Boston's Mayoral Candidates Emphasize Innovation in Conversations with Glaeser

Although Boston’s mayoral candidates never appeared onstage together Monday night, both trumpeted the importance of innovation to the city’s future in two separate conversations with economics professor Edward L. Glaeser.

The two men who will face off in next Tuesday’s mayoral election, Martin J. “Marty” Walsh and John R. Connolly ’95, each spoke with Glaeser before taking questions from the audience at the hour-long event, which was held in Boston and co-sponsored by several Harvard institutes and centers. Both candidates said that under their leadership, the city government would do more to support and retain entrepreneurs and innovators.

“The next industry is innovation,” said Walsh, a former union leader and a member of state House of Representatives.

Connolly, a former public school teacher and an at-large Boston City Councilor, praised outgoing Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s efforts to support innovation, calling the Menino administration’s Seaport Innovation District initiative “one of the greatest accomplishments of the Menino administration.”

In both conversations, which also included broader discussion of the city’s economy, the candidates also put forth different ideas about how they would run City Hall. While Connolly highlighted public transportation and education, Walsh emphasized land leasing and the relationship between the City Council and labor unions.

Walsh and Connolly are entering next week’s election in a dead heat. In a MassINC Polling Group poll of 503 likely voters last week, 35 percent of the likely voters expressed their support for Connolly, while 34 percent of voters said they intended to vote for Walsh.

In an interview after Monday’s event, Glaeser, who is also director of the Rappaport Institute of Greater Boston, said he was “deeply honored” to speak with Walsh and Connolly.“I think Boston is very blessed to have two very capable, very energetic candidates,” Glaeser said.

In these same remarks, Glaeser also identified three key challenges that the next mayor of Boston is likely to face: making the city affordable to rich, middle-income, and lower-income communities alike; reforming the permitting system to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses in Boston, and improving education in the city.

In interviews after the event, members of the audience said they enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the candidates in advance of the election, saying they thought the discussions were informed and interesting. Several, however, offered suggestions for further improvements to the city.

Steve Hollinger, a Boston resident who has lived in the city for 23 years, expressed concerns about the way the Seaport Innovation District initiative and the city more broadly are being planned.

“About every five years, the city introduces a completely new vision for the district, so there is never one consistent plan,” Hollinger said.

Diane Williams, an entrepreneur who works in Boston, said she was glad that Connolly mentioned public-private partnerships, saying she believes they have the potential to help expand awareness of educational and entrepreneurial opportunities in the city.

“Boston is so incredibly rich with education and startups,” Williams said. “But the Bostonian kids are not being given the information…about the awesome, amazing, remarkable opportunities there are in the Boston area.”

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