June 21, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
In the first major endorsement of Hartford's 2007 mayoral election, former Mayor Mike Peters has thrown his support behind I. Charles Mathews, a candidate considered among the most formidable challengers to incumbent Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
"I told myself, if I was going to endorse somebody, I wanted to endorse absolutely the right person," Peters said Wednesday. "The person who was going to represent not just me, but my daughter, my grandkids and the people of the city of Hartford."
"I just think it is time for a change," Peters said. "I think I. Charles would make a great mayor."
Mathews, 61, is among six Democrats vying to oust Perez, a party colleague, in what is expected to be a hard-fought battle.
Mathews more than a decade ago was one of Hartford's most powerful politicians, serving three terms on the city council in the 1980s. His last term ended in 1991 when he was deputy mayor, which under the city's old charter was an influential position at city hall.
Mathews is a lawyer who climbed from poverty to get a degree from Wesleyan University and graduate from Cornell University law school. He worked in Washington as special counsel investigating the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. After serving on the city council and working as a lawyer at United Technologies Corp., he left Hartford for more than a decade before returning in 2005.
Peters was mayor from 1993, when he won as an independent, until 2001, when he decided not to run for re-election and Perez came to power.
Hartford's mayor must act both as the city's manager and its ambassador, Peters said, and Peters contends that Perez has been ineffective as the city's principal diplomat.
Peters said he had supported Perez in both of the mayor's previous elections but has grown increasingly disillusioned with the current administration. It has alienated Gov. M. Jodi Rell and members of the General Assembly, Peters said, making it harder for the city to get the resources it needs.
And the current administration has done too little to take care of the city's major businesses, several of which have decided to move from downtown to the suburbs, Peters said.
"I do think Eddie cares. I think he is a nice guy. I just think he is miscast, as far as being the mayor of the city of Hartford," Peters said. "You have to have a line of communication with the governor's office, with legislators up there. It is obvious that is cut off."
Peters said Mathews, who also had a reputation in the 1980s as a brash, aggressive politician, has "grounded himself" with age and found the ability to listen and build a broad consensus.
"I. Charles would have a good impact on the state level," Peters said.
Peters said Perez has cut himself off from the city's people and neighborhoods. Even subtle changes at city hall, such as the push-code security system that keeps Perez's office locked and the public barred from entry, have sent the wrong message to the city's residents, Peters said.
"Everyone before pretty much had an open-door policy," Peters said. "Now at city hall, you have to press a button to get into the place. I don't understand that. What are we afraid of here?"
Perez's campaign Wednesday said it respected Peters' dedication to Hartford, but the election is not about individuals, or even candidates.
"This election is not about Mike Peters, not about I. Charles Mathews, and for that matter, not about Eddie Perez," said Kenny Curran, Perez's campaign manager. "We have always thought it was about the people, the families, the children, the businesses, the neighborhoods, the schools, and the overall direction of the city of Hartford."
"The only endorsement that ever matters is the endorsement of the voters on Election Day," Curran said.
Curran said the mayor intends to run on his record, which includes building new and better schools, hiring a school superintendent with a national reputation for improving urban education, making city services more responsive with a new 311 call center and pushing to decrease violence by enhancing the city's public safety departments.
Another Perez challenger, state Rep. Art Feltman, struck a similar note after learning of Peters' endorsement of Mathews.
"I'm glad he has gotten involved in the race and that he sees the need for a change," Feltman said. "But I think in the end the voters of Hartford are going to make their own decisions based on their own experiences of what the candidates have to say."
In addition to Mathews and Feltman, Democratic challengers include former state Sen. Frank D. Barrows, state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, political newcomer Raul De Jesus and youth advocate the Rev. Patrice Smith.
One Republican, J. Stan McCauley, also plans to run in the general election.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at