There were two items — the ongoing grand jury investigation into his administration and the closing of the historic Goodwin Hotel — that Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez didn't touch on Tuesday in his State of the City address.
No surprise on the first one.
At a breakfast gathering of business and community leaders at the Connecticut Convention Center, Perez did lay out an ambitious plan to position Hartford for federally assisted growth in a spiraling economy.
The reality, though, is that Hartford's current state is precarious. Questions about whether the mayor will be more preoccupied with legal matters in the next few months contribute to this condition.
Although he outlined plans for new schools, more cops, a new public safety complex and a jobs program, I couldn't help wondering whether Perez, ultimately, would be around to execute his vision.
"I'm managing the city," Perez said after the meeting when I asked whether the chief state's attorney's corruption investigation is a distraction to him and undermines confidence in his leadership. "I get up every day and have a full agenda, and I keep going at it. They're doing their job. I'm doing mine."
Stretching his arms toward the seats, which a few hundred had filled to capacity earlier to hear his speech, the mayor said the turnout "speaks for itself."
The city — and this should not be forgotten with the drama surrounding Perez — actually has some promising developments underfoot. New schools are being built. A new science center will open in the spring. The construction of a new downtown public safety building also has the green light. The convention center, though still struggling to fill weekend dates, in 2008 increased the number of committed room nights for future years by about 12,000.
Violent crime, despite Perez's insistence that overall crime is down, continues to be a drag, along with the police department's uneven record in resolving big cases.
The shuttering near the end of the year of the landmark Goodwin Hotel by the city's biggest landlord, Northland Investment Corp., was not the way to close 2008, particularly when many lament the lack of hotel space in Hartford.
"It's not a good thing for the city. It also hurts us long-term, when we're marketing," Perez said, hopeful that a new suitor will be found. "There's a pent-up demand for hotels. We need more beds, not less beds, and you need more choice in order to continue to market a city."
The Goodwin's challenge, according to Michael Van Parys, a vice president at the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, is that structurally it was better equipped to handle independent business travelers, not conventioneers. Only about 18 of its 124 rooms — 15 percent — offered two beds. In comparison, the Hartford Hilton has more than three times the rooms and a much higher percentage of rooms with two beds. While the country swears in a new president next week, what Hartford does have going for it is a story to tell. It is the poorest city in the country's richest state.
Connecticut has some of the nation's best-performing public schools, but Hartford has some of the worst. Our capital city would make for a great case study in urban renewal. One change Barack Obama is making is the implementation of an urban policy office, which will report directly to him. Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, a good friend of Perez, has been nominated to lead the office.
Now that's a development that could also change the state of the city.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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