So, I guess technically this counts as a win for el jefe.
After one of the most impressive impersonations of Chicken Little I've seen in a while - Schools will close! Teachers and cops will be laid off! The sky is falling! - the legislature gave Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez what he wanted last week and approved a plan to ease the impact of tax revaluation on city homeowners.
But in the game of politics, winning a round doesn't make you a champ. How you win sometimes counts more than the victory itself.
Friday, House Speaker James Amann still couldn't figure out what motivated Perez's threats of mass upheaval if the General Assembly let the revaluation go ahead unchecked.
Amann said Perez had approached him just recently. It wasn't the best time to have these discussions, he said: The legislative session was wrapping up, and Perez had had a couple of years to deal with the tax issue. But Amann got folks in a room and by everyone's estimation, negotiations were going well.
And then out of nowhere Perez blasts them.
"Without action by the General Assembly, the city will have to lay off firefighters, police officers and teachers as well as close schools and other city facilities to save the $73 million necessary to limit residential tax increases associated with revaluation," Perez wrote in a release sent out by his press office.
"We are days away from the city being forced to prepare to deeply slash city services."
Actually, the $73 million worth of cuts wouldn't take effect until July 1, 2007. But facts weren't going to get in the way of Perez threats. He wanted a reaction - and he got one.
Political cowardice! Amann roared.
Bullying! growled Minority Leader Robert Ward.
Amateur hour, whispered others.
"Oh yeah, I took that personal," Amann said. "When you attack the legislature, you attack me."
He was so angry that he sent his finance chair back into the negotiations. "Ego kills a lot," he said, and he didn't want his to wind up hurting Hartford residents.
As usual when it comes to criticism, Perez couldn't be reached. But I suspect Perez banked on Amann being enough of a pro not to punish the city because of the man. It's just not smart politics.
Perez, on the other hand, isn't known for restraint.
Consider how he seems willing to take arch enemy Rep. Minnie Gonzalez down at any cost. The Perez-engineered exclusion of Gonzalez and her 3rd District colleagues from Hartford's delegation to the upcoming state convention has sparked a challenge to the validity of the city's slate of delegates.
Look, I'm no politician, but even I know you don't burn a bridge you might have to cross again. And Perez is definitely going to have to deal with Amann again. For starters, there's the issue of hockey. Perez wants it back in Hartford bad, and if it's going to happen it's going to take money - lots of state money.
I just don't get it, I told Amann. If you know you're going to have to come knocking again, you would think you might be careful not to turn folks off.
"You would think," Amann said.
But don't read any threats into that. Amann, who was clearly enjoying a post-session glow, said he doesn't hold anything against Perez.
"My father taught me to remember that there's always someone stronger, bigger or above you," he said.
That's something Perez should remember.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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