We got our first one-on-one mayoral debate tonight. I thought Michael Flaherty was very good, but Tom Menino was quite good, and as far as I know he's holding the lead in the late innings, so I'd say the mayor came out fine.
Speaking of innings, how psyched must Menino be that the Sox made the playoffs, so nobody in town could possibly find themselves accidentally taking interest in the mayoral race. Another advantage for the guy in front.
Flaherty was better than I've seen him in any previous forums, but I didn't see any attempt at a game-changing strategy. Perhaps I'm just cynical; I doubt that anybody was actually watching the debate, so I was looking more for what news would come out of it (or what clips would be used from it) rather than who was actually persuasive to viewers.
In that vein, I thought the clearest debate-wrap-up-worthy thing was Menino twice referring to the Flaherty-Yoon "running mates" arrangement as a "jobs for votes" deal. The first time, he threw it in obliquely and gratuitously, unprompted, after Flaherty accused him and Michael Kinneavy of "keeping a naughty list." Menino responded "I haven't made any deals [promising] jobs for votes." The second time was after Flaherty had been asked what role Yoon would play in his administration; Menino accusatorily declared "I think it's jobs for votes," going on to say that he didn't do such a thing in 1993 and wouldn't do so now. (Of course, he didn't have to when he first took office -- he got it by virtue of being city council president. Then he had plenty of time to hand out jobs before his first election.)
I understand Menino's point (I grilled the Flaherty campaign along those same lines when they first made the "Floon" announcement), but for the life of me I don't know why he would want to keep it in the headlines by repeatedly alleging impropriety.
[Update: Sure enough, "job for votes" is already the headline-maker of the night.]
And if he's going to allege, he should allege. But he won't. After the debate I asked Menino whether he was suggesting that Flaherty and Yoon had broken any law. "I don't know if there's a law..." he said. I asked if he was suggesting they had done something unethical. "I'm not saying it's unethical," he said, "I don't know if it's unethical or not... I've got to live by what I do, and [Flaherty] has to live by what he does."
Well, what does that mean, you don't know if it's ethical? If he's trading jobs for votes, that's unethical, right? If you say it's something you never did and would never do, that's because you think it's wrong, n'est pas?
Speaking of Yoon -- who was at the WCVB studio for the debate, but off in the green room, so they were unable to activate their Wonder Twin powers -- Flaherty was surprisingly silent about his new chum, except when asked directly about him. More broadly, I think Flaherty had an opportunity to use this debate to demonstrate some new energy and spark coming off the big announcement. I was surprised he didn't take more advantage.
At the very end of the hour, Flaherty got off what I thought was his best line: "The mayor would do anything to stand in the way of progress." I think that's a theme he can build around -- sort of a new, more forward-looking version of the "good/better" argument of earlier in the campaign. Menino, aka Mayor Status Quo, stands in the way of progress, while these two smart, educated, energetic young men want to unleash progress. That's what I'm missing from Flaherty -- what I mean when I refer to Clinton-Gore '92 -- the sense that he can't wait to get to work on all the great things that could be done.
I can think of plenty of ways to work that theme, both into criticism of Menino and to outline Flaherty's agenda. But this blog post is already awfully long, and anyway I should leave some of the work to Flaherty and his campaign strategists. And besides, like everybody else, I'm far more interested in how the Red Sox did tonight.