The city is "stronger" and "more transparent" than it was nine months ago, before its leadership changed hands, Mayor Pedro Segarra said Monday during his first state of the city address.
"The state of the city of Hartford has been lifted during my tenure," he said, "and with perseverance, we can reach new and greater heights."
Segarra took office June 25 after the resignation of former Mayor Eddie A. Perez. Perez left the city's top job a week after he was convicted of five felony corruption charges, including bribery and extortion. He was later sentenced to three years in prison.
"With your help, my mission is to restore faith in government and revitalize our community's commitment to progress," Segarra told a crowded room at city hall. "To achieve this, we must change the way things have traditionally been done in this city. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past."
Segarra outlined his administration's goals, which include job creation, improving the quality of education and ensuring each city office "is accountable for operating in a fiscally prudent manner."
He noted several accomplishments, such as the efforts to clean up the city's parks, the demolition of the dilapidated former H.B. Davis Building on Main Street — known as the "butt ugly building" — and the creation of a free skating rink that drew more than 20,000 visitors to Bushnell Park over the Christmas holiday.
"Almost nine months later we are … a Hartford that is much more attractive in the eyes of others, and, more importantly, in the hearts and souls of our people," Segarra said.
The mayor acknowledged Christina Kishimoto, who was picked to replace Hartford Superintendent Steven Adamowski when he retires this summer, and David MacDonald, chairman of the city's board of education.
Segarra last month criticized the school board's selection process for the superintendent's post — during which a panel interviewed Kishimoto and one other candidate for the job — saying it lacked transparency.
But on Monday he said he would work alongside Kishimoto and MacDonald "to face the challenges that lay ahead."
"I remain committed to pursuing academic excellence for all of our children and our continued effort in continuing to improve our educational system," Segarra said.
Despite the accomplishments, Segarra pointed out that the city is facing a $7 million shortfall this fiscal year and a deficit of nearly $18 million in 2011-12.
To help close those gaps, he said, city departments are being reorganized and benefit packages are "being re-examined."
The city also is considering joining the state's prescription drug plan, a move that could save $1.8 million next year.
"I have led by example: driving myself, pumping my own gas and planning to return 10 to 15 percent of my office's budget back to the general fund," the mayor said.
Segarra pledged to lead a "jobs roundtable" that would bring together city business leaders and entrepreneurs, and said he will launch an "opportunities landscape project" in which participants will work to identify new jobs and ways to increase residents' income.
"People stop me on the streets and say, 'Mr. Mayor, you're doing a good job; you're getting things done,'" he said. "My response is, 'Thank you, but there's a lot more to do.'"
Some city council members who attended the speech praised Segarra for his strides in reducing the deficit and restoring trust in city government.
"Last year at this time we were looking at a projected $40 million budget deficit," Councilman Jim Boucher said. "This time it's about $18 million. It shows you that the mayor's administration has been closely monitoring the budget."
But Edwin Vargas, who also watched the speech and is challenging Segarra in the upcoming mayoral election, said the mayor has become less invested in the day-to-day decision-making.
"He's become somewhat detached," Vargas said. "He seems more interested in the social aspects of the job than in rolling up his sleeves and getting to work with the department heads on dealing with our issues."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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