Menino disavows debate manager's MassVOTE comments

Mayor Thomas Menino disavowed on Monday comments made by his debate manager on the “organizational capacity” of a nonpartisan voting rights group to hold a debate.

Menino’s debate manager, former CBS news executive Ed Fouhy*, told the Boston Herald last week that he believed it was “doubtful” Menino would attend three proposed MassVOTE forums, saying the group “lacks the organizational capacity to sponsor a debate.” The comments drew a small uproar online.

Sitting with reporters from weekly and neighborhood newspapers, Menino said he would stick to the number of debates he’s agreed to: two before the September 22 preliminary election and another before the November final election.

“I wasn’t the one who said that,” Menino said when asked about Fouhy’s comments. “I know those guys at MassVOTE. I work with them on the issues…They’re very capable. I’ve filed legislation with them in the past legislative session.”

Asked if that’s the case, why not attend the MassVOTE forum, Menino said, “Because I agreed to three. I mean, if I started doing that, I’d have 44 debates.”

As of late Monday, the campaigns said they had not heard from the Menino camp on any debates, despite what they said was a July 1 pledge to respond. All three – City Councillors At-Large Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty, along with South End businessman Kevin McCrea – have agreed to attend three MassVOTE forums. Forums are considered different from debates in that there isn’t extensive back-and-forth between candidates, and generally consist of candidates, one after the other, speaking about their platforms.

“I’ve agreed to three debates in this campaign. I’ll go to those three debates,” Menino told reporters on Monday. “We’re trying to get the organizations together, figure out who’s going to do those three debates. It’s important that I do because I want to talk to the people of Boston, explain my positions on the issues and how I plan to move the city forward. Because all I hear is criticism of the city and I think the city has a lot to offer and has a great future.”

Another reporter asked his thoughts on why this mayoral race is the busiest in years. “There’s ambition,” Menino said. “There’s -- You have a mayor who’s been here 16 years. And they’re all out there trying to talk to the voters of Boston, saying they believe they can do a better job. That’s all.”

((*In the interest of full disclosure: I worked with Fouhy at the 2004 Democratic National Convention as part of a joint UMass-Boston/Harvard University media analysis project. Information here; and the website from the project is still up.))