorrow on WBZ and the Globe. If you track it down, you won't be rewarded with the best hour spent.

Neither candidate is charismatic and both are out of practice in one-on-one debates, but Connolly tromped all over Walsh. John was occasionally smarmy and Walsh too often dour.

On the plus side, neither was catty or dishonest. Neither slandered the other and the digs were subtle enough to pass without pissing off anyone. There was no class warfare and neither ridiculed the other for his upbringing.

Connolly was clearly the more comfortable. This probably related more to their personalities. Walsh is super sincere and does not exhibit the compassion those who know him speak of constantly. Instead, he seemed hesitant and on numerous questions when given the last chance for a brief rebuttal said to just move on. He didn't play the game this time. Maybe he'll do better in the next three debates.

Interestingly enough, Connolly was quick to refer to his three years teaching school. That could well have been an opening for a nastier opponent. On various websites, pro-teachers-union and other comment leavers deride Connolly's two years in an NYC Jesuit school, working only for room, board, and a $200-a-month stipend, then a year in a non-district charter school in Boston has not really teaching. That's loony, partisan talk, but one easy flank of attack, one that would be hard to argue succinctly.

To his credit, Walsh did not take that low road.

Connolly in contrast was snarkier a few times. Walsh left this opening much as Connolly's teacher gambit with referring several times to this or that piece of legislation he voted in favor of (not that he sponsored), as though a vote gave his full credit for any benefit. On his turns, Connolly said that Beacon Hill failed Boston in this way or that, as a minor slap.

The only big assault came twice when Connolly drew attention to Walsh's amendments to bills that would make public-sector union contract arbitration binding on municipalities. He was able to claim that this might could Boston $200 million by taking the right of the City Council to vote down bad arbitration awards. Lackaday, Walsh let those pass, saying weakly and without comment that this wasn't really what his amendments meant. Instead, he had a spongy promise that the contract would never get to arbitration under his mayoralty. Harrumph.

Moreover, Connolly was not shy about race and culture. Even though Walsh recently got endorsements of three preliminary opponents — two African-American and one Latino — Connolly was savvy enough to cite several instances where he co-sponsored what Councilors call legislation with a leading black figure, Councilor Ayanna Pressley. If you came in ignorant, you'd have left figuring Connolly was in with the black voters.

A fair criticism of Connolly's platform has been that it was shorter on details than Walsh's. Tonight, Walsh should have taken that directly to Connolly, being very specific and identifying vagueness in the latter's planks.

The good news for Bostonians is that these are two progressive sorts. They have a great deal of goals in common. Either would be a worthy successor to Tom Menino.

For the voters who watched the debate instead of hanging in to make sure the Sox went up 2-1 over the Tigers, they saw an insipid and unsure Walsh against an occasionally smug Connolly.

So 25% of debates done and done. This was Connolly's night. We have to ask first how important these clashes will be and second whether Walsh's team will point him in the right direction.

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