WBUR

Development, Education Issues Top Low-Key Mayoral Debate

Mayor Tom Menino and City Councilor Michael Flaherty debated at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Lirary in Dorchester on Monday. (Pool photo by Yoon Byun/The Boston Globe)

Mayor Tom Menino and City Councilor Michael Flaherty debated at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Lirary in Dorchester on Monday. (Pool photo by Yoon Byun/The Boston Globe)

With two weeks to go to the election, City Councilor Michael Flaherty had one last chance to change the dynamics of the mayoral election before a large audience Monday night. Flaherty trailed incumbent Thomas Menino by 20 points in the latest poll.

The debate brought out some differences between the candidates, on how they would cut the city’s spiraling costs to cover retired city workers, for example. Flaherty said he would talk to retirees about putting them on Medicare. Menino questioned whether that would be fair to people who have already retired.

At one point, there was some question about who had the right figures. WBUR’s Bob Oakes reminded the mayor that in his first inaugural address, Menino promised to make the schools great again.

“The high-school dropout rate in 1994 was 7.5 percent when you came in. Last year, it was 7.6 percent, up slightly from when you came in,” Oakes said. “Have you failed in making the schools great again? Or have you failed in convincing Boston residents that they are?”

“Two accounts there. Our numbers show that the dropout rate has decreased by 33 percent,” Menino replied.

“Those are state numbers that I’m citing there,” said Oakes.

Flaherty speaks to the media after Monday night's debate. (Pool photo by Yoon Byun/The Boston Globe)

Flaherty speaks to the media after Monday night's debate. (Pool photo by Yoon Byun/The Boston Globe)

“What do you expect? They’re state numbers,” Menino said.

Flaherty turned the debate to how much schools are spending.

“We’re also operating under the most expensive school district in the country, where we’re spending close to $20,000 per student,” Flaherty said.

The latest state figures show that two years ago, Boston was tied for fifth most expensive school district in the state. Boston spent $17,000 per pupil, as much as Waltham and Weston. Rowe and Wellfleet spent $18,000, Nantucket was at $20,000, and Cambridge spent $25,000.

Menino brought the debate back to the dropout rate, and that led to the strangest moment of the night: A long pause by the mayor after someone in the audience either coughed or scoffed at what he was saying.

Development was another big issue last night. Flaherty tried to present Menino as a mayor who favors those with political connections.

“What we’re going to do is we’re going to end the pay-to-play system that governs the way that people get permits in the city of Boston,” Flaherty said. “People who are friendly with this administration are given a certain set of rules that they have to abide by. And someone walking in off the street that isn’t connected, that doesn’t hire the right lawyer or consultant, they have to follow another set of rules.”

Mayor Menino talks to the media after the debate with Flaherty on Monday. (Pool photo by Yoon Byun/The Boston Globe)

Mayor Menino talks to the media after the debate with Flaherty on Monday. (Pool photo by Yoon Byun/The Boston Globe)

It was on another question about development that the mayor admitted that he is stumped by one problem. He was asked what is going to happen in Downtown Crossing, where there’s a big hole where Filene’s used to be.

“It’s difficult to tell you where I’m at right now. We’ve met with some funders from Asia who were originally interested in it. We’re still trying to work with them, but the economy right now is down. We can’t get investors. One of the companies that was an investor in that property is near bankruptcy,” Menino said.

“We’re staying focused on that. The redevelopment authority and myself continue talking to other folks who might be interested in coming to One Franklin Street as we move forward.”

This debate was not as lively as earlier ones. Menino mostly smiled. None of Flaherty’s attacks unnerved him. This is the most contested mayoral race since Menino won the office.

Flaherty has tried to change the dynamics of the race before, by picking his former rival, Sam Yoon, as his running mate, for instance. But Monday night was Flaherty’s last chance to reshape the race in front of a large audience. It’s now behind him, and election day is rushing near.

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  • http://www.red-dogs.com Raymond Schneider

    I have an opportunity to bring my cincinnati based business to the city of Boston. I was wondering what incentives there are for developers that are ready to add a new business that will bring 60-80 new jobs to the city of Boston.

  • ksb1986

    I was kind of undecided, leaning towards the Mayor, but last night’s debate really sealed the deal for me. Flaherty came off to me as egotistical, arrogant, and elitist. Especially when he snapped back at Emily because she respectfully tried to bring him back on topic — that’s how you deal with people and treat them? I’m not cool with that.

    Also, I heard Flaherty was incredibly disrespectful for the city councilors of color while he was council president — again, not cool. Apparently he invoked a rule hardly ever used so that they couldn’t bring up issues at council. Someone who doesn’t even take the time to listen to people who may see things differently from him doesn’t impress me as a candidate for mayor.

    I’m going with Tom Menino for sure now.

  • Diane

    Mayor Manino made it clear why he has not improved the schools. He stated that parents of children in the BPS don’t vote, and that those who do vote (elderly and young professionals) don’t care about good schools. His priority is simply catering the voters who get him re-elected. Parents of the BPS are certainly voting – with their feet. We, like so many others, are looking to move out of the city to communities that value education now that our children are old enough for school. We have noticed that communities with strong schools also seem to have the highest property values and the lowest crime rates. Has he?

  • Sara

    I’m starting a family in Jamaica Plain and have been visiting BPS early education sites over the past few months — I can say I am truly amazed by the opportunities offered at these schools — the teachers are amazing, young, and engaged, and the school leaders have incredible visions for how to improve schools form top to bottom.

    Parents of BPS children do vote, and overwhelmingly, they vote for Menino. In fact the majority of BPS students are students of color and the majority of communities of color of Boston voted from Mayor Menino in the prelims.

    As a Latina in this city, who went through the BPS and is now starting a family here, I am proud to have myself, earned a first rate education, went and graduated from college in 4 years, and I am proud to send my family to BPS as well. And for the record I entered a charter school in 6th grade and hated it so much I begged my parents to send me back to BPS, thanks to Menino we now have even more k-8′s!

    Most of the people who bash the schools seem to be the people who have never stepped foot in them.

    You seem to be comparing Boston to the nearly all-white suburbs which surround us…as I have frequently heard Menino say, the strength of Boston is our diversity, and I wouldn’t want our city and our neighborhoods to turn into cookie cutter suburbs.

    I agree with ksb1986, I’m sticking with Menino.

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