Boston mayoral candidates John Connolly and Martin Walsh sparred over quality-of-life effects and new jobs that a proposed casino would bring in a debate last night, their final meeting before election day next week.
They batted around questions about the proposal barely a week after would-be operator Caesars Entertainment Corp. pulled out, punching a hole in the plan that will go before voters Nov. 5 in the neighborhoods most affected.
“Would I like a casino in my neighborhood, directly next to my house? Probably no,” City Councilor Connolly, 40, said when asked whether he supports the measure to bring a gaming establishment to the East Boston neighborhood, near Logan International Airport. He said he’s “deeply troubled” that Caesars is being probed for violations of money-laundering laws.
“A casino helps with jobs,” State Representative Walsh, 46, said in stressing the economic benefits of the proposal, whose backers haven’t found a new operating partner.
The competitors for the city’s first open mayoral seat in a generation sparred in the televised debate over issues including racism in the police department, housing, negative campaigning and jobs. They commented on gambling after Caesars left the casino plan for the Suffolk Downs horse track as a background investigation flagged the federal money-laundering probe.
With the local casino group in flux, Boston’s next mayor will play a role in structuring a reshaped plan, if voters favor the idea. The winner will take the reins from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who turns 71 in December, and said in March he wouldn’t seek an unprecedented sixth term amid mounting health concerns.
The hour-long debate, hosted by a local media group that includes Bloomberg Radio, was “not a game changer” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant with the Dewey Square Group in Boston. Marsh isn’t working for either campaign.
“Walsh walked in with the advantage and he walked out with it,” Marsh said after the debate. “Marty has the momentum.”
Connolly’s attacks throughout the event show he’s trying to get back into the driver’s seat, Marsh said.
Connolly repeatedly called out Walsh for his background as a union leader to raise questions about whether he would be independent enough to protect taxpayers. Accusations included that Walsh filed legislation that “would have damaged the fiscal health” of Boston by reducing the City Council’s role in approving labor contracts.
Walsh countered that his relations with union leaders will let him extract tough concessions in contract negotiations. “I have the trust from the other side of the table,” he said.
The two also traded jabs over who is at fault for campaign’s negative tone in recent weeks. Connolly said Walsh “opened the door” for attack advertisements when he refused an agreement to bar outside spending and said he and his family were “savaged” by a flier that highlighted his Harvard University education and described him as part of the elite.
The debate was sandwiched between two evenings where Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox are playing in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The New York Times reported about 14.4 million people watched the Sox win the Oct. 28 game.
Walsh got in the debate’s final words, saying “Go Sox!”