Backs Loyalists For Spots On Democratic Town Committee
February 13, 2006
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
The shouting, coming one recent Friday
from the Hartford Registrars of Voters office, was loud enough to
clear the room.
State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez had just
learned her loyal slate of 3rd District Democrats was facing a challenge
at the polls - backed by Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, a political
rival. And she had heard the news from a city office staffed by
the most loyal of Perez's allies.
"My question is why, why?"
Gonzalez said later. "Why is he putting all these people against
me? Why is he coming after me?"
Consider Gonzalez's shouting in the
registrars' office as the opening bell for the season of town committee
races in Hartford, a contest that this year has more plot twists
than a soap opera when it comes to matters of grudge, betrayal and
run-ins with the law.
The star of the story, as in just about
everything to do with Hartford politics these days, is Perez.
Hartford's own rising star plans to
run for re-election in 2007, and is salting the Democratic town
committee - its endorsement is key to his success - with friends,
co-workers and plain old loyalists.
It's simple political strategy. But
Perez's supporting cast is a patchwork sideshow, an assortment of
characters that includes his brother, a member of his press office,
the mother of his secretary, and a political activist who lists
his address as 47 Hamilton St. - where he's been ordered several
times by city building inspectors to stop living in his basement.
Also in the March 7 race are many city
hall employees, who are beholden to the mayor for a job, and a community
activist facing bribery charges.
"This is just smart politics,"
said Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff and political strategist.
"It's looking down the road and saying, `These folks are going
to be on the town committee in '07 and the mayor would like to enjoy
the support of as many town committee members as possible.'"
In many towns, town committees are
selected in relative peace and obscurity. Party insiders compile
a list of members, and, short of a rare challenge at the polls,
that list becomes official. The chosen from each party then endorse
candidates for office.
In Hartford, however, a paucity of
Republican voters means endorsed Democrats are all but assured success
at the polls. And so the town committee is the de facto electorate,
the board of directors that makes all management choices for Hartford
Competition to sit on that body has
been fierce in recent years - and that was when the stakes were
low. This year, the consequences are significant: The 70-member
town committee that will take office next month will have a say
over who is in power to shape the city's future through 2011.
That town committee, in office for
a two-year term, not only will pick candidates for council and mayor
in 2007, but also will pick the city's representatives to the General
Assembly and play a role in endorsing a candidate for governor.
Even that could have personal meaning
for Perez, who has been mentioned as a potential running mate for
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dannel Malloy.
And so Perez is involved in many of
the town committee's six districts.
"I'm being supportive of people
who are being supportive of me," Perez said of his involvement.
"I worked with every district to make sure that they support
me and I asked them to put people on there that would be supportive."
In the North End, he's patched a bruised
relationship with the neighborhood's longtime district boss, Abraham
L. Giles, who still has pull in the North End's black community,
a critical constituency that Perez has struggled to attract.
The truce has created an uneasy alliance
between city hall and Giles' old guard of black political activists,
one of whom, Mamie Bell, remains on the ballot for the 5th District
town committee, even as she was arrested on bribery charges last
"Me, personally? " Giles
said recently. "I'm with Eddie Perez."
Perez also negotiated a deal with the
district covering the city's South End. Perez and his allies will
get two seats on the 6th District town committee, and - in exchange
- police officer Hector Robles, one of the two, has agreed not to
challenge that district's assemblyman, state Rep. Art Feltman, this
But in Gonzalez's 3rd District, covering
significantly Latino neighborhoods in Parkville and Frog Hollow,
Perez is backing a slate of challengers to take on her incumbents.
Perez and Gonzalez have been famously
at odds, the pinnacle of which was 2004, when Perez fired Gonzalez's
husband, Ramon Arroyo - now a member of the town committee - from
his city hall job.
Gonzalez and Arroyo are entrenched
in their district, so much so that they are often recognized on
the street. Challenging them is a formidable task, the mayor acknowledges,
but "there's no reason to concede ground this early,"
So the mayor is backing a challenge
slate there consisting of: William Perez, his brother; Ramon Espinoza,
his media liaison; Ivette M. Gonzalez, the mother of a secretary
in his office; and Elvis Tejada, whom city inspectors found living
in a basement of a house he owns in Frog Hollow.
And so came Gonzalez's recent city
hall battle cry.
The way she sees it, Perez's challenge
slate is not a matter of strategy as much as a battle of ego. Her
slate is not against or for the mayor, she said. They're simply
"independent thinkers"- something that bothers Perez,
she said, who likes firm control over all matters Latino and political.
"This," Gonzalez said, "is
a power struggle for him."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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