By Seth Daniel
With less than a week before the much-anticipated Sept. 26 Preliminary Election, debates – or no debates – have taken center stage in the four-person mayoral contest.
At issue this week is a debate that was to occur on Sept. 12 between Mayor Martin Walsh and challenger Tito Jackson at UMass Boston, but this week the Walsh campaign said that debate was never agreed upon, with that backed up in a statement by a consortium led by UMass Boston and WBUR radio.
The Jackson campaign, however, has a different understanding of the issue – or lack of an issue, depending upon how one views it.
On Monday, UMass Boston’s Robert Turner and WBUR’s Tom Melville released a statement to the newspaper saying they have formed a great partnership between themselves and the Boston Globe, NBC Boston, NECN, and Telemundo Boston. That partnership has scheduled no debates they said because none have been agreed upon – which goes against the understanding of the Jackson campaign, who said they were preparing for the Sept. 12 debate as late as Sept. 6.
“No debates have been scheduled because none has been agreed to by all the candidates,” read the statement. “This month the debate partners proposed two dates – a week away – on which a Preliminary Election debate could be held including all four preliminary candidates. The Walsh campaign said no to those two dates.”
Last week, it was understood that the Walsh Campaign had cancelled their participation, but Press Director Gabrielle Ferrell said they never agreed to any such debate. The campaign said they never agreed to the Sept. 12 debate because it did not include all four candidates, but rather only Walsh and Jackson. That, they indicated, was a non-starter and why they never agreed.
That seemed to be backed up by the statement from Turner and Melville. Now, it appears there will be no public forum of any kind before the Sept. 26 election.
“Mayor Walsh was happy to participate in the candidate forum hosted by the Boston Globe and WBUR and attend a community conversation where all Boston-based Progressive Massachusetts chapters were invited,” said Ferrell. “With one week until the Preliminary Election, he is focused on serving the community, engaging directly with residents, and continuing his work as mayor to make Boston a city for all of us. At this point, we don’t see how it’s possible to plan a debate before the preliminary that would work with all four candidates’ schedules.”
The Jackson Campaign said this week that none of the above coincides with their perspective and experience of the situation.
Campaign Manager TaShonda Vincent-Lee said they completed a walk-through for the Sept. 12 debate on Aug. 23 and confirmed their attendance. They were told at that time by the consortium that Walsh was participating.
“Upon inquiry, I was made aware that the Walsh campaign had in fact confirmed their participation for the tentatively scheduled event,” she said. “This is also when I was made aware that none of the other candidates had been invited to participate, as they believed both Candidate Jackson and Walsh to be the front runners of the race. I was then asked if the remaining two candidates had actually been active on the campaign trail. After I confirmed Candidate Jackson’s participation, the UMASS event organizer called and booked the ballroom space in real time because both parties were now confirmed.”
Vincent-Lee has said that she learned the debate was off through reports in the media.
For the other two candidates besides Walsh and Jackson, retired police officer Bob Cappucci has run a very active campaign – advertising in the print media, putting up billboards, creating a website, marching in parades and actively engaging voters all over the City. His platform has been clearly defined and he has been in touch regularly with the local press.
Cappucci has said he would have liked to participate in the event on Sept. 12.
The other candidate, Joseph Wiley, has been less active on the campaign trail.
The only other discussions conducted by the consortium as part of the campaign were separate hour-long radio interviews done in July with both Walsh and Jackson.
Turner and Melville said the consortium is still proposing to host a broadcast debate – before a live audience, on radio and television – on Wednesday, October 25, one that would include simultaneous translation into Spanish on Telemundo Boston.
“But, again, this debate has not been scheduled as there has not been formal commitment from the candidates,” read the statement. “We remain hopeful that we will get agreement from the two finalists for a general election debate.”
Ferrell said that debate was a possibility if Walsh were to be victorious in the Preliminary.
The Jackson Campaign indicated several weeks ago that if they made it through to the General Election, they would be willing to participate in the Oct. 25 event.