February 14, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
Two days after a potentially lucrative no-bid parking contract was revealed, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he was moving toward rescinding the deal and putting it out to bid.
The Courant reported on Feb. 3 that Perez had given Abraham L. Giles, a political powerbroker in the city's North End, a deal to run a downtown parking lot without getting the city council's approval and without seeking bids from other vendors.
Disclosure of the agreement - signed by Perez and Giles on Nov. 1, 2006 - prompted criticism from city council members and outrage by the mayor's detractors, who described the agreement as classic Hartford patronage.
The mayor has filed papers to run for re-election. His opponents said Perez's latest decision to seek bids on the parking contract - without indicating it would happen before the election - was an attempt to stem political criticism without losing Giles' support.
Giles was given the contract to run the lot at Main and Trumbull streets even though the city's own parking authority months earlier had expressed interest in managing the lot.
In a memo to the city council dated Feb. 5 - two days after the Courant story - Perez said the deal was designed to ensure the city had the flexibility to develop the 3-acre property along with adjacent sites, should a developer show interest. The city can exit the deal with Giles on 30 days' notice, Perez said.
The mayor also said Giles is a qualified minority contractor who would prevent the property from becoming blighted and would keep parking prices low. "Though this is a temporary arrangement that allows the city to move quickly in the event an economic development opportunity presents itself, it is my intent that the city put this site out to bid for management services within the year," Perez wrote.
Matt Hennessy, the mayor's chief of staff, and Sarah Barr, the city's communication's director, clarified the statement Tuesday, saying that it specifically meant "parking management services," and that it might be put to bid sooner rather than later.
"It is my understanding that, if an economic developer has not come in and said they want to do something with the land, then they are going to put it out to bid," Barr said.
John Palmieri, director of the city's department of development services, said that his staff is aggressively promoting development on the site, but that nothing is imminent.
But I. Charles Mathews, one of the mayor's opponents in the 2007 election, said if Perez truly wanted to correct what Mathews described as a "cold-blooded" political maneuver that turned into a blunder, he would rescind the deal immediately.
Instead, political pressure is prompting the mayor to "attempt to dampen the criticism" surrounding the Giles' deal, Mathews said Tuesday.
"I would be more impressed if he said to the council he intended to cancel this deal in 30 days," Mathews said. "But he said within a year. What happens within a year? In June and July there is a Democratic town committee convention. In September there is a primary. In November there is the election. This is clearly a device the mayor is holding over Abraham Giles, to say quite clearly, `If you deliver, things will be fine. If you don't, I'm going to snatch back this agreement.'"
Giles, political insiders say, controls key votes on the city's Democratic town committee and exerts strong influence in the predominantly black 5th House District, a constituency Perez needs.
City Council President John Bazzano said he believes the mayor will put the contract out to bid more quickly than the memo's wording suggests.
"The memo may say within a year, but I think he, for the most part, will try to fix the situation and put it out to bid as it should have been at the beginning," Bazzano said.
Parking lots in downtown Hartford have long been currency in political patronage deals. In the late 1990s, the state went so far as to stop funding any new parking garages until the city changed its laws, removing the city manager as the highest parking power and establishing a parking authority.
Giles was at the center of parking controversy in the 1990s.
In 1993, he managed a downtown lot commonly called 12-B, paying $22,000 a month in rent. But Giles was evicted from the lot, the result of what some then described as a political dispute with Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry.
With Perry out of office in 1994, Giles again took over management of the 12-B lot, this time paying $15,000 in rent per month - 30 percent less than the previous year. In 1994 he also was given a no-bid contract to run the city's G. Fox building garage.
The parking authority was created in 1998, charged with stopping the hush-hush political deals. Some of Perez's critics say the present Giles contract is a return to those days.
According to a copy of the contract obtained by The Courant, the deal extends through June 2008 but can be revoked without cause at any time on 30 days' notice.
It requires that Giles' company, G&G Enterprises Inc., pay the city $1,000 monthly rent in exchange for operating the 225-space lot at the corner of Main and Trumbull streets and cover all maintenance and utility costs. The contract does not require Giles to give the city a percentage of the proceeds. He currently charges $4 a day for parking, or $75 a month.
In an e-mail exchange obtained by The Courant, the city's parking authority asked in August 2006 - three months before the contract with Giles was signed - to meet with officials about taking over the lot.
Giles said Tuesday that he did not know of the mayor's memo to the council, or that Perez may rescind his contract.
"He has not told me that," Giles said. "This is my first time hearing that."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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