May 16-23, 2007
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Hartford’s eight mayoral candidates met at an open forum Tuesday night and exhibited a diversity of speaking styles but a basic agreement on the challenges facing the city.
Hartford needs safer streets, better schools and more jobs was the message of the evening. How to achieve those goals – and which candidate was best suited for the task – was the subject of debate among Mayor Eddie Perez and his seven challengers: former State Senator Frank Barrows, political newcomer Raul DeJesus, State Representative Art Feltman, State Representative Minnie Gonzalez, former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews, cable TV personality Stan McCauley and anti-violence activist Patrice Smith. The forum was held at the Main Branch of the Hartford Library and sponsored by the Library, Hartford 2000 and the MetroHartford Alliance.
Several members of the standing-room-only crowd were openly vocal in their support of certain candidates and their opposition to others, a fact which drew the criticism of Smith in the most dramatic moment of the night. “Already I hear people downing some of the people up here...We [the candidates] aren’t up here to look good. We’re all up here because we want to do something good for the city,” Smith said.
Perez defended his record as Mayor, pointing to increases in homeownership and decreases in unemployment and crime. “I balance budgets, I build buildings, I empower people and I give hope and opportunity to everyone who wants to be part of the Hartford family,” he said.
Feltman took issue with some of Perez’s claims, saying at one point that the number of new homeowners in the city is almost canceled out by the number of home foreclosures over the same period.
Both Barrows and Mathews, when asked what they felt was the major challenge facing Hartford, responded that the the problems are all so inter-related that singling out one is not a sound policy. “We must work on all these issues simultaneously,” said Mathews. “It’s multi-faceted,” said Barrows, “We have to deal with crime and unemployment and poverty.” Gonzalez said that once the city’s school system is fixed, other problems like crime and unemployment would be easier to deal with.
Barrows, DeJesus and McCauley all said that, as mayor, they would make a thorough examination of the city’s staff in an effort to improve services. “I’d meet with my department heads...and ask them why they think they should keep their jobs,” said McCauley. Smith, a minister, took a more religious view, saying, “God is getting ready to take over with his big broom and clean up this city.”