June 23, 2007
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer
J. Stan McCauley once had such regard for Eddie Perez, he predicted on his cable access television show that Perez would go down as one of Hartford's greatest mayors.
The Republican McCauley is now running for the Democratic incumbent's job.
Former Mayor Mike Peters, a downtown restaurateur still wildly popular throughout the city, and his sister, Geraldine Sullivan, were big supporters of Perez when Peters stepped aside in 2001. Sullivan these days is a West End coordinator for Democratic challenger I. Charles Mathews. Peters added new intrigue this week to the July Democratic convention and an anticipated September primary by endorsing Mathews.
Thirman Milner is another former Hartford mayor and past Perez supporter. Now 73, Milner insisted Friday that he will run as an independent in November.
No need to mince words. Eddie Perez has lost his luster and is alienating former loyalists in his second term as mayor. The dissatisfaction is broader than just at the street level.
Although Perez is exceedingly vulnerable, particularly with the chief state's attorney investigating dubious business dealings in his office, his six Democratic challengers have yet to distinguish themselves as candidates.
Endorsements most times are overrated. But in an election that normally draws a paltry 10,000 voters, Peters' support of Mathews is significant. It affirms Mathews as Perez's top challenger, and it tells the multicultural capital city that this African American corporate attorney and one-time deputy mayor can pull support from diverse precincts. Peters' endorsement is also a signal to corporate Hartford that there is deep disenchantment with the incumbent.
"With this endorsement, the people in the street will be saying the guy who can beat Eddie Perez is I. Charles Mathews," Mathews said.
Former Councilman John Kennelly said Peters' pronouncement will have influence because of his popularity and because "it shows that a person very familiar with the office of mayor believes that a different candidate should hold that job."
The perception dogging Perez is that his circle of advisers is not wide. And it results in narrow-minded decisions such as a tax plan that would punish small businesses, overly cozy relations with unions and an ill-suited site for a magnet school.
"I think the message being sent here is that the powers that put you in office are very displeased with what's going on," McCauley said.
Although hundreds of millions have been invested into downtown, the neighborhoods are still burdened by spurts of crime, uneven education and unemployment.
"People here want to know what have you done lately," said chef Thomas Armstrong, who runs the Rajun Cajun diner on Main Street. City politics is on the breakfast menu, and the endorsement caused much chattering.
"That was big," Armstrong said. "It almost ensures that Mathews is in. When you got Mike Peters endorsing him and the people here on the North End, that shows there's going to be a lot of weight behind Mathews."
As Mathews' star ascends, it will ultimately get bogged down by his own baggage. A key city decision maker in the late 1980s during the weak mayor days, Mathews didn't get the job done either.
This election will come down to how strong Hartford really wants its mayor to be.
The folks who clamored for authoritative, CEO-style leadership are the same ones barking that Perez is a dictator.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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