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Right from the start of his final debate appearance Monday night, Mayor Thomas Menino was pushed on the controversy over deleted e-mails at City Hall — even though likely voters don't think it's a big issue in the mayoral race.
"I took this issue very seriously. I put more than was requested online," the mayor said of his decision to post thousands of the recovered e-mails on the city's Web site. The mayor's office is being investigation for possible violation of the state's public records law.
"The voters of Boston and other folks could see what we had in the four years that were questionable over the last several weeks," he said.
Flaherty fired back. "What we've seen to date are the e-mails that are 'to' and 'CC-ed,' but we haven't seen the e-mails that are 'from'," Flaherty said in response. "To learn that city employees are in the business of the wholesale destruction of public documents is troubling, to say the least."
WBUR's Bob Oakes, a panelist, pointed out that a recent poll commissioned by The Boston Globe showed that, for the vast majority of respondents, the e-mail controversy would have no impact on whether they would vote to re-elect Menino.
Oakes pressed Flaherty on his decision to make the issue a focal point of his campaign when there are so many other important issues facing the city.
"Nothing more important, again, than the public trust," Flaherty said. "And also to demonstrate the culture that exists at City Hall. If you don't hire the right person, if you're not connected, you don't get that permit, you don't get that license."
The candidates returned several times throughout the evening to the topic of Boston's troubled public school system --- which Flaherty has in the past called an "embarrassment."
"One hundred out of 143 of the Boston public schools are failing. They're under-performing," Flaherty said. "Not only are kids not graduating from school, but the kids that actually graduate cannot compete at the college level," he added, pointing to a lack of SAT preparation.
Flaherty asked Menino to grade himself after 16 years in office, given that more than 24,000 students had dropped out of the system in that period.
"I'd like you to look into that camera and grade yourself," Flaherty said.
When Menino at first declined to specify a grade, Flaherty jumped in to provide his own.
"I'll give you an F," the councilor said.
Menino later gave himself a B, saying, with a laugh, "I don't think I'd get an F. Maybe a B-plus. No, a B. I'll give myself a B. I'll be generous."
On the issue of crime, Menino said he has been working to keep a handle on the status of the city's neighborhoods.
"I've walked those streets with the police commissioner over the past several weeks," Menino said. "(I) listen to the neighborhood folks and what they're doing every day and how we can help them."
City Councilor Michael Flaherty responded by pointing out that during the mayor's 16-year term of office, more than 1,000 people have been murdered.
"I guess I would say that crime stats ... don't tell the whole story," Flaherty said. "As a former prosecutor, I had a front row seat with respect to crime and violence that was happening."
The candidates face off in the general election Nov. 3.
WBUR's Dave Faneuf contributed to this report.
This program aired on October 19, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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