A Good Mayoral Debate, But Marty Walsh Makes A Bad Demand

Why does John Connolly's client list suddenly matter?

There was a really good mayoral debate Tuesday night, which I hope some voters tuned in to see. Moderators Jim Braude and Margery Eagan asked good questions and appropriate follow-ups, kept the pace brisk but not forced, and covered a lot of ground. Both candidates were articulate and mayoral. Good stuff.

Connolly hammered away pretty good at the concern about Walsh being too close to the labor movement. Walsh parried pretty well.

All in all, it was a good debate for anyone still struggling with the decision.

Except that Walsh called on Connolly to release all of his law clients for the past 12 years—that is, since he graduated BC Law School—which I think is a really, really, weak thing to come out with two weeks from the election.

Look, I’m not saying there can’t be some interesting material in a lawyer’s client list. If I were in charge of a large staff of reporters with time on their hands, I probably would have assigned one to look into Connolly’s legal work at some point in the campaign—just as I would have done with Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon four years ago. But it wouldn’t have been high on my list of assignments, and there aren’t a whole lot of big staffs full of idle reporters around these days.

Or, if at some point in Connolly’s eight years in the public eye, or his six years as at-large councilor, or his eight months as a major mayoral contender, or his four weeks as a mayoral finalist—if anything had come up in all that time about anything potentially problematic about his law practice or clients, I would want to look into it. If someone on the other side of a Connolly client had told a tale, or if some campaign’s opposition research had come up with something, or if any story had gone around the legal community; anything to suggest anything worth looking at.

None of that has happened. Nor, to my knowledge, has Walsh offered any concern in all of that time about Connolly’s clients. No, he’s just now become concerned two weeks from the election. Not based on anything, except the general concern that, well, something might be there, who knows?

That’s just wild-goose chasing—worse, really, because there’s no way that Connolly can simply release a full list of his clients—and those that he does have permission to release, in many cases he wouldn’t be able to discuss in any detail. This 12-year demand is not intended to bring to light any actual information of use to voters; this is to light a big “corporate lawyer bogeyman” sign over Connolly, which just happens to be one of the insinuations made in those negative outside-group mailers Walsh has condemned.

(By the way, have Deval Patrick, Elizabeth Warren, and Barack Obama not put to rest the notion that Boston voters can be turned against elite Harvard lawyers?)

I’ve covered Connolly for a long time, and have occasionally asked him and others about his legal work. Here’s my rough understanding of it. He spent roughly three years as a junior associate at Ropes & Gray, where I seriously doubt he worked on much of his own choice, but was doing whatever he was told to do. Then he spent roughly three years at Hanify & King, beginning a few months before he launched his first run for public office; he spent the bulk of those three years campaigning (losing in ’05, winning in ’07). My impression is that he was not bringing in a lot of his own clients Hanify & King, but I don’t know much—I do know that no red flags came up during that time, when he was running against multiple competitors who would not have been shy about raising any red flags about his work. Then, while a city councilor, he maintained a role at a small partnership, where my impression is that he mostly helped individuals trying to start or sell their small businesses. It’s certainly possible that he was stupid enough to do something politically problematic during that time, but again I have never gotten any inkling of that.

It would be different if Walsh had been asking about Connolly’s clients and law practice from earlier in the campaign. Or, if he had some explanation for his sudden interest. To just suddenly toss out this demand two weeks from the election, with no reason, is just a stunt—and not a good one.