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The Boston mayoral race: Debate 2 | Scot Lehigh

The outsider’s appeal

By Scot Lehigh
September 11, 2009

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KEVIN MCCREA, the developer and citizen activist, was the straw that stirred the drink in last night’s mayoral debate.

Although a long shot, McCrea made himself a force to be reckoned with, offering a sharp critique of his rivals and several memorable pledges.

Asserting that he wouldn’t cut the school budget, McCrea also vowed to spend a day a week in the schools, and challenged his rivals to say they’d do the same.

Where McCrea was disingenuous was in trying to redefine his charge of “corruption’’ as merely wasteful or inefficient practices.

“That’s what I call corruption, wasting money,’’ he said.

“That’s ridiculous,’’ Menino rejoined. “That’s not corruption.’’

Score one for the mayor. One can disagree with Menino’s policy of selling city-owned property at a discount to get it back on the tax rolls, but it doesn’t qualify as corruption, not even if the buyer has been a campaign contributor.

Menino himself was much improved this time out. He defended his record more aggressively and coherently, rather than merely trying to dismiss his rivals’ criticism. That said, he still didn’t give a clear vision of what another term would bring.

Overshadowed last time, Councilor Michael Flaherty had several good moments. Bemoaning the exodus from the city driven by a search for better educational options, Flaherty stressed his stance in favor of lifting the cap on charter schools.

As he did in the last debate, Councilor Sam Yoon underscored his notion that the city’s current system gives too much power to the mayor. But he failed to elaborate on his proposed solution, and returning to that critique time and again made him seem something of a johnny-one-note.

Bottom-line: McCrea should be pleased with an evening that increased his outsider’s appeal. Menino can take comfort in a bounce-back performance that kept him from sustaining any real damage.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com.

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