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Hennigan says mayor ultimately responsible in Snelgrove death

Angry Menino scolds rival for 'insensitivity'

Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan squared off against Mayor Thomas M. Menino last night in a debate at the WBZ Radio studios hosted by Paul Sullivan. Hennigan stepped up her attacks, which drew an angry response from Menino.
Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan squared off against Mayor Thomas M. Menino last night in a debate at the WBZ Radio studios hosted by Paul Sullivan. Hennigan stepped up her attacks, which drew an angry response from Menino. (Globe Photo / Lisa Poole)

Escalating her attacks, challenger Maura Hennigan said last night that Mayor Thomas M. Menino deserved ultimate blame for the death of Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove, who was killed by a police pepper pellet gun after the American League Championship Series last fall. Police were found to have lacked training and to have fired indiscriminately at the crowd that night.

''Because you were not prepared and because we did not have adequate training, we saw devastation to a family who will never be the same," Hennigan said. ''They can never have reparations for any money."

A stung and clearly angry Menino retorted that he was ''horrified" that Hennigan would use the issue as political ammunition against him.

''I'm just very hurt that you're bringing up the Snelgrove case," he said. ''That family lives with that case every day, you have to bring it up in a political setting, that's wrong. That's extremely wrong to mention that during a debate about who is going to be mayor of Boston. That shows insensitivity to a very serious issue."

Last night's rapid-fire exchange on WBZ 1030 AM was the closest thing to a debate seen in this year's mayor's race, which pits a popular, well-funded incumbent against a longtime city councilor who has grasped for a galvanizing issue.

Hennigan, increasingly struggling to gain a foothold, launched pointed and sometimes inaccurate attacks on the mayor's record on schools, jobs, housing, the budget, and police staffing. Menino, who barely bothered to defend himself against a Hennigan onslaught during their televised debate on WGBH last month, fought back, sometimes furiously.

After the mayor defended the pay raises that police and firefighter unions received just before the Democratic National Convention, Hennigan pounced, saying that Menino had given away the store.

''You knew that the [Democratic National Convention] was coming to our city, and yet you waited until the last minute to negotiate these contracts,," she said. ''You waited until the city's back was against the wall."

Menino interrupted: ''That's incorrect, Councilor."

She went on: ''And the people [who] had to pay the price were the taxpayers. And as we know, you did not negotiate the contracts. You had to have an arbitrator come in and negotiate those contracts for you. And you got no reform as a result of that."

Menino fired back that the union resisted fair negotiations, requiring that the issue go to arbitration. It was the arbitrator, he said, who decided on the raises, which will cost $200 million over four years, according to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

''Usually you get a fair shake from an arbitrator; we didn't get a fair shake," the mayor lamented.

Though the candidates greeted each other cordially, a growing frostiness between them seemed apparent. They barely looked at each other during the commercial breaks. Even before the show began, Hennigan stayed in her studio chair, while the mayor stood outside speaking to aides and reporters.

At one point during the forum, Sullivan asked Menino what happened to his promise to step down after two terms as mayor.

''We hadn't finished the job we started," Menino said. ''And I wanted to finish the job I started in the city."

And then, the mayor said, his challenger is not exactly a newcomer either.

''My colleague's been in the city government for 23 years," Menino said. ''When I first became city councilor she helped me out.

''She brought me around and showed me some of the things that were going on," he said wryly.

Hennigan downplayed her long tenure, saying she was ready to ''transcend" from a legislative body to the chief executive of the city. Plus, she said, the mayor has lost momentum.

''Tom Menino says, 'Oh, gee, you know I want to finish the job.' What happens when a mayor stays too long is there's stagnation," she said. ''It becomes more about them than it is about doing the job."

One odd moment came near the start of the forum, when Hennigan suggested the mayor had been more interested in preparing for a trip to St. Louis for the World Series than in what happened outside Fenway Park on the final night of the seven-game series against the Yankees, the night Snelgrove was killed.

''It was more important for you to go to that game than be with the people of our city," Hennigan said.

Menino responded: ''Councilor, with all due respect, I never went to St. Louis."

After the forum, Menino aides said that he was in the Parkman House that night, and Hennigan acknowledged she had misspoken, saying she merely meant to suggest the mayor was distracted.

Host Paul Sullivan kept to his talk show's usual format, asking the questions for the first 20 minutes and then opening the phone lines to callers. By frequently cutting in on the candidates with follow-up questions, he kept a speedy pace for most of the hour.

Some of the callers seemed planted by the campaigns. One man asked Menino, after complimenting his work as mayor, to name his proudest accomplishment. A woman asked Hennigan to speak of her greatest legislative initiative. Hennigan thanked her and complied. ''I hate these questions that come out of left field to whack you," Sullivan cracked.

Hennigan has criticized Menino for not agreeing to more debates. The election, which also features a tightly contested City Council race, is Nov. 8

 GLOBE EDITORIAL: Menino regains ground
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