Building Name Recognition Toward Run Later This Year Against Segarra
April 22, 2011
Shawn Wooden made a name for himself in city political circles 20 years ago when he worked as an executive assistant to Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry.
Now, as he raises money and builds support for his own campaign for mayor, his recognition among politicians and voters has reached new heights.
Some political insiders and longtime residents say the 41-year-old lawyer is quickly becoming the toughest opponent to heavily favored incumbent Mayor Pedro Segarra.
"Shawn Wooden is a very strong competitor to the mayor, the strongest of the opposition right now," said state Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, who hasn't announced which candidate he's supporting. "He has a good pedigree. He knows the community very well and has strong political roots in the city of Hartford. There's a big buzz in the community about Shawn."
Wooden has also emerged as the best-funded candidate in the race, raising about $154,000 over the last several months.
Segarra's campaign has taken in a little more than $115,000.
Other candidates Edwin Vargas, 62, raised about $30,000, and J. Stan McCauley, 51, has collected $4,000.
Kelvin Roldan, who is exploring a run for mayor but hasn't announced his candidacy, raised close to $36,000, according to campaign finance reports filed earlier this month. All of the announced candidates so far are Democrats in a city where the party is dominant.
"I think Shawn is going to be the only real viable opponent to Mayor Segarra," said John Kennelly, a former city councilman who now serves on the city's Democratic town committee. "He's a bright young man with lots of energy and ambition. I think he's going to run a spirited and strong campaign."
Kennelly said, however, that Wooden may be hampered by his decision to leave Hartford from 2001 to 2007, when he moved his family to New York City so his wife could complete her medical residency.
Wooden said he's not worried.
"I don't see it as a challenge," he said. "People in the community are excited to see me back in Hartford. A lot of people move and never come back."
He's already held several fundraisers and this month began knocking on doors and talking with residents. He said an important campaign strategy will be to connect with residents and encourage them to vote.
"I'm already talking directly with voters, which is energizing and gives me great additional insight into what's on people's minds," Wooden said. "I fundamentally believe that the candidate who connects with the most voters and persuades the most voters … will be the next mayor."
Segarra acknowledged that Wooden has done well in fundraising, but said the race could hinge more on the candidates' records.
"The Wooden campaign has raised substantial funds, but I don't take anyone for granted," he said. "[The race] should be about ideas, it should be about what options people are being offered. It shouldn't necessarily be about the money."
Phil Sherwood, the mayor's campaign manager, said although Wooden is "probably the most ambitious candidate" running against Segarra, he faces many challenges.
"He spent a good amount of time outside of Hartford, and he's never run for political office before," Sherwood said. "We don't have any polls that say what kind of name recognition he has… but it can't be high."
Michael McGarry, chairman of the city's Republican town committee, said Segarra has amassed some public support because of his accomplishments so far as mayor, which include tearing down the dilapidated "Butt-Ugly Building" on Main Street and leading an effort to build a free holiday skating rink in Bushnell Park.
But Segarra, 51, doesn't have overwhelming political support, McGarry said.
"Wooden has attracted a fair number of old-line, somewhat conservative business Democrats," he said. "Pedro's problem is he doesn't have that depth of support. These are people who have been around a long time, and they're not impressed by a skating rink and a couple of knocked down buildings."
Segarra, however, has garnered the support of some political insiders who praised his genial, even-handed performance in the aftermath of former Mayor Eddie Perez's criminal conviction. Perez was convicted of five felony corruption charges, including bribery and extortion, in June and later sentenced to three years in prison. Segarra took over as mayor after Perez's resignation.
"When he came in, the city was really messed up and one of the things I was always looking for was [government] transparency," said state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, a Segarra supporter. "I know for a fact we already have that with this mayor. I know he'll do the job."
Kennelly, another Segarra backer, said the mayor has "a very strong grasp of the issues."
"He's hands-on and he's able to communicate his strategies and plans," Kennelly said. "Shawn is going to have to spend a lot of time and money reintroducing himself to the city."
As the mayoral race heats up, Segarra has seen the beginning of gloves-off politicking. Roldan publicly criticized Segarra for failing to disclose, as required by ethics codes, that his spouse, Charlie Ortiz, collects $2,000 a month in federal subsidies for low-income tenants in apartments he owns. Ortiz's subsidies totaled more than $120,000 in the five years Segarra has been a city councilman and now mayor.
Roldan, 32, said Segarra had demonstrated "a cavalier attitude" toward public disclosure laws and that he has shown "an alarming pattern of failing to disclose or delaying the disclosure of information required by the city's ethics code."
Segarra has since amended his ethics filings, and said it hadn't occurred to him that Ortiz's federally funded rent subsidies issued through the city might amount to a contract he should have disclosed.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Wednesday that the department, which investigated the matter, ended its review after the city transferred administration of Ortiz's subsidies to the state.
Segarra's supporters said the episode signaled that the mayoral race is in full swing. Sherwood said Roldan is running "a smoke-and-mirrors campaign" designed to distract voters from Roldan's history as a former aide to Perez.
The city's police union also came to Segarra's defense.
"We urge the citizens, employees and taxpayers of Hartford not to be fooled by orchestrated uses of the media, which inevitably damage and hinder the work of those working to improve and lead our city," Richard Holton, president of the Hartford Police Union, said in a statement. "It is so easy to attempt to tarnish the image and reputation of those in the public eye for personal or professional gain, as our membership knows all too well. We see a true dedication and caring from Mayor Segarra to the residents, workers and property owners of the city."
As the campaign season wears on, Segarra said, he'll focus on reaching out to voters and building on the strides he's made toward government transparency.
"I hope that people have seen what I'm capable of producing through hard work, through collaboration, through transparency," he said, "and that once people see the work that has been done they'll join on board."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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