He Reflects On Hartford's Progress, Sets Goals At Inauguration
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
January 08, 2008
With city hall's main lobby filled with the sound of bagpipes and supporters calling out his name, Mayor Eddie A. Perez took center stage and offered a continuation of a campaign message he had fine-tuned over the past year — Hartford is on the right path, and he's the man to keep it there.
"We've come a long way in the last six years, but the journey is far from over," Perez told the crowd of more than 200. "The sun is shining on Hartford."
Perez, first elected in 2001, was sworn in Monday for his third term as mayor and his second under the city's strong-mayor charter.
In an inaugural speech built around a message of hope, togetherness and inclusiveness, Perez called for continued progress in economic development, health care, public safety and education, and for a regional approach to mass transit.
The mayor, who raised $600,000 in his re-election bid, urged the city council to consider adopting public financing for campaigns for mayor, city council and treasurer. And although faced with criticisms of his own ethical behavior on several fronts, he said he wanted to "encourage the highest standards of conduct in our governing" and highlighted his intention to appoint an independent ethics counsel reporting to the city's ethics commission.
Perez said he would urge economic development to bind the city's North End to downtown; start a health insurance task force to find ways the city can provide affordable insurance for its 34,000 uninsured; and convene a task force on the future of the Civic Center, now called the XL Center.
"The good news is that with significant corporate support, a new NHL or NBA team — as well as our UConn Huskies — could be playing in a new arena in Hartford," he said. "However, the price tag for a new world-class facility that would serve the people of our state could be as much as $400 million. That, my friends, we simply can't afford without significant participation from the private sector, region and state."
Perez said he plans to "continue to chart a bold new course in our school system," and threw his support behind a new direction set by Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski.
He also pledged to:
•Fight to fix what he described as a "broken" property tax system throughout the state.
•Create a regional transportation system that links Bradley International Airport to the city by bus and rail service in "a seamless fashion."
•Showcase Hartford not only as the Insurance Capital of the world, but also as a premiere city for arts, culture and history and as a family-friendly center for commerce, employment and entertainment.
Sworn in Monday along with Perez was the new city council — President Calixto Torres, Majority Leader rJo Winch, Assistant Majority Leader James Boucher, Minority Leader Larry Deutsch, Veronica Airey-Wilson, Kenneth Kennedy Jr., Matthew D. Ritter, Pedro Segarra and Luis E. Cotto — and City Treasurer Kathleen Palm Devine.
Though Perez told the crowd that the "clouds over Hartford have lifted," the mayor faces daunting hurdles to achieve his goals: ailing, racially and socially segregated schools; a debilitating perception of violent crime on city streets; and a sputtering revitalization of a once-bustling downtown.
And Perez and his administration also must deal with self-inflicted challenges — notably, a reputation as being aggressive, dictatorial and politically vindictive, and a criminal investigation by a state grand jury into reports of corruption at city hall.
Perez supporters point to the mayor's noteworthy accomplishments as endorsement of his ability to lead Hartford out of its troubles.
Under his tenure, overall crime has held steady or dropped, while he has pushed to increase the police department's ranks to 500 officers.
He promoted city native Daryl K. Roberts as the police department's new chief, with the charge of refocusing on community policing.
As chairman of the city's school building committee and board of education, Perez has guided the rebuilding of six schools and hired Adamowski, a widely applauded move.
He initiated a $50 million to $100 million anti-blight program in the city's poorest neighborhoods and developed a plan to end homelessness in the region in the next decade.
He launched a 311 information line to help streamline government's interaction with its citizens and started a pilot program to test whether a wireless computer network could work in Hartford.
His supporters and critics alike say the city's troubles — crime, education, joblessness, economic development — are so intertwined that Perez, by necessity, must make progress on multiple fronts to succeed.
Crime will not drop if citizens can't find work, their children struggle to read and businesses close or move to the suburbs, they say.
R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head of the region's MetroHartford Alliance, said he hopes the mayor will focus economic development efforts on some of the city's remaining development frontiers, such as the intersection of Farmington and Asylum avenues west of downtown and the vacant land that keeps the North End disconnected from downtown.
To accomplish this, Griebel said Perez must "be viewed as a willing partner" ready to have an "ebbing and flowing of ideas."
"I think that it is going to call on more cooperation rather than less, for him to be successful," Griebel said.
Republican Robert Painter, a Perez supporter who has just finished his last term on the city council, said the mayor is skilled at developing innovative policies, but is too bogged down by the day-to-day functioning of city departments to focus exclusively on being a kind of "hands-on ambassador" for Hartford. Perez should free himself by delegating the responsibility of operating city hall to Lee Erdmann, the city's chief operating officer, Painter said.
"He ought to be directing his attention to selling the city, on economic development, and leaving city hall for Lee to run, at the mayor's direction," Painter said.
But City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy does not see Perez changing his with-me-or-against-me style of leadership.
"His style of politics, pretty much, in my opinion — he knows what he wants and is moving forward with that agenda. It is not necessarily the most inclusive style of politics. You are either in the mayor's circle, or you're not in the mayor's circle," Kennedy said.
Ultimately, those who follow Hartford politics say the success or failure of Perez's second term will be measured not on style, but on substance. It is a gauge that the mayor and his staff appear to accept.
"The voters have shown their confidence in his leadership," said Sarah Barr, Perez's spokeswoman.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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