April 10, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
With the hip-hop beat of "Let's Get it Started" by the Black Eyed Peas vibrating the seats in the crowded auditorium, Mayor Eddie A. Perez took the stage at Rawson School Monday to announce his candidacy for re-election.
Children in the crowd swung Perez's campaign signs to the music. Several rows of seats were filled with members wearing the purple and yellow of the Service Employees International Union. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman and six of the nine members of the city council were among those who shared the stage with Perez.
Perez faces a strong field of challengers in the Democratic primary: former state Sen. Frank D. Barrows, state Rep. Art Feltman, State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews, political newcomer Raul De Jesus and youth advocate the Rev. Patrice Smith.
Before Perez stepped to the podium Monday, the booming bass of the music gave way to Lew Brown, media liaison for the Perez campaign and the master of ceremonies for the event. Brown, once an unpaid adviser in the mayor's office and now on the Hartford Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, drove home Perez's theme of the evening - that working together, the city can achieve greatness.
Brown then ushered to the front of the stage several community members who said they stood in support of the mayor because, as one said, "This little man has a great heart."
There was Adrien Texidor, who said Perez had helped him go to Skidmore College for an education instead of joining the service. And Juaneta Bryce, who credited Perez with saving her union job at the Hilton Hotel. And Selene Roberts, who said her family struggles to make ends meet, and who tearfully thanked Perez for implementing a school uniform policy that saves her son Joshua from relentless peer pressure associated with not wearing the latest-style clothing.
Taking a role in the event was the school itself, which is situated in the heart of the predominantly black Blue Hills neighborhood, a key voting district. Perez said he helped save the school from closure and has rebuilt it with the help of the community, minority contractors and union labor.
"When I hear the hope in these speakers' voices, and feel the love that parents here at Rawson have for the school they helped create, I see great possibilities ahead - for all of us," Perez said.
"And I know the answer to any question, to any challenge for our city, is clear: `Si Se Puede,' Hartford. `Yes we can!'"
Perez was repeatedly interrupted by chants of his name, his campaign catchphrase, "Si Se Puede," and a call for four more years in office.
He said that while serious crime was down on his watch, he wanted to put 80 new police on city streets to make Hartford even safer. After spending $360 million to build seven new schools, he plans to spend more than $200 million more to build six more, he said. Perez said unemployment has dropped four years in a row, many new jobs are moving back into the city and his administration has helped more than 1,000 residents become homeowners.
Perez had a message for voters about his challengers, saying they should not be allowed to "revive the old politics of negativity."
"They are already talking down our accomplishments," Perez said. "And trying to convince the good people of this city that the hope they are feeling isn't real, that the progress we've made is not throughout the city. They will have voters believe that doom and gloom is the only way to look at our future."
Mathews was the only challenger who issued a statement Monday, questioning Perez's account of his record. He said it was political sleight-of-hand to try to convince voters that asking questions and bringing up issues is "negativity" instead of honest campaigning.
Mathews said much of the drop in crime over the past 25 years occurred under former Mayor Mike Peters, not Perez. While crime is down in many categories, shootings are up in the city, he said. And while Perez says he will put 80 police on the streets, he offers no plan to pay for them, Mathews said.
Unemployment may have dropped over the past four years, Mathews said, but it is still twice as high as in 2000, the year before Perez took office. And at least four major businesses have left or plan to leave Hartford - ING Group, MassMutual, WFSB and possibly MetLife - taking their jobs and tax revenue with them.
"This is not negativity - these are facts and are issues the mayor should address," Mathews said. "We are not trying to be negative.
"Obviously we all live, work and play here. All we are saying is that this administration has six years for us to look at, and if you look at the report card for those six years, and you evaluate it on a fair basis, you would not pass him.
"If the voters were a board of directors, they'd be looking for a new CEO," Mathews said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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