Faced with his second arrest this year — this time on extortion charges — Mayor Eddie Perez, backed by supporters, professed his innocence and said the truth was on his side at a press event last week in City Hall.
It was a repeat of Perez's performance in January, when he was charged with accepting a bribe. That trial was set to begin next week, but has been postponed until February as Perez's attorney, Hubert Santos, argued the timing of this most recent arrest would prejudice the trial.
Members of the city council seem to agree that everyone, including Perez, deserves his day in court, but some are calling for him to temporarily step aside to concentrate on his court battles. Council President Calixto Torres would assume his position in his absence.
"To say the city is functioning as normal is simply not true," said Councilman Matt Ritter. "This is a major distraction and it's simply not going to stop. The impact on the city is immeasurable at this point. At some point, the mayor has to ask himself if he needs to focus on the charges, and if he's exonerated he can resume his duties."
Councilman Luis Cotto disagreed, saying he wasn't distracted by the mayor's troubles.
"Regardless of what the man's going through it does not affect any living-wage-type ordinance I want to put through, anything I want to do for the arts, for the parks," said Cotto.
Perez himself has ruled out a leave of absence, saying, "I want to assure the people of Hartford that nothing will distract me from the job I was elected to do."
But a reading of the arrest warrant issued against Perez last Wednesday would certainly raise the question of whether the mayor should take a time-out; on its pages investigators with the Office of the Chief State's Attorney methodically lay out their extortion case against Perez before the Grand Jury.
The warrant begins by establishing that Abe Giles, a member of the Democratic Town Committee in 2007 living in the North End, was a critical ally for Perez if he was to receive the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2007.
Councilman Ken Kennedy, also a member of the Democratic Town Committee, testified that Perez "needed the 13 votes that Giles could conceivably deliver in order to get the Democratic endorsement." Others corroborated Kennedy's assessment. Giles, 83, testified he had "assisted" in the election of "every Democrat elected in the city of Hartford since 1962."
The next 22 pages of the warrant go on to detail how the Perez administration bent over backward to make sure Giles was taken care of financially. He received revenue from parking lots downtown and other city business, such as transporting the property of evicted tenants.
The alleged extortion culminates late in 2006 when developer Joseph Citino, a convicted felon with prior convictions for selling drugs and firearms and counterfeiting, was allegedly squeezed to pay Giles $100,000 to vacate a parking lot near the "Butt Ugly Building" on Main Street, which Citino wanted to buy. Citino testified that at the end of a meeting with Perez in May 2006 Perez told him "he would have to take care of the parking lot operator, Abraham Giles."
Citino says he complained to Perez about the Giles payment in July 2006 when he was trying to negotiate a better deal for the building. The warrant states the Citino's testimony "is corroborated in a series of correspondence between himself and the City of Hartford and Mayor Perez," and by cell phone records. The deal never went through, and Giles was never paid, but the payment was included in the purchase/sale agreement drafted in December 2006.
Perez maintains he only learned of the planned payment to Giles when he read about it in the Hartford Courant in April 2007.