Wednesday was the first day Naomi McKoy made her way to the Hartford courthouse where Mayor Eddie Perez' corruption trial was underway.
And what a day the city employee and Hartford Democratic Town committee member chose.
City council member Ken Kennedy was on the hot seat — and fellow council members and committee members could barely hide their animosity toward the vocal Perez opponent.
A few barely stifled snickers as Kennedy talked about how much he respected Abe Giles, the power broker whose influence prosecutors say Perez exploited by awarding him lucrative no-bid parking lot deals and other business arrangements in exchange for votes.
Their glee was audible as Perez's attorney, Hubert Santos, machine-gunned Kennedy with questions about his mayoral aspirations.
When do you intend to announce your run for mayor? Santos asked.
Haven't you always wanted to be mayor? he continued.
Kennedy acknowledged that he's considering a run in 2011. But in a moment of self-awareness, he also said that may not mean much.
"I'm not the most popular man in the city of Hartford," he said.
Perez' supporters enjoyed that answer so much, I thought Judge Julia Dewey was going to have to ask a few to leave. But before it came to that, Dewey called for a 15-minute recess, sending the crowd into the hallway and into what felt like a festive impromptu convention.
Lots of kisses, handshakes and bro-hugs between El Jefe and the crowd. And an interesting, if brief, conversation with McKoy.
McKoy told me she decided come to court for the first time Wednesday because she thought the corruption part of the trial was really "about the community."
"They're trying to say we take bribes," she said, suggesting that believing Perez exchanged no-bid contracts for votes also suggests that the votes of Hartford residents are for sale.
"We work for what little we got," she said.
The conversation was cut short when court was called back in session. But inside, I thought about what she said. And for a moment, I wondered if it might explain why so many were still sticking by the mayor — McKoy included. She said she plans to bring a bunch of other supportive committee members to court next time she comes.
Were people really convinced that an indictment of the mayor would also be an indictment of the community? Some grand statement, maybe, that Hartford was home to a bunch of sheep for sale who'd do whatever someone asked for a few fancy countertops or no-bid contracts.
If that was the case, I could see why people at least wanted to believe Perez wasn't capable of what he's accused of, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
But then, I looked around the room and took notice of many of his supporters — people who have long benefited from the city, with paychecks, programs, you name it. People who weren't necessarily sticking by the mayor because of whatever message his possible guilt might send about the community, but because of what he has, and may still be able to, do for them.
And those hard working people McKoy is worried about, and there are plenty in the city, should be the first to be disgusted, or at the very least suspicious of, someone who is alleged to have used his power to get things everyone else has to work hard for.
Nice try, though.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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