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Hartford Republicans Seek Clarification On Mayoral Succession


March 19, 2009

Republicans in Hartford are in the minority.

Their voter registration numbers are dwarfed by those of their Democratic rivals. On the city council, they've got just one vote, making them the minority in the minority.

Maybe that's what encouraged the local Grand Old Party to ask the city to shed light on what could become a pressing issue: What if Mayor Eddie A. Perez has to leave office as a result of the pending criminal case against him? What happens to the office itself?

"We want to be prepared," said Republican Town Committee Chairman Mike McGarry.Perez was arrested in January on bribery and other charges related to allegedly discounted work done at his home by a city contractor. He has pleaded not guilty and is due in Superior Court in Hartford today.

According to the city charter, if the mayor's office becomes vacant, the city council president would serve as mayor "until the next regularly scheduled municipal general election or, if not permitted by the general statutes, for the remainder of the mayor's term." The council's current president is Calixto Torres, a Democrat.

McGarry made a written request to Corporation Counsel John Rose last month, asking him to clarify whether the board of education election Nov. 3 would qualify as the "next regularly scheduled municipal general election." Rose said it would.

On March 4, McGarry wrote a letter to Richard Wareing, the head of the city's Charter Revision Commission, asking him to add clearer language about mayoral succession. One change sought by McGarry would include language in the charter that would classify a mayor as "permanently absent or disabled" if he is convicted of a felony, among other things.

McGarry's premise is clear: The city's voters should choose their mayor, not the members of the city council. And he wants his party to be well positioned if a new mayor is needed.

He's not the only one who has thought about a "what if" scenario, according to Democratic Councilman Kenneth Kennedy.

"You have not heard this discussed publicly, but it's being discussed privately," Kennedy said. "Everywhere."

"It's a sensitive issue for some people," Kennedy said. "For me, it's not necessarily a sensitive issue because we have to be prepared."

McGarry's approach may have been the most formal, Democratic Councilman Matt Ritter said. But it's not the only way to deal with the uncertainty. Ritter said one of the reasons the city council is looking to hire its own counsel is so the panel has an attorney to help it deal with the issue of mayoral succession, if necessary.

"There's a lot of confusion right now," Ritter said. "It's just a very awkward situation ... because everyone is trying to figure out what the next few weeks and months will hold."

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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