Televised forum gives mayoral hopefuls chance to stand out

With just over two weeks to go before the Sept. 24 preliminary election, all 12 mayoral candidates are gearing up for their first major televised showdown this evening-- a free-for-all forum and rare opportunity for candidates trying to distinguish themselves from the pack.

Many of the candidates have met at numerous smaller forums over the summer. But this one will allow the public to see each candidate side by side and help voters determine who they would like to see lead Boston.

“It’s a big moment in the campaign, probably the biggest audience we will be in front of,’’ said John Connolly, a city councilor and former teacher running on a platform to reform the public schools system. “So it’s a big opportunity for everybody. The key is to not focus on gimmicks to get noticed, but to stick with your message.”

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Organizers say the forum is designed to get the candidates engaged in a conversation around big issues in the city, such as casinos, job creation, and reforms in the School Department.

The 90-minute event, in the Modern Theatre downtown, which begins at 8 p.m., was organized by Suffolk University, The Boston Herald, and New England Cable News, which will televise the first hour, said Greg Gatlin, a Suffolk University spokesman.

It will be streamed live on the websites of the Herald and Suffolk. NECN’s Alison King and the Herald’s Joe Battenfeld will moderate.

Individual candidates will each be asked one question and get one minute to answer. After that, other candidates will be allowed to jump in, King said on NECN on Monday morning.

“It’s an intimate space, where all the candidates are going to be right next to each other, and everyone can really see each other’s body language,’’ King said on NECN. “I think that’s going to make it interesting.”