Mayoral candidates take aim at Menino

Blast his absence in public forum

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / September 18, 2009

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In their final public forum before Tuesday’s primary, the three challengers trying to oust Mayor Thomas M. Menino took turns criticizing the mayor last night for wielding an ever-tighter grip on the city while failing to offer the visionary leadership they said Boston needs.

The three attacked Menino for what they called uneven schools, backroom development deals, and a technologically lagging City Hall that lacks the ability to track the number of potholes filled or trash barrels emptied.

They said Boston had stagnated after 16 years under Menino, and they repeatedly jabbed at him for failing to enforce a city law requiring construction crews on public jobs and large private ones to hire city residents, minorities, and women, a goal that Menino once pushed as a councilor.

“It is absolutely wrong that we have a Boston Residents Jobs Policy that does not get followed,’’ Councilor at Large Sam Yoon said. “What gets me is that the mayor has been saying, ‘Oh, we can’t push them on this, because we’ll get sued.’ It’s been 18 years since this policy’s been in. We haven’t been sued, and if somebody wants to sue us, go ahead. We’ll take you to the Supreme Court.’’

With Menino missing for what moderator Maria Gonzalez of Univision called “a previous engagement,’’ eliciting groans from a packed house in the English High School auditorium, his opponents pounced on his absence for maximum effect.

“The elephant not in the room here is Tom Menino,’’ said Kevin McCrea, a South End contractor and developer, before standing, picking up his chair, and polling the audience on whether he should set it aside for Menino.

Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr. invoked it each time he highlighted plans to get the city “back on track’’ in education, crime prevention, and job creation, countering, “It would have been great to hear from the mayor tonight.’’

Yoon called Menino’s absence regrettable and a sign of unchecked power, likening it to the revelation that Menino’s chief policy aide had been routinely deleting e-mails before they could be saved on city backup servers, as reported in the Globe Sunday. “This system has to change,’’ Yoon said, seeking a two-term limit for the office. “No other city in America works this way, where one person concentrates all the power in city government and then just wields it at his disposal.’’

Menino, who also passed on a candidate forum Wednesday, missed last night’s event to attend the Bay Village Neighborhood Association’s block party, followed by an event for the childhood-literacy organization Read Boston in Hyde Park, said Menino spokesman Nick Martin. He added that the mayor had shared the stage with the others in two televised debates and a pair of candidate forums.

“There has been ample opportunity for the mayor to both debate his opponents as well as connect with the people of Boston with his message for moving the city forward,’’ Martin said.