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Mayor Points Out Best, Worst Of City

March 15, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Mayor Eddie A. Perez spoke of two contrasting Hartfords in his State of the City address Monday night - one city full of renewal and hope, and another struggling to meet basic educational, safety and financial needs.

Still, Perez declared the state of the city strong and promised to strengthen it further with a litany of new initiatives - from citywide wireless Internet access, to 46 new police recruits on the streets by June, to a "cabinet" on issues concerning young children, and more. And as he stood before a packed house at city hall, Perez also promised a healthy dose of fiscal realism.

"M-O-N-E-Y," the mayor said, spelling out what he sees as the city's biggest challenge left at his desk thanks to federal and state budgetary cutbacks. "That's right. Money.

"No one wants to raise taxes," he said. "No one wants to cut services ... but tough decisions will have to be made here in this very room."

Perez began his talk with public safety. He stressed that the city is getting safer, despite the recent violent deaths of two city youths. The police force is growing.

On economic development, Perez said that high-paying jobs need highly educated people and he challenged local leaders to increase the number of city residents going to four-year colleges by 25 percent.

Perez touted a recent success for service workers, the reopening of the Hartford Hilton with 120 workers returning to jobs, joined by what he said were almost 100 more new employees.

"Some people doubted me when I said 'No' to the quick fix," he said of original plans to renovate the Hilton that didn't include labor guarantees. "Boy, isn't it great to show folks what really can be achieved when you stand up for what's right - responsible development that builds one Hartford, and puts our residents first."

And, as he has done for the past few months, Perez took issue with state and federal budget cuts that will leave the city with less money.

"The higher levels of government are trying to balance their budgets on the backs of our residents," he said. "This is not right and this is not fair."

The mayor saved a grand initiative for last, saying that Hartford's children "must be on the right side of the digital divide."

To that end, Perez announced plans for a citywide, free wireless Internet service, a proposal to put reduced-price computers in local homes, and an effort to make libraries and schools centers for computer education.

"Hartford cannot be a tale of two cities," Perez said. "It must be one; it must be whole."

In other news, several members of the public came before the city council to decry a city effort to nullify a 1973 court order outlining policies to prevent police abuse and discrimination in hiring practices involving minority residents.

Although city attorneys have said they believe the order in the 1973 case known as Cintron vs. Vaughn has outlived its usefulness, several citizens in the room disagreed.

"The consent decree is not a document that is meant to divide, it's a document that is meant to enhance," said Russell Williams, speaking on behalf of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches and the Greater Hartford Branch of the NAACP.

He said that should those who came to speak not "receive justice...we intend to take it to another level."

Councilman Robert Painter tried to reassure those in the audience of the council's intent. "I've not heard from one single councilperson any desire to negate the underlying principles of the Cintron action," Painter said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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