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Flaherty: Menino Has Lowered Boston's Expectations06:47
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City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty came into the studio to speak with WBUR's Bob Oakes in the final days leading up to Boston's mayoral election. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michael Flaherty came into the studio to speak with WBUR's Bob Oakes in the final days leading up to Boston's mayoral election. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The most competitive mayoral election that Boston has seen in two decades is decided Tuesday, Nov. 3. In the remaining days, incumbent Thomas Menino and his challenger, City Councilor Michael Flaherty, are reaching out to any voters in the city who are undecided. In the first of two final interviews with the candidates, Flaherty sat down with us this week in WBUR's Studio 2.


Bob Oakes: Are you at a disadvantage to Mayor Thomas Menino in getting your message out?

Michael Flaherty: No, I don't think so. I mean, for those that have an appetite for change, for those that are frustrated that we have too many under-performing schools, and for folks that are not working or on the verge of losing their home, they most definitely feel that we can do better as a city.

WBUR Topics: Boston Mayoral Race 2009
WBUR Topics: Boston Mayoral Race 2009

What's gone on over the last 16 years is our mayor has actually managed to lower people's expectations. As Bostonians, we've come to expect under-performing schools, we've come to expect crime and violence — particularly youth violent crime — we've come to expect dirty streets.

So we most definitely can do better. I'm excited to be in this race, to be within striking distance and, as we come down the home stretch, for the first time in over 16 years, there's a real race for mayor that's heating up in Boston, which is exciting.

What's the biggest failure of the Menino years?

I would argue the schools. I mean, given that he said, "Judge me by the Boston public schools and judge me harshly" — and I did that, and I've been doing that during the course of this campaign.

Twenty-four-thousand kids have dropped out of the Boston public schools. One hundred out of 143 of our schools are failing and only 59 percent of our students graduate high school within the four years.

So what should he have done differently over the past four terms and what would Michael Flaherty do as mayor that would be different than what's been done?Menino: I Continue To Reinvent Myself

Well, he should have embraced the successes of the charter schools, which he hadn't done until this year as he's running for a fifth four-year term.

I lead the effort in this race to lift the charter cap — let's recognize that we have some very successful charters not only in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, but right here in Boston. Boston Collegiate, Pacific Rim, Excel, Match. There's a number of them that are doing great things.

There are 8,500 students on the waiting list for charter schools right here in Boston. What does he want to do? He wants to sort of sidestep the issue and he wants in-district charters. He wants to change the success formula and have them come under his leadership. I say the last thing we need to do is give Tom Menino more schools.

But your critics say that those programs alone that you endorse would not be enough to ensure that neighborhood schools are doing a good job at educating kids, when at the same time you're creating charter schools that might improve education for the kids in those schools alone.

Well charter school detractors will say that charter schools cherry pick. With real leadership in Boston, not only will I embrace successful charters, but I'll hold them accountable.

I would embrace and support a two-way bilingual charter school in Boston; I will also embrace and support a special-ed inclusion school. People should know under a Flaherty administration: it will never be a one size fits all.

I want school-site autonomy. I want to empower school leaders. And I want school-site budgeting, so those critical tax dollars actually make their way to the classroom for teaching and learning.

Let me ask you about drug testing for public safety employees in Boston, which I know you favor, and your relationship with the firefighters union. Square that for us, would you?

The firefighters union is clearly running both radio and television ads, blaming Mayor Menino for not having firefighters going on every 911 call. The union's endorsed you. You're pledging you're going to hold the union's feet to the fire when it comes to negotiating a new contract and getting the firefighter's union, which has been incredibly resistant to drug testing, to do that.

Absolutely. First of all, I'm running against one of the most powerful, one of the most vindictive, one of the most thin-skinned individuals probably in Boston's history — and that's Tom Menino.

If folks don't think that I'll be tough enough to stand up to Ed Kelly in the fire department, they're sadly mistaken. Under a Flaherty administration, all public safety personnel will have mandatory, random drug and alcohol testing. It has to be mandatory and it has to be random.

Getting a contract done: as mayor, I intend to offer the fire department a five-year contract, not to exceed 14 percent. People will not be paid for mandatory, random drug testing. It'll be a condition of employment not just for firefighters, for all public safety personnel and for anyone that operates heavy equipment.

I'm not running for the mayor of the fire department, I'm running for mayor of Boston.

But you know it is a union, and the union can always say no thanks to the 14 percent over five years, and thank you, but no thank you for drug testing unless you pay me for the privilege of allowing me to be drug tested.

And the people of Boston should know that while I'll have my sleeves rolled up and ready to go, I will not acquiesce. If you're a member of the Boston fire department, police and EMS, you will not be paid for mandatory, random drug and alcohol testing, with the pledge that their brakes will work, their hydraulics will work and their pumps will work.

Because when we need them the most, when there's a building fire, when there's an emergency that requires our firefighters to be racing through our streets, that they'll get there safely and that they'll be able to administer the very necessary help that people need at a very vulnerable time.

What would you do first thing in the door of the mayor's office after you were elected. Big or small, major or minor, what would you do?

It would be term limits. We're going to bring term limits to the office of mayor. So gone will be the days of someone running for a fifth four-year term — or a sixth, a seventh or an eighth term.

So that it's less about a dictatorship, it's less about someone building a political army, it's about the people of Boston.

What would the Flaherty term limit be?

The term limits would be: you cannot serve more than two four-year terms. After the first four years of a Flaherty administration, if we haven't seen significant gains with respect to the Boston public schoolsspecifically our enrollment numbers, specifically the dropout crisis and specifically the number of kids that are competing and getting into college — then I won't seek a second four-year term.

But never want to put the cart before the horse. We're excited about Nov. 3. For the undecided voters that are listening, please get involved and get out there and vote. There's an opportunity to be part of something exciting and to also be part of something historic.

You're going to win Tuesday? There's going to be an upset?

Absolutely. And when I got into this race, "I said I'm in it to win it," and that I wouldn't be in this race if I didn't think I could win. As we start to close in with a few days left to go, there is a real sense of the need for change. So, we're very excited about Nov. 3, can't come soon enough, and I hope that this will be one of the highest turnouts that this city has seen in recent years.

Boston mayoral candidate, Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty, thanks a lot for coming in.

Thank you for having me.

This program aired on October 29, 2009.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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