Mayoral candidate Art Feltman disseminates his plan to restore ethics and honesty to city government just before the Perez campaign accuses his campaign of forging signatures
By DANIEL D'AMBROSIO, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
August 30, 2007
It isn't easy to stake out the political high ground these days in Hartford's mayoral campaign.
On Aug. 19 the Hartford Courant ran an editorial about Mayor Eddie A. Perez's latest "mistake" — hiring the contractor who's revamping Park Street for the city, Carlos Costa of USA Contractors Inc., to renovate his own kitchen and bathroom without either a building permit or required inspections, and paying Costa months after the work was completed.
The next day, mayoral candidate Art Feltman, a state representative, sent out an e-mail with eight "Sweep City Hall Clean Principles" to "restore ethics and honesty" to city government.
But three days after that, the Courant ran a story about allegedly forged signatures on two of the petitions circulated to put Feltman's name on the ballot for the Sept. 11 Democratic Primary. Two of the three signatures being challenged were those of Luis Caban, co-chairman of Perez's campaign, and his wife Maria. Luis Caban signed an affidavit stating neither he nor his wife had signed the Feltman petition.
On Monday, the Courant reported that the Perez campaign was accusing Feltman of misleading voters because on his Web site, Feltman is said to be a practicing attorney and 46 years old. Feltman is 49 and a retired attorney. His Web site, he told the paper, had not been updated in four years, hence the discrepancies.
Returning to the petitions, Perez campaign manager Kenny Curan has called for Feltman to take full responsibility for the alleged forgeries and conduct an audit of all of his petitions, to which Feltman has replied he would review the facts, but wouldn't conduct any "witch hunts" at the "behest of Perez."
Feltman told the Advocate his volunteers collected hundreds of pages of petitions, and that only two petitions were being challenged. He said he didn't know the person who circulated the petitions in question, Christopher A. Ryan, but that if Ryan did something inappropriate it was "contrary to our instructions."
"We don't know if there's something wrong with the two petitions or not," Feltman said. "If there were it wouldn't have affected the outcome anyway. We had 2,400 signatures. We needed less than 1,400. We don't even know if these [allegedly forged] signatures were counted."
In the first of the eight principles Feltman is calling for in his campaign, he asks for "full financial disclosure of income, investments, debts and tax returns" of the mayor, his chief of staff, corporation counsel and all city department heads — same as state officials.
Full financial disclosure would have revealed Costa was a creditor of Perez, said Feltman, and would have disclosed the terms of the credit.
Principle number 2 would eliminate a loophole in the city code that exempts "professional services" performed for the city from competitive bidding.
It's this loophole, according to Feltman, that allowed North End politico Abraham Giles, a Perez supporter, to be handed exclusive contracts with the city to remove the possessions of people being evicted from their homes, and to operate downtown parking lots.
Curran said changes have already been made to this process, requiring contracts for professional services to be reviewed by the City Council and to have a public hearing. And he said Giles recently won the eviction contract in a competitive bidding process.
Feltman's 3rd principle calls on the city to "strictly adhere" to the code requiring competitive bidding on all city contracts bigger than $7,500, while the 4th principle would require all city contracts for purchase or lease of goods or services for $250,000 or more to be submitted to the city Ethics Commission for review.
Principle number 5 calls for doubling the staff of the City Auditor, and for sending summaries of the auditor's reports to all newspapers with a "substantial circulation" in the city. Copies of the audit would also be available free of charge to anyone.
Chief Auditor H. Patrick Campbell said that when he was hired in 1995 he had just one auditor working for him, and that he now has a staff of four auditors. Campbell declined to comment on whether or not his office is sufficiently staffed.
Principle number 6 builds on number 5, requiring annual updates by the auditors to determine if previously identified problems have been fixed.
Under principle 7, Feltman would push for prohibiting city employees, contractors, employees of contractors and elected officials from serving on town committees, an obvious reference to the contention by some that the mayor has stacked the Democratic Town Committee in his favor.
But Curran says it's probably unconstitutional to prohibit people from serving on their town committees.
"It just doesn't seem genuine to me," said Curran. "[Feltman] has sought and received endorsements from the town committee in the past."
The final principle, number 8, calls on the city to offer all municipal documents available under the Freedom of Information Act to the press and public without a written request.
Curran said, however, the process required by the Freedom of Information Act establishes a clear paper trail, and includes the ability to appeal to the Freedom of Information Commission.
Taking a larger view, Curran bristles at the very idea of Feltman advancing a set of principles to shape up city government.
"I don't think the mayor, Hartford voters, or any of the other candidates want to take lessons in cleaning up government from someone who forges signatures, as his campaign clearly did," said Curran. "If that's how a campaign he's overseeing is going to be run, I don't have a lot of faith in him running the city."
Feltman dismissed Curran's comments as "not a meaningful response to the substantive proposals I have made," adding that "We don't need lessons on ethics from a Waterbury political operative."