Mayoral hopefuls sling barbs at RCC forum

Victor Kakulu | 9/9/2009, 4:56 a.m.

Emotions ran high last Thursday night at Roxbury Community College’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, as Boston’s four mayoral candidates squared off in the first of three citywide forums hosted by nonprofit voter advocacy organization MassVOTE.

The forum attracted hundreds of minority residents from across the city, including a mix of parents, students and supporters for the respective candidates. Incumbent Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the longest-running mayor in Boston history at 16 years, and City Councilor-at-Large Sam Yoon, the first Asian American to hold elected office in the city, appeared to have the most momentum at the outset, as a number of their backers welcomed them with signs and chants outside the venue.

Before the start of the forum, many in attendance were eager to see more from Menino’s challengers — Yoon, fellow City Councilor-at-Large Michael F. Flaherty and South End businessman Kevin McCrea — than was displayed during the previous night’s televised debate.

“I’m a little biased toward Menino because of his record,” said Jennifer Uzoma, 21, a Boston resident and senior at historically black Hampton University in Virginia. “At 16 years, he’s been at it since I was little, so that’s got to count for something, right? Hopefully, I can learn more about the other candidates tonight.”

Others, such as Olu Osinubi, 26, said they felt the evening provided a critical opportunity for the mayor’s three challengers to distinguish themselves.

“I want to know what these guys are bringing to the table in concrete ideas,” said Osinubi, a clinical associate at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Whether you like Menino or not, he at least has a record to argue.”

The candidates seemed to receive the memo on the need to come out swinging, as a hail of critiques were launched during the forum, led largely by Yoon and McCrea. For its part, the audience seemed to enjoy watching the mayoral hopefuls trade blows.

Menino was kept on the defensive as his competition aggressively criticized him on issues of homelessness, inequalities in the city’s public school system and failure to enforce the Boston Jobs Policy, which mandates that at least half of positions on city job sites go to city residents, 25 percent go to minorities and 10 percent go to women.

“If I go by one more construction site with trucks with license plates from Rhode Island and New Hampshire, I’m going to lose it,” said Flaherty.

On the issue of only 47 percent of city property being taxable, McCrea said his administration would increase Boston’s tax income by selling hundreds of city-owned land parcels for top dollar, as opposed to “10 cents on the dollar,” which he said is all the mayor has gotten for land sold to “his buddies in the BRA.”

Visibly weary of the accusations, Menino dismissed McCrea’s charges as “simply untrue.” But the side comment about the Boston Redevelopment Authority opened the door for Yoon, who, like McCrea and Flaherty, is calling for the dismantling of the city’s planning and economic development agency.