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The Boston mayoral race: Debate 2 | Joan Vennochi

Getting it done

By Joan Vennochi
September 11, 2009

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ASKED ABOUT his bumbling speaking style during yesterday’s debate, Mayor Thomas M. Menino gave a typically garbled reply. But he was clear about the one thing: “It’s not the way you speak, it’s about getting the job done.’’

After 16 years in office, Menino and his poor articulation are known quantities. It will take more than that - and challenger Kevin McCrea’s eagerness to praise his “deficiency’’ - to defeat him.

After all, the men who would replace Menino all have physical issues. City Councilor Sam Yoon is so boyish he looks like he needs a parent’s permission slip for a field trip. City Councilor Michael Flaherty looks like a South Boston version of Menino when he served on the Council; there is nothing “new Boston’’ about him. McCrea, a South End businessman and developer, is over-the-top edgy when he equates “wasting money’’ with corruption.

For much of the hour, Menino seemed content to let his three younger challengers control the debate. Each is a better speaker than Menino. But so far, not one of the mayor’s more eloquent rivals has articulated a broader, clearer vision than his: getting the job done.

Boston schools still need improvement. But is a commitment from a new mayor to spend one day a week in a school, as McCrea promises, the way to make that happen? Menino took too long to get tough on labor. But does getting tougher require consultation with Harvard and MIT, as Yoon suggests? Flaherty insists the budget would be smaller under his administration and boasts that he didn’t support the “Menino meals tax.’’ But how can he spend less, raise less revenue, and still deliver better schools and city services?

The theme of attack on Menino is simple: It’s time for change.

Yoon makes the most elegant argument. He is smart, earnest and looks the part of change agent. A Menino-Yoon face-off would be garble versus grace.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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