Itís been a tough few weeks watching the trial of Eddie Perez unfold.
Whether or not a jury ultimately convicts the Hartford mayor of any crimes, the real loser would seem to be Hartford itself.
The image of the stateís capital city has taken its lumps over the years/decades. Some are deserved ó the demographic shift tells a damning tale. Some are not. And the bruises delivered by the trial of Mayor Perez would seem to fall in that latter group.
Certainly Perez is neither the first nor the last mayor to find himself on trial on charges he used his office for his own personal gain. Power attracts people eager to please. It also invites abuse. The ethical line is often one place and the criminal line another.
But by the time a case gets to court, both sides have seen the evidence and must feel that their side will prevail. The calculus then turns to the total cost of winning. And thatís what makes it so hard to fathom the calculation that led to this case getting this far.
There can be no winner. The marginal gain for society of a conviction rather than a resignation hardly seems worth the cost in dollars or negative publicity for all involved. And even if Perez is acquitted, his mayorship has been mortally wounded by the allegations and the smoke rising from statements by witnesses. Once rung, that bell cannot be unrung.
Most assuredly, Hartford is worse for the experience. The cityís image continues to take hit after hit as news reports detail the accusations and denials. Thatís a PR nightmare the city hardly needs as it seeks to attract business, be it new companies or conventions.
The timing couldnít be worse.
As Brad Kane details on todayís front page, the regionís marketing effort has been decimated. Thereís really no mechanism available for replacing the image of a tarnished and corrupt Rust Belt city with an image thatís more palatable and closer to the truth.
Itís not that people arenít trying. We salute the many signs of life in downtown Hartford:
ē The Connecticut Science Center has a great story to tell as it celebrates its first anniversary. The counter shows about 365,000 visitors; the building has won gold LEED certification; itís playing the economic development role envisioned.
ē The CT Business Expo drew thousands to the Convention Center as the facility marked its fifth anniversary. Cirque du Soleilís tent is rising on Market Street. And the Front Street project is almost ready;
ē The Portraits of America project is dressing up the windows of vacant shop windows, giving pedestrians a visual bonanza.
But all of that forward momentum is wasted if the image of Hartford is so negative that folks stay away in droves.
Itís time for Hartfordís business community to rally and demand a better way of marketing the cityís many attributes.
Thereís something to be said for the process of creative destruction. We see it in the marketplace every day as new products and services squeeze out ones that have run their course. But that doesnít seem to be whatís happening. Rather, the lethal injection administered by the legislature in eliminating funds to the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Connecticut Central Regional Tourism District is both cruel and unusual. It leaves a void.
Certainly thereís room to improve the performance of both the district and the bureau. Maybe there needs to be just one chef on duty. But somebody needs to get the job done. The alternative is just too ugly to tolerate.
Itís time for the stakeholders to rally and say Ďenoughí and stop relying on public entities to do this important job. At this point, tapping the resources ó financial, managerial and creative ó of the business community seems the only way out of the morass.
We here at the Hartford Business Journal are ready to help facilitate that process. Send us your ideas and letís get to work on discussing how to remake the image of Hartford as the rising star we all know it can become.