The Dorchester connection: Walsh, Connolly promise to pursue jobs, new businesses

One will be the new mayor: John Connolly and Marty Walsh Photo by Chris LovettOne will be the new mayor: John Connolly and Marty Walsh Photo by Chris Lovett

Before the gloves came off in the mayoral race – City Councillor At-Large John Connolly pointing to negative mailers from an outside group trashing his upbringing and state Rep. Marty Walsh accusing the Connolly campaign of phone calls testing negative messages about him – the candidates more often than not agreed with each other on the issues.

Voters will go to the polls next Tuesday to choose between the two, who have focused on their biographies: Walsh has been a state lawmaker and labor leader from Savin Hill for 16 years, while Connolly is an attorney and former teacher who has served on the City Council for six years and chaired the council’s Education Committee. If either one is elected, control of the top job in City Hall will return to an Irish-American for the first time in 20 years, after Mayor Thomas Menino became the first Italian-American to hold the office. Both candidates also identify themselves as progressive Democrats.

During the campaign, the Reporter asked the two candidates what their plans would be for Dorchester and Mattapan once they got into office next year. Walsh, who would be the first mayor from Dorchester since John B. Hynes in the 1950s, said he would target Codman Square and the Blue Hill Avenue area, which continually struggle with high unemployment and lack of opportunity.

“Certainly, the policies I’m talking about, creating opportunity for employment, those are areas I’m targeting,” he said. “And again, it would be great to be from Dorchester and be mayor, but I’m still going to be mayor of the whole city. That’s the important piece here. I’m going to represent West Roxbury, I’m going to represent Hyde Park, represent Roxbury. I’ll be living and sleeping in Dorchester, but I’m going to represent the whole city.”

Connolly said he would like to see entrepreneurship centers that would help small businesses grow and spur new businesses, similar to what he has proposed in Roxbury. The centers would be housed on city-owned property, and focus on providing incubator and office space, and access to capital, mentors, and networking. He would also push for Diesel Multiple Units on all of the commuter rail lines, particularly on the Fairmount Line, which runs through Dorchester and Mattapan. The move, which state officials are attempting to implement on the Fairmount Line, would bring the commuter rail closer to the rapid transit Red Line.

Both contenders also responded to a Reporter questionnaire that was distributed to mayoral candidates during the preliminary. Asked about tackling gun violence in the community, Connolly said he will focus on community policing, appoint a liaison for reentry services, and expand the youth summer jobs program to a year-round effort.

Walsh said he will convene a discussion about “how to best approach gang violence” on his first day in office. “Recognizing that many of the guns on Boston’s streets come from bordering states like New Hampshire and Maine, I will also be a strong advocate for better gun laws and stepped-up enforcement efforts against illegal gun trafficking,” he wrote.

The candidates were also asked how they would make use of the city-owned Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner. Walsh, who held his campaign kick-off at the Strand, called it an “untapped jewel. I know it has had many challenges over the years, but I will work to make it viable by partnering with an appropriate non-profit to run and program the theater as it was utilized in the 80’s under Executive Director Geri Guardino,” Walsh wrote. “I will find a way to bring back the teen programs as well.”

Connolly proposed extending First Night, the city’s New Year celebration, into a mid-winter arts and culture festival withthe Strand serving as its home throughout January. “And when I’m mayor, the Strand will continue to host important community performances, such as the year-end concert of Dorchester-based Boston City Singers, and the recent Shakespeare-inspired productions of the youth writing program 826 Boston,” he wrote.

Inside the Channel 7 studios a block away from City Hall, the two candidates jabbed at each other in the last big debate before the election on Tuesday night. “We don’t need another lawyer in City Hall right now,” watching the purse strings, Walsh said in a shot at Connolly. The councillor asked Walsh if he was willing to “bite off the arm” of unions, a reference to a quote Walsh gave the Boston Irish Reporter in 1999 in which the lawmaker said he was not. Walsh noted that his father, who came over from Ireland, was a laborer and he grew up in a pro-labor household. Despite that, “I’ve stood up to the unions on many occasions,” Walsh said.

But the debate, put together by a media consortium that included local television and radio stations, also had its points of agreement. Both candidates said there is systemic racism in the Boston Police Department, and institutional racism within the city of Boston.