What to watch for in first mayoral debate

By 
Gintautas Dumcius and Mike Deehan, Reporter Staff
Aug. 20, 2009

Mayor Thomas Menino faces off next week in a television debate against the three candidates attempting to unseat him. It will be the first of three such match-ups.

So what can viewers expect from the Aug. 26 debate? Political observers say the four-term incumbent will be the main target, of course. But they also say City Councillors At-Large Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon could end up turning on one another, as each one attempts to make the case that he’s the one who can take down Menino on November 3, after the Sept. 22 preliminary narrows the field to two candidates.

“Sept. 22 is not about being mayor, it’s about being one of the final two people to be mayor,” said District 6 Councillor John Tobin, who isn’t endorsing candidates for mayor (or City Council At-Large) until after that date.

Matt O’Malley, a former City Council candidate, said Flaherty and Yoon will likely suspend their “non-aggression pact.” “I think they have to,” he said.

As for Menino, the conventional wisdom is that he isn’t that great at debates. Nor is he a fan of them. (As one blog, Commonwealth Unbound, cheekily put it, “Menino happy to debate, have root canal.”) He had face-offs with two previous challengers – with Peggy Davis-Mullen on a Saturday night in 2001 and a televised match-up with Maura Hennigan during a Red Sox-Yankees game in 2004.

But Tobin noted that at least the mayor has experience in televised debates. This debate will be a first for Yoon, Flaherty, and South End businessman Kevin McCrea as mayoral contenders, Tobin said. “This is on television, running for mayor of Boston. This is the major leagues,” he said.

The hour-long debate airs on Wednesday night at 7 o’clock on WBZ-TV (Channel 4). The station’s political analyst, Jon Keller, will moderate. It will be rebroadcast the following night on Channel 38.

O’Malley, a Menino supporter, said he expects the mayor to press his campaign message of “Moving Boston Forward.” “He has a compelling story to tell,” O’Malley said.

And then there will be McCrea, who observers expect to throw some verbal bombs at all the candidates as the “wild card.” He has frequently criticized Menino, Flaherty, and Yoon over transparency issues, having sued the City Council and won for violating the Open Meeting Law. (On his Twitter page, McCrea said Tuesday, “Doing Debate prep, any one have any good one liners!”)

“Kevin is clearly not someone who’s afraid to throw his punches,” Tobin said.

Tobin said Keller will play a role, as well. “The toughest job of all is moderator,” he said. “He’s no stranger to this. Jon Keller might end up being the fifth debater.”

Under the free-wheeling debate format, opening and closing statements will be dispensed with. Candidates will have a minute to respond to questions, according to an e-mail WBZ sent to the individual camps and which McCrea posted on his blog.

The second debate is scheduled for Thurs., Sept. 10, at 5 p.m. The hour-long discussion is being co-sponsored by the Boston Herald and FOX 25. A third televised debate is scheduled for Mon., Oct. 19, with the Globe, New England Cable News, WGBH, and WBUR 90.9 FM as co-sponsors.

Proposal to hike meals, hotel taxes on deck

Flaherty has been on a tear over Menino’s proposal to raise meals and hotel taxes within the city. Expect him to take his criticisms directly before a City Council committee on Thursday as it hears the measure.

Flaherty, who has criticized the increase as “dropping an anvil on small businesses,” will push for a performance review of City Hall agencies and departments, arguing that the reforms will raise the needed revenue the city needs. City Councilor At-Large Yoon and McCrea have also called for reforms first.

The Government Operations committee, which meets in the Iannella Chamber at 2:30 p.m., has invited a number of officials to testify, including Lisa Signori, the mayor’s budget chief. With an Aug. 29 deadline, the City Council is expected to vote on the measure next week in order for it to go into effect in October. The committee is chaired by District 3 Councillor Maureen Feeney.

Menino administration officials note that property taxes have been kept low during Menino’s tenure, and the $18 million that the proposal will draw is needed to keep cops on the street. Menino has long supported local option taxes, which allow cities and towns to increase the meals and hotel taxes. Municipalities were finally given the authority in the state fiscal 2010 budget.

Other invitees include managers from both luxury (Omni Parker House, Boston Marriott Long Wharf and Fairmont Copley Plaza) and mid-level hotels (Holiday Inn at Beacon Hill and Best Western at Longwood Medical). Testimony may also come from the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Massachusetts Lodging Association and Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

Haitian candidates team up to raise funds

Five Haitian-American candidates running for City Council seats in Boston, Malden, Brockton, and Randolph are teaming up to shovel some cash into their coffers. A 6 p.m. fundraiser is planned for Aug. 30 at Lantana in Randolph.

Jean-Claude Sanon, a Mattapan community activist, is running for one of the four City Council At-Large seats in Boston, while Fred Fontaine and Marc Lucas are both looking at seats in Brockton. Nekita Lamour is running for a seat in Malden, and Ricardo Bonachy Telemaque has his sights set on a council slot in Randolph.

One of the organizers is a former Boston Haitian Reporter contributor, Yolette Ibokette, who wrote a July 2009 article on the five candidates.

“It’s just not something we do in our culture,” she said. “We might support candidates, but taking money out of our pockets, it’s just something that’s really foreign to us. Those of us who have been here for a while, we are aware you have to do this. But many, many Haitians don’t realize the importance of that.”

In Boston, Sanon is running against 14 other candidates. A Sept. 22 preliminary will whittle the field down to eight contenders.
The money raised from the fundraiser will be split equally five ways, according to organizers. Tickets are $20.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out daily updates on Boston elections at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.