Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez should be exceedingly vulnerable if, as expected, he seeks re-election. After all, there's longstanding concern about crime, education, taxes and economic development, plus tense relations with both the Republican governor and key Democratic leaders.
But the cast of early potential rivals - former state Sen. Frank Barrows, state Rep. Art Feltman; onetime Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews and state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez - may be more distraction than real challenge to the mayor.
The next mayor, after Perez, must be one who can raise significant cash and connect with corporate Hartford while still having the credibility to mingle in its multi-ethnic neighborhoods.
One guy who has the makings is about four years away. Kevin Henry is a 31-year-old lawyer who grew up in public housing in north Hartford, raised by a single mother who later contracted HIV. He is building a niche as a neighborhood economic development specialist and has a compelling story of overcoming the odds.
His business mentors include Metro Hartford Alliance President Nelson "Oz" Griebel, former chamber of commerce Chairman Jerry Long and Julio Mendoza, executive director of the Spanish American Merchants Association. As we grabbed lunch at a Pratt Street eatery Tuesday, Henry was flattered that he was considered one of the city's rising stars but not exactly downplaying that he may indeed have some interest in public office. Just not now.
"What I do know is that I want to stay in my community," said Henry, a vice president with the Metro Hartford Alliance and a liaison between the city and the business community on neighborhood economic development. He sees the appeal of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the election of Deval Patrick as Massachusetts' first black governor, and Nancy Pelosi's ascent as first woman speaker of the House as indications that the country's leadership is changing.
"I'm more conscious of my surroundings and the political issues, and I know I want to be involved on some level, but at what level, I'm not certain," he said.
A few years ago, Perez asked Henry to run for city council. Henry declined. Instead, the single father put himself through the University of Connecticut law school. He passed the bar in the fall and was a commencement speaker.
Henry represents the type of leadership that would spur the capital city into the 21st century - bright, energetic, compassionate and engaging. "He's got a very appealing package, and I think he's one of the up and coming stars in Hartford," said Long. "And the thing about him is he's still humble. He's still trying to learn, still trying to grow."
Henry said, "I like to surround myself with good people who are smarter than me. I like to take direction, take on challenges and have dialogue." He is proof that Hartford does groom some of its young people for leadership. Henry is one of several young city-bred talents to keep your eyes on in politics, among them:
Kelvin Roldan, 28. The newly elected Hartford state representative and Perez assistant speaks English, Spanish and Chinese. He's working on a master's degree in public policy from Trinity College.
Corey Brinson, 26, a UConn alum, is a Republican and a lawyer at Day Berry & Howard. He's thinking about emulating a relative of his - former city Deputy Mayor Veronica Airey-Wilson.
The 2007 elections may play out as a yawner among political retreads. In 2011, however, a new breed of young lions could be ready to roar.
Stan Simpson's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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