March 1, 2007
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB And JON LENDER, Courant Staff Writers
Asserting that "personal greed and political agendas" derailed the city's plan to build a new home for a magnet school on city land, Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez on Wednesday called on the governor to find a site on state land.
"Today's story in The Hartford Courant about the intense lobbying of state officials by Mr. Mark Wertheim to block construction of the Pathways School is a clear example of how private financial gain and political agendas have been allowed to come before the educational needs of the children of Hartford," Perez wrote in a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who opposed building the school at Broad Street and Farmington Avenue.
Perez was referring to a story that outlined years of communications with state and city officials by a former speaker of the House, lawyer-lobbyist Thomas D. Ritter, on behalf of Wertheim - the landlord who wants Pathways Technology Magnet School to remain as a tenant in his Windsor building.
Wertheim responded to the mayor's words: "Financial gain - boy that's provocative."
The mayor's angry words set off an uproar among Hartford legislators who opposed Perez's effort to amend restrictions on the deed for the parcel where the city wanted to build the school. The Broad Street site - home to the old Hartford Public High School until I-84 was built - was returned to the city by the state with restrictions limiting its use to a park, a public safety complex or for economic development.
State Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, D-Hartford, who led the city's delegation in opposing construction on the site, was so furious with Perez Wednesday that she said she doesn't want to hear his name.
"I felt with my entire being that that was not the place for that school," Kirkley-Bey said. "If it's any political agenda here, it's that of the mayor, who is trying to shift the blame of the asinine digging into the ground onto the governor and the state legislature."
The "digging" was when Perez broke ground at the site before he had state approval for construction not conforming with the deed restrictions. After Attorney General Richard Blumenthal ruled that the school could not be considered "economic development" - one of the allowable uses - Perez had to cease work at the site.
"He's making no friends maligning the motives and character of other public officials," said Rep. Arthur Feltman, D-Hartford, who is running against Perez for mayor. "This sounds like another hissy fit."
In Perez's letter to Rell, he asked her to meet with him in the next two weeks to provide a site where the city can build the magnet school. He proposed four state-owned sites for the school: the parking lot at Broad Street and Capitol Avenue; a lot on Capitol Avenue across the street from the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts; the old Capital Community College building on Woodland Street and a site on Asylum Street and Spruce Street across from Union Station.
Rell wrote back, telling Perez she has asked her top budget and public works officials to meet with him. She invited Perez to contact Robert Genuario, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, and James Fleming, commissioner of public works, so they can "assist you in finding a more viable option."
Rell also told Fleming to keep trying to pull a state agency out of Wertheim's Windsor building.
"Good for her," Wertheim said Wednesday. "Not a problem. I couldn't care less."
The city since 2004 has been leasing part of the building for the magnet school for $175,000 a year, while the state has paid $838,000 annually since 1998 for space to house the Board of Education and Services for the Blind. Wertheim and his wife were friends with John G. Rowland, who was governor at the time of the state deal that Blumenthal later said was "rigged" by Rowland officials.
Fleming signaled three years ago he would not renew the state's lease with Wertheim, but the state agency is still there, renting on a month-to-month basis. Wednesday, a Rell spokesman said: "The governor has directed the state Department of Public Works to continue its efforts to find an alternative location" acceptable to the agency for the blind, its clients, and Blumenthal.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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