Hartford voters adopted the strong-mayor form of municipal government in 2002 partly in hopes that enhanced executive power would attract a strong stable of candidates. As the first four-year term under the new charter draws to a close, that hope is being realized.
So far, three challengers have emerged to Mayor Eddie A. Perez in this year's election. More are expected.
Would-be mayors include former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Matthews, a lawyer who wants to fine-tune the charter to provide stronger checks and balances on mayoral power; former state Sen. Frank D. Barrows, a state correction officer who sees unemployment, struggling schools and crime as priority issues; and state Rep. Art Feltman, who announced Wednesday and believes residents are tired of Mr. Perez's leadership style.
State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez has said she is considering a challenge. And let's not forget Mr. Perez himself, whom everyone expects will run, but has yet to officially announce his candidacy. There are sure to be more. No matter how you feel about Mr. Perez, competition is a healthy sign.
Under the charter change, the mayor has very broad executive powers with direct control over all city departments and agencies, and the authority to name a majority of the school board members. The salary is a handsome $125,000 a year.
Mr. Perez has not been bashful about using the power given him in the new charter. Among other things, he orchestrated his appointment as head of the school board and the school building committee. Not much happens in city hall without his approval. A complacent city council has been a dependable rubber stamp for most Perez initiatives. He is a hands-on mayor - too much so, according to his critics.
But an activist executive is what the charter allows, what voters in 2002 seemed to want and what Mr. Perez promised to be and is.
In overwhelmingly Democratic Hartford, barring an unforeseen surprise, the primary election will almost certainly determine who will lead Hartford for the next four years. The election will be as much a referendum on the charter's grant of executive power as Mr. Perez's performance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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