Boston Mayoral Candidates Make Case To Business Community

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Boston's two mayoral candidates appealed to the business community Thursday, when they both took questions at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

The business community has largely stayed on the sidelines of the mayoral race. Neither candidate has obvious ties to business. But the ballroom at the Copley Plaza was packed Thursday morning with business leaders eager to hear what the candidates had to say.

One of the questions to At-Large City Councilor John Connolly had to do with his former rivals in the preliminary mayoral election. Connolly has not done well getting their endorsements.

"I feel like the way it's going, all of my rivals are going to endorse my opponent by the end of this race," Connolly said.

State Rep. Marty Walsh has racked up the support of former state Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie, At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo and John Barros, the former director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. But it's Connolly who got a question about whether he would form a team of rivals in his Cabinet if he's elected.

"I would absolutely reach out to some of my former opponents," Connolly said.

Connolly also addressed funding for the T. He promised to spend more time at the State House lobbying for money for public transportation than Mayor Thomas Menino has.

"And I'm going to spend a whole lot of time up at the State House, and it may be to the expense of some time that would be spent in the neighborhoods," Connolly said.

Connolly told business leaders he would focus on money for three public transit projects.

"We've got to go up there and talk about how we can get maintenance done on the existing subway fleet, how we can have a real investment in bus rapid transit — and that's what's going to be key for the Seaport [District]," he said.

Connolly also said he would push for diesel multiple-unit trains (DMUs), which are trains composed of diesel-powered cars.

"As we're going to test it on the Fairmount line, I think we need to think about the DMUs running the inner core on all the commuter rail lines that go into Boston," he said, "and there, we could functionally create the equivalent of four new light rail lines by doing that."

For Walsh, the union leader, the chamber breakfast could have been seen as a bit of a foray to persuade business leaders that they could trust him. But Walsh began his address with a salute to the people serving the breakfast.

"I just want to, also, before I begin, thank all the wait staff that's here today, the waiters and waitresses for all their hard work in the hotel," he said.

Unite Here Local 26 — the hospitality workers union that includes workers at the Copley Plaza, where the breakfast was — has endorsed Walsh.

Walsh proposed to get Boston's colleges and universities involved in teaching English and other courses to immigrants and former prison inmates.

"We have many high schools in this city that close at 3 o'clock, and we have colleges and universities in this city that do some great things, as well," he said. "I'd like to take the colleges and universities and ask them to set up adult programs in these schools at night."

Walsh said he would allow colleges and universities to establish these programs as part of the payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) they make to the city.

"I would view that expansion into the neighborhoods as a PILOT payment," he said.

John Fish, the chairman and CEO of Suffolk Construction, said the business community still wants to hear more details from the candidates about how they will achieve their goals.

Fish has been very engaged in the life of the city during the Menino administration. He has, for example, come forward to help fund school sports. But he finds himself not quite certain where he stands between these two candidates. He said:

I really want to understand, not the high-level conversations about crime, housing and education; I want to understand a little bit deeper, what are we going to do specifically about crime, knowing we got some financial constraints to deal with it? What are we actually going to do about affordable housing in the city of Boston because of the challenge we have of the high cost of living? What are we going to do about on the educational system?

Fish said he would like to hear more from the candidates about extending the school year.

"I'm a strong proponent of saying: How do we keep these kids in school 11 months a year?" he said. "How do we avoid that summer melt? How do we take a leadership role in the country in having our kids really feel good about the opportunities they can achieve in the classroom? If we're limiting ourselves to eight-and-a-half or seven-and-a-half months a year, we're not going to be the continual leaders in education in the world."

Walsh predicted that, in the end, he would win the support of Boston's business community — precisely because of his experience negotiating union contracts.

"Because people understand the challenges facing the city of Boston," he said. "They understand when it comes to contracts, I'm the right person to deal with contracts."

Walsh acknowledged that most people at the breakfast probably don't even live in Boston, but, he said, those water-cooler conversations are important.

This program aired on October 17, 2013.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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