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Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and City Councilor Michael Flaherty faced off in their final debate Tuesday night before voters cast ballots in next week's mayoral election. The crowd and the questions seemed to favor Flaherty, but Menino remained unfazed.
Right from the start, the questions seemed to come straight from Flaherty's talking points: Questions about whether the mayor would abolish the Boston Redevelopment Authority, put all public records online and require mandatory, random drug-testing for public safety officials. They're all part of Flaherty's platform.
Menino seemed to catch on, and occasionally raised his eyebrows in disbelief. He stayed calm, even though he was on the defensive far more than his opponent. But more than anything else, he was asked to defend his record on schools.
"There are 100 schools under-performing," Menino said. "You know half the schools in Massachusetts are under-performing? Schools in Milton, not Milt-- Brookline, Weston — Brookline — they have under-performing schools also."
That set up Flaherty for his best line of the night.
"I'm not running for mayor of Brookline, Weston and Brookline. I'm running for mayor of Boston," Flaherty said to laughter and cheers.
"And the barometer I use is 24,000 kids have dropped out of the Boston public schools," Flaherty went on. "Let's ask ourselves: Are they working? Do they have an education? Are they incarcerated? How many of them are dead? And how many them have children of their that now attend the Boston public schools? That's who I'm fighting for."
Tuesday night's forum was sponsored by MassVote, a non-profit that advocates for civic participation. It wasn't tightly choreographed like many other candidates' events. Flaherty and Menino walked freely around a stage at Faneuil Hall, addressing a sometimes mouthy audience.
And it was the audience — not Flaherty — that provoked the most tense moment for Menino. The mayor was asked why he "only" has two minorities in his cabinet.
"I guess they don't count Barbara Ferrer, who's Latino, as a minority," Menino answered. "There's actually three in my cabinet right now."
The mayor was interrupted by a shout from the audience.
"What's the matter?" Menino said. "Latinos aren't minorities?"
But after some disapproving sounds from the audience, Menino acknowledged falling short.
"Folks, I'm not going to stand here and say I'm perfect. We got to do a better job. And I'll always try to do a better job," Menino said. "It's how you improve the quality of life for those people who live in the neighborhoods of Boston. Every neighborhood. Not just one neighborhood. Every neighborhood of Boston."
"I think my administration for the last 16 years has done a good job improving the quality of life in many of our neighborhoods that were underrepresented over the last 25 years," the mayor said.
As Menino made amends, Flaherty made promises, this time for a diverse administration.
"It's about respecting each and every one of you, your communities and your great contributions to our city. You'll all be part of the Flaherty administration," he said.
If there is a Flaherty administration, residents didn't learn much about it Tuesday night, since most of the questions targeted Menino and his record. But with polls pointing to another Menino term, this may have been the last chance to challenge the mayor before he goes back to business as usual.
This program aired on October 28, 2009.
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