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Mayor's 1st Rival Steps Up

Former State Sen. Frank Barrows To Run Against Perez

December 15, 2006
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer

Former state Sen. Frank D. Barrows plans to announce his candidacy for mayor of Hartford today, the first in what is expected to be a long list of challengers who believe that Mayor Eddie A. Perez has isolated himself and that the time is right to take him on.

Barrows will soon be joined by a substantial list of candidates who want to unseat the mayor, according to political insiders in Hartford. Among them are former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews, state Rep. Art Feltman and state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez. All three said Thursday they were seriously considering challenging Perez.

The problem for Perez, according to a number of the mayor's critics, is the way he has consolidated and used the power that came along with the city's shift to a strong-mayor system. Perez, they said, is seen as increasingly vulnerable because he has shut himself off from those who disagree with him.

In addition to his mayoral duties, Perez has taken on two critically important jobs in the city. He is chairman of both the board of education and the school building committee, the panel overseeing an ambitious project to rebuild city schools.

"I think there is definitely that perception, that his doors are closed unless you are an insider," said Andrea Comer, a member of the city's school board. "I think as the challengers announce, everyone's message will have a similar theme - `You will be able to get access to me.'"

One thing is for sure, said former city Councilman Steve Harris, "The closer we get to this thing, it is going to become a real bruiser. It is leading up to a bruising campaign."

Perez, who is expected to seek re-election but has not yet announced, declined to comment.

Despite the criticisms, Perez supporters said he has one attribute his challengers can't match - a recent record of achievement.

They point to downtown development, putting more police officers on the streets, spearheading school construction, launching a wireless computer network to improve access to the Internet for low-income residents and starting a new 311 information line at city hall.

"Let's look at the records of those people running - or saying they might run - for mayor," said Matt Hennessy, the mayor's chief of staff. "Have they put more police on the streets? Have they encouraged new economic development in the city? That is what the people of Hartford want to see, and what they are going to ask about. ... It can't just be negative attacks. It has to be an affirmative statement of your record, and that has to stand up to scrutiny."

Hennessy said that many of those who have said they may challenge Perez once had power in the city and are now seeking to regain it.

Barrows, 60, was born and raised in Hartford, and attended Weaver High School and Prince Tech before getting a job as a jet engine mechanic with Pratt & Whitney. He was elected as a state senator in 1985 and served until 1993. He now works as a state correction officer. . He is also a member of the city's Democratic town committee.

Barrows said Thursday that he is less focused on attacking Perez and more on fixing the city, which he feels has lost its way.

"I sat on the sideline and watched as other people ran this city, and I didn't like what I saw," he said. "We still have a very high unemployment rate, our educational system is still struggling and people don't feel safe.

"It is time to change that," Barrows said.

Like the mayor, all the potential challengers are Democrats. Over the next several months, as the Democratic primary approaches, insiders say the number of challengers could drop as alliances shift among the anti-Perez forces.

Minnie Gonzalez, an archrival and frequent critic of the mayor's, said she no longer feels alone in her opposition to Perez, as more people have experienced what she described as the mayor's inability to accept people disagreeing with his decisions.

Feltman said people are demanding new leadership that "is more humble, more inclusive and is tolerant of different opinions and dissent."

Mathews sounded a similar theme, saying that as he has talked with many city residents from different ethnic backgrounds and neighborhoods, almost all said they feel "dissatisfaction" with the current administration and that Perez is not listening to them.

"People throughout the city see him saying that he knows what is best. ... But we can't solve all the city's problems by ourselves. We can't adopt a `my way or the highway' philosophy when we need help."

"This is a city that has been divided by geographic and racial lines for way too long, and people need to feel they are part of the process," said John B. Kennelly, a member of Hartford's Democratic town committee. "Unfortunately, I've heard the same complaint that people are not feeling they are part of the process."

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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