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Mayoral forum lights few sparks

Hennigan and Menino meet for discussion, not debate

Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Maura Hennigan. Photo by Frank Curran

Boston mayoral candidate and City Councilor Maura Hennigan tried to take on her opponent, Mayor Thomas Menino, in a forum held last night in GSU’s Metcalf Ballroom, organized by Boston are college students. But the prearranged format did not allow the candidates to debate each other or engage in discussion with the audience.

Nearly 200 students from Boston area schools attended, and all of them registered to vote while they were there, said student co-organizer Jon Marker (CAS’07). The candidates answered prewritten questions from students in a forum moderated by former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

Menino and Hennigan appeared on stage separately and each spoke for about 30 minutes. Before her first question, Hennigan, who has accused the Mayor of avoiding a debate with her, again challenged Menino, saying she knew he was just outside the door listening, and added, “It’s not too late.”

Topics of discussion ranged from keg ordinances, to late night transportation, to landlord concerns. Dukakis asked the candidates what their plan was to help the growing number of homeless and alcoholic residents of Boston. "We live in the most expensive city in the nation," Hennigan said, and noted that many of the homeless are women. She said the economy hasn’t provided enough jobs, citing the federal government’s defense spending as a sap on the economy. “As mayor, I will devote sufficient city resources to create substance abuse beds for women and men,” she said.

“Drug addiction and mental illness is a major problem,” Menino said, adding that he and his staff are working with the Public Health Commission to address it. Recently, state police and Department of Conservation and Recreation crews made major sweeps dismantling shantytowns across the city, including under the bridge near Kenmore Square, where hundreds of BU students walk by day and night, he said.

Both candidates were asked their positions on keg tracking, and whether they support stretching the 1 a.m. closing time of Boston establishments. About expanding bar hours, Menino said, “I’m not in favor of 4 a.m. closings.” Hennigan added that if bar hours were extended, public transportation hours should be extended as well. Menino agreed.

“I would rather see the MBTA become more serviceable to people who work late in our city,” he said, adding that he recently wrote to Dan Grabauskas, general manager of the MBTA, about the issue.

Hennigan urged students to get involved in politics and sign up to be a Boston Public School student mentor. “Be engaged,” she said, “You don’t have to wait until you get up for your cap and gown.”

She greeted Menino outside the forum doors after the event, again challenging him to a debate. He quickly brushed by her, down the stairs and out through a small crowd of sign-waving supporters.

The event was sponsored by Boston Intercollegiate Government (B.I.G.) a six-school alliance comprising BU, Bentley, BC, MIT, Northeastern and Suffolk, which aims to persuade students to take a more active role in city politics. The Mayoral election is Nov. 8.