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Perez Makes Committee Vote A Priority

Mayor Goes After Gonzalez In 3rd District Democratic Contest

March 4, 2006
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer

As far as local races go, it can't get much smaller than this: a battle for the hearts of 5,500 Democratic voters in Hartford's southwest neighborhoods, most of whom, history suggests, won't go out and vote.

Those who do on Tuesday might be surprised to find that Mayor Eddie A. Perez is not actually a candidate in the race for the city's 3rd District Democratic town committee.

Yet the mayor is everywhere: He has recruited 12 candidates (one is his brother, others work for him) to run against a slate led by State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, the leader of the 3rd District.

Observers say the battle amounts to little more than a tangle over turf between two stubborn Latino politicians and their entourages. But the fight has taken on almost comical proportions, with the mayor using his outsized image and money - including money for television ads on Telemundo - to battle a neighborhood pol with a locally recognized face, a megaphone voice and a husband whom Perez fired from his job at city hall.

"He really hates it when another Latino has a little bit of power," was how Gonzalez characterized the mayor's involvement in the race.

Not true, say the mayor and his staff. What the mayor doesn't like is people who won't work with him. And Gonzalez, he says, in pamphlets and glossy cards, is exactly that kind of person.

"She has consistently been on Latino radio attacking the mayor for a variety of things. She is not supportive of any legislation that the mayor tried to put forward at the Capitol," said Matt Hennessy, Perez's chief of staff and political strategist.

Gonzalez, for example, did not back the mayor's 2004 campaign for a "homestead exemption," a state-approved tax break to ease the pain of revaluation on the city's homeowners. Gonzalez said the exemption would have benefited homeowners, but hurt renters.

Perez is hoping that stressing Gonzalez's disloyalty will resonate with voters, even in a race so local that it turns on who can bring more friends to the polls. At the last town committee contest in the 3rd District, in 2002, just 20 percent of eligible voters showed up to vote.

This year's race for the 3rd District is one of three contested battles citywide for spots on the 70-member Democratic town committee, the body that will decide whether to endorse Perez for re-election next year. With relatively friendly supporters sitting on the dominant slates in other districts, Perez has focused his attention in Gonzalez's stomping grounds, which includes the heavily Latino Frog Hollow and Parkville neighborhoods.

Working with the mayor, which includes a willingness to support his re-election, is a theme that runs throughout his slate's campaign literature, paid for in part by the mayor's political action committee, Forward Hartford.

"It's time we had Democratic leaders for our community who will work with our mayor instead of against him," reads one flyer, which pictures the mayor and his wife, along with the slate.

And then there's the ad running regularly on Spanish language television that, frequent viewers say, depicts Perez asking voters to go with Row C.

Hennessy wouldn't say how much the television ads are costing, but he acknowledges that this is one campaign where money may not necessarily determine outcome.

"She knows the machine inside and out and she has all the levers," he said of Gonzalez.

The levers include the kind of neighborhood constituent service that makes her a local celebrity. With clipboard and snow boots, she went door to door in her district on a recent weeknight, occasionally greeted in homes like a long lost family member.

"Minnie Gonzalez is here!" said a Spanish speaking man who answered the door at a Bannister Street home.

Her oft-repeated, living-room-to-living-room campaign themes are: I live in the district. I'm not seeking higher office. Your problems are my problems.

In a recent round of door-knocking, Gonzalez heard from a woman who can't find a job as a bus driver, a high school dropout who complained that an arrest record was further hindering his job search and a man who was going deaf after years of working at a factory. Gonzalez gave her phone number to all.

Then she asked them to vote Row B.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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