Three Boston mayoral candidates kick off first of three debates

August 7, 2013

Massachusetts state Rep. Marty Walsh and Boston city councilors Mike Ross and Rob Consalvo fielded questions Wednesday from Boston.com's Dante Ramos and Matt Lauzon in the first of three mayoral debates before November's election.

In comparison to New York's mayoral race, which, for a turn, was rife with fresh scandal, Boston's is tame, with candidates behaving relatively genially toward each other in public appearances. Wednesday's debate featured the usual questions on promoting affordable housing and small business, but a large chunk of the discussion focused on growing the city's social life.

On extending the city's public transportation system, the T, to late-night hours, Walsh and Ross were favorable to expanding service while Consalvo described his view as "cautious."

"If we extend the transit to 3:30... we get a percentage of restaurant taxes. This might be self-funding," said Ross.

With regard to expanding nightlife, Walsh proposed breaking the city into different zones with different curfews and said that legislators "shouldn't be afraid" of such initiatives. Ross described Boston's nightlife as "timid" and said he would support an overhaul of permit laws.

"It's not fair and not right," said Ross about the lack of diversity in restaurant and bar options. "We should get liquor licenses and restaurant licenses as empowerment devices for our communities."

Consalvo said he would support spreading arts and culture out to different neighborhoods but that a "balance" was necessary.

When the conversation shifted to liquor laws specifically, the moderators asked candidates to comment on Boston's limit on liquor licenses and its ban on happy hours. While Ross supports eliminating the ban, Walsh and Consalvo both stand by it.

"But what about young people who are fresh out of college ... who aren't making a ton of money and want to meet in the innovation district with those expensive drink prices to hang out with other people? What's wrong with that?" moderator Ramos asked.

"It's a mistake; it's a step back," said Walsh. "When I used to drink, I used to drink in the local bar. It was a lot cheaper than going downtown for a beer," he said with his signature Boston accent.

"It's a vestige from our blue laws," countered Ross. "It's the same law that we had on the books that said we can't drink on Sundays until noon. That's crazy."

With regard to supporting Uber, the start-up luxury car service for hire that has been blamed for causing a current strain on the city's taxi business, Walsh said it would be "crazy" for any new mayor to resist new ideas. Ross agreed, saying the city needed to be more "nimble" and that the taxi company should be managed by the city's transportation department. Lastly, Consalvo said Boston "should be open to anything."

"If it's a good idea and New York is doing it, we shouldn't ignore it just because we don't like the Yankees," Consalvo quipped.

The candidates seemed to have a good time, with none of the candidates strongly disagreeing with one another. Instead, they clapped each other's shoulders, cracked jokes and invited each other out to eat. The reaction on Twitter was mostly positive.

Boston's popular mayor, Thomas Menino, who recently suffered a series of health problems, has decided not to run for reelection to a sixth term. Boston.com's next mayoral debate will be next week, Aug. 14 at 4 p.m.

Ruth Tam is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthetam.
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