In a 90-minute fast-paced 12-way exchange that at times resembled a raucous dinner-table argument, Boston's would-be mayors jostled for voters' attention with just under two weeks until the Sept. 24 preliminary that will cull the candidates to two finalists.
"My name is Charles Yancey, and I'm running for mayor of the city of Boston," the three-decade city councilor, who is also a candidate for re-election to the City Council, said during a rare lull in the Monday night debate.
The debate, most of which was carried live on NECN, featured some charged exchanges, with former appointed School Committee member John Barros at one point seeking to take the mantle of education reformer from City Councilor John Connolly, the only pol to declare candidacy before Mayor Tom Menino announced he would not seek to extend his two-decade rein.
"I know he taught for two years but he doesn't have enough experience in schools," said Barros, touting his involvement in Orchard Gardens, a school the Patrick administration has held up as an model. He said, "We know how to turn around schools."
Noting he taught for three and a half years and his daughter now attends a "turnaround" school, Connolly argued that the job of improving Boston Public Schools remains a long way from finished.
He reeled off a long list of management positions that administer afterschool and told the crowd, "It's a broken bureaucracy. It needs to change." Connolly reminded voters he is seeking to extend the school day.
Nine of the candidates arrayed in a horseshoe at the Modern Theatre before moderators Joe Battenfeld, of the Boston Herald, and Allison King, of NECN, had earlier that evening participated in an arts forum at a theater next door where they pitched proposals to create a cabinet-level arts commissioner, boost funding and ease arts permitting to applause from the crowd.
After the arts forum served up softballs about favored neighborhood arts experiences, Battenfeld was slinging harder stuff, questioning District Attorney Dan Conley about his decision to not send his children to public school and asking another candidate if that meant the prosecutor and former city councilor "isn't as invested?"
"Parents don't play politics with their kids' education," Conley said, saying that he and his wife "are willing to roll pennies" in their effort to give their children "more of a religious and character education."
Codman Square Health Center founder Bill Walczak, who was urged to disclose the terms of his departure from Carney Hospital, contrasted his career as a manager with Rep. Martin Walsh, who was recently an official at the Boston Building Trades, one of the unions that has given the state representative support.
"I've spend most of my life as a chief executive officer," Walczak said. Asked if he thought Walsh could negotiate with unions, Walzcak said, "No. I don't."
Walsh defended his union position, saying he knows how to bargain and has voted contrary to labor on issues of education and pension reform, and said the drug problem in the city extends beyond recent deaths associated with the club drug known as molly.
"We have heroin on the streets. We have pills on the streets. We have kids every day getting addicted to heroin. We have an epidemic in the city and the state," said Walsh. He said, "We have to talk to our kids at a younger age."
Taking a question from a Suffolk University graduate student about late-night public transportation, City Councilor Mike Ross said he had worked to create the Night Owl bus system in Boston, which kept transit service running up to 3 a.m., and criticized the $500 million transportation funding tax bill that emerged from the state Legislature at about a quarter the size of a revenue bill proposed by the Patrick administration.
"What happened at the State House was a lost opportunity. Unfortunately, our state Legislature voted on a package that won't do the things you want," said Ross, who was joined by Barros and City Councilor Felix Arroyo in his critique of state lawmakers.
"I don't know actually know if anybody here went up to the State House to actually lobby," said Charlotte Golar-Richie, a former Boston City Hall official and former state representative, who said of the tax debate, "you have to educate the citizenry" and "people do not want to be overly burdened."
When the question of balancing safety and privacy came up, City Councilor Rob Consalvo said cameras could be used in tandem with the Spotshotter system he helped bring to the city to help zero-in on gunshots.
"I think we can use cameras strategically," Consalvo said, who was joined by Conley in asserting that cameras present a great crime-fighting utility. Consalvo said, "Let's not be afraid of technology."
Arroyo said he fought a plan to close city libraries and stressed the need to make education work for all students.
"The next mayor of Boston has to be serious about poverty," Arroyo said.
Former Boston Police officer Charles Clemons said it is important that the city's police ranks include officers from the various ethnicities and said if elected mayor he would not keep on Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who has been criticized for a lack of diversity.
"I would have Police Commissioner Ed Davis removed," Clemons said.
While many of the candidates occasionally created a din attempting to talk over one another, the lone Republican, David James Wyatt avoided the verbal melee, speaking only when directly addressed by the moderators.
"I'm a Republican. I'm 100 percent pro-life," said Wyatt. Asked whether his views would be an obstacle advancing in the election in a Democratic city that favors abortion rights, Wyatt wiped his brow, saying, "It is probably, but those people deserve to have someone to vote for."