Issues set off sparks in second mayoral debate

Second mayoral debate: City Councillor John Connolly, left, and State Rep. Marty Walsh are shown on the set of a televised debate held at WGBH studios in Allston on Tuesday evening. Photo by Meredith Nierman/WGBH NewsSecond mayoral debate: City Councillor John Connolly, left, and State Rep. Marty Walsh are shown on the set of a televised debate held at WGBH studios in Allston on Tuesday evening. Photo by Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

State Rep. Marty Walsh’s union ties and City Councillor At-Large John Connolly’s background as an attorney were an early focus of the second televised debate between the two mayoral candidates as they scrapped with each other two weeks before the Nov. 5 election.

The debate opened with Margery Eagan, who co-moderated the WGBH-sponsored debate with Jim Braude, pointing out that an independent, pro-union group had sent out a flyer slamming Connolly as a “son of privilege.” Said Walsh: “When I heard that piece went out, I was very upset about it,” adding that he put out a statement condemning the flyer and personally called Connolly.

But then Eagan noted that another, similar flyer, from the Greater Boston Labor Council, had come out on Tuesday. “I’ve never engaged in this type of campaigning and I never will engage in this type of campaigning, and you know, it’s wrong,” Walsh said.

The opening provided Connolly with the opportunity to hit Walsh on his union ties. “Those are the exact group of people that you’re going to be across the table from when you’re mayor,” Connolly said. “They’re not listening to you now, how’re we gonna know they’ll listen to you when you’re mayor?” Walsh said he will be able to tell union leaders “hard truths,” much in the same way that he has done it on Beacon Hill as a state legislator.

The debate then pivoted to Connolly’s time as a lawyer, with Eagan saying Connolly has mostly talked about the several years he spent as a teacher and not as much about his tenure as an attorney. Connolly said his time as a teacher was the “most impactful experience of my life.”

The councillor, who has left his law firm, acknowledged that his former colleagues represented landlords in some tenant disputes while he focused on representing small businesses and pro bono work. That led Walsh to call on Connolly to open up the law firm’s client list over the last 12 years. “I don’t have a heck of a lot to hide here,” Connolly responded, saying he was largely focused on his job as a city councillor and turning back to Walsh and his union background.

The back-and-forth was a shift from a debate on WBZ-TV that featured both candidates agreeing more often than not, with Connolly taking few jabs at Walsh and the Dorchester lawmaker declining to engage.

In between the two debates, Walsh continued to rack up the endorsements of elected officials, while Connolly focused on support from clergy. Bishop John Borders III endorsed Connolly at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury on Monday, and he was joined by Robert Lewis, Jr., a former Menino administration official who once worked for the Boston Foundation.

Meanwhile, Walsh solidified backing among most elected officials of color, rolling out support from state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain and District 7 Councillor Tito Jackson of Grove Hall, among others. Separately, in Hyde Park on Monday, Congressman Michael Capuano said he, too, would back Walsh.

“So what’s wrong with you, John? How come everybody went to Marty Walsh?” Eagan asked.

Connolly said he would’ve loved to have had those endorsements. “But this race isn’t going to be decided by elected officials,” Connolly said. “And I’m proud of the endorsements I have: Well over 20 ministers, well over 20 business leaders of color in this city, and the ones I’m proudest of the most, the street workers who are out there trying to pull kids out of gangs.”

The third televised debate is slated for next Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. The debate is being put together by a consortium that includes WBUR, WGBH, WHDH-TV, New England Cable News, Bloomberg Radio, and WCVB-TV.

The morning after Tuesday night’s debate, a WBUR/MassINC poll showed a tight race between the two, with Connolly at 41 percent and Walsh at 39 percent. The poll of 503 likely voters carried a margin of error of 4.4 percent and was out in the field on Oct. 19 and 20.