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October 28, 2013

John Connolly, left, and Marty Walsh argue about Connolly's work as a lawyer during last week's WGBH debate.

John Connolly, left, and Marty Walsh argue about Connolly's work as a lawyer at the WGBH Boston Mayoral Debate.

On Twitter this afternoon, my WGBH News colleague (and former Boston Phoenix compadre) David Bernstein argues that mayoral candidate John Connolly's previous work as a lawyer doesn't deserve the front-page treatment it got in today's Globe. As David puts it: "[S]omebody tell me what the issue is with Connolly's legal work. Anybody. Speak now or forever etc …"

The issue, I think, is that sometimes Connolly acts like he was never a lawyer at all. Take his first mayoral debate with his opponent, state rep Marty Walsh, in which Connolly described education reform as his "life's work" [skip to Part I, 7:58]. He used that phrase back in August, too, when he told the organization Stand for Children not to spend $500,000 on his behalf. As Connolly said at the time: "Transforming urban schools is my life's work …"

Problem is, education and ed reform haven't been Connolly's "life's work," at least as most people would define that phrase. Yes, Connolly spent a few years after college working as a teacher. And yes, he's been passionate about reforming Boston's education status quo, as a city councilor and throughout the current mayoral campaign. But after he stopped teaching, Connolly spent a hefty chunk of his life pursuing a career as a lawyer, attending law school at Boston College and then working as an attorney for 12 years. That's a big commitment — but on his campaign website, on the stump, and in interviews, Connolly either treats it as a parenthetical or doesn't mention it at all.

Judging from today's Globe piece, there aren't any big skeletons in Connolly's legal closet that should give Boston voters pause. What there is, instead, is Connolly's abiding unwillingness to fold what his chosen profession for more than a decade into his broader argument for why he should be elected mayor. That's opened the way for the Walsh campaign to hammer away at Connolly's past without trafficking in specifics — for example, by calling on him to release a 12-year client list during a recent debate here at WGBH. Even worse, it exposes Connolly to accusations that he's rewriting his resume to fit the needs of his mayoral campaign. If Connolly loses on November 5, he'll wish he'd found a way to turn his legal past into a campaign asset — or at least, not the liability it's become.

Boston, Mayor, 2013

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