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Perez Invites Debates On Issues

July 19, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer

Facing what promises to be a tough bid for re-election, Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez told a crowd of supporters Wednesday that his opponents were running a "Seinfeld campaign - a campaign about nothing," and chastised his foes for resorting to "petty personal potshots" instead of talking about driving down crime, improving schools or bringing in new businesses and jobs.

"I doubt the people of Hartford are going to stand for that kind of campaign," Perez said. "Nor will I."

"Here's the thing," he added. "You can tear me down all you want. But that's not going to prevent one more murder or create one more job or send one more child to college."

Perez challenged his opponents Wednesday to a series of four issue-oriented debates - on education, crime, jobs and quality of life. The mayor has six Democratic challengers: 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 the Rev. Patrice Smith, a youth advocate.

Perez made his remarks at the Hilton Hotel, where he was endorsed by the Local 217 Unite Here! union. The endorsement was the first major organizational endorsement of the 2007 mayoral campaign. It also came a day before tonight's Democratic town committee's convention, at which Perez is widely expected to get the party leadership's backing.

But the Hilton press conference was quickly subsumed by Perez's challenge to his opponents - a challenge most were quick to say they would accept.

"I'll go anywhere, anyplace, anytime, and stand up and debate Eddie Perez," said Mathews.

And Feltman: "I would love to debate this mayor and the other challengers every night between now and the Sept. 11 primary. I can think of nothing I'd rather do."

Gonzalez: "I don't have a problem with that."

Barrows: "Of course."

De Jesus: "Why not?"

Smith could not be reached for comment.

But more than saying they would be willing to attend the debates, all Perez's main challengers said it was disingenuous to describe honest questions about the mayor's policies and record as negative "attacks."

In fact, they said, Perez's reaction is symbolic of the problem with his administration - any dissenting voice is perceived as the enemy.

Feltman said Perez's stance reminded him of a quote by Harry S. Truman. When a supporter in his 1948 presidential campaign yelled out "Give 'em hell, Harry," Truman responded by saying, "I never gave anybody hell! I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell."

"And that is what is happening to Eddie Perez," Feltman said. "He is hearing the truth, and it sounds like hell."

The truth, Mathews said, is that while the mayor points to statistics that crime is down, people are still afraid. When Perez says new schools were built under his watch, Mathews said, the public deserves to know why so few city residents worked on the construction jobs and why children are still struggling to read. And when Perez talks about how many new homeowners there are in Hartford, he never tells how many "lost their homes because of tax foreclosures."

"The notion that somehow we are not talking about substantive issues, that is simply not true," Mathews said.

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.
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