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Good Intentions Or Stunt?

Perez Strolls To Rell's Office, But Governor's Not In

June 2, 2006

Saying he wanted to end the public sniping and to focus on solving violence in the city, Mayor Eddie A. Perez picked up his cellphone at 8:12 a.m. Thursday and dialed the office of Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Two hours later, Perez walked through the front doors of city hall and into the day's humid air. An aide asked if he wanted to take off his jacket. Casually slinging the coat over his shoulder, with television cameras and reporters in tow, Perez started to walk to Rell's office at the Capitol.

"I'm going over to visit my neighbor at the Capitol," he said. "Hopefully she can see me sometime today."

But there was a problem: Perez's morning call had not been returned. The governor was not in, and Perez had no appointment.

An aide to Perez said the governor's published schedule indicated she was not busy Thursday morning. When no one from Rell's office returned the mayor's call, Perez went to see if she was available.

“I’m the one that gets the phone call when a kid gets shot,” Perez said as he walked to the Capitol.

“I’m the one who has to go to the hospital and mourn with the victim’s families. I’m the one who has to go to the funerals and to the local schools to bring grief counselors to those children. I’m the one who has to deal with this 24/7.”

Perez’s walk followed Wednesday’s high-profile clash of public letters and press statements between the mayor and Rell, with each accusing the other of not cooperating in the fight to stop gun violence on the city’s streets, where 16 people were shot in a five-day span that ended Sunday. One, a 15-year-old boy, died.

The back-and-forth also highlighted a tense relationship between Rell, a Republican, and Perez, a Democrat who is strongly supporting Democrat Dannel P. Malloy’s bid to unseat Rell in November. In one of the missives, Perez announced he would go to the Capitol Thursday to meet with Rell.

But the governor was traveling between her Brookfield home and Hartford Thursday morning.

So Perez instead was ushered into a meeting with Rell’s chief of staff, Lisa Moody.

The meeting was also attended by Kevin Rasch, the governor’s legal counsel; Judd Everhart, her spokesman; and Anna Ficeto, Rell’s deputy chief of staff. Everhart said the meeting was courteous and professional.

“Today is a new day in this discussion,” Everhart said after the meeting. “The governor is committed to moving forward and not looking back. … There wasn’t any anger expressed. There wasn’t any rehashing of the issues that have been raised in the past few days. The mayor was just very concerned that something would happen soon [with obtaining state assistance], and he got commitment from the chief of staff.”

The meeting ended cordially with a handshake, and the two sides said publicly that they were working together. Public safety officials from both the state and the city said they are working on a plan for reinforcing the city’s police force.

When asked if Rell took offense to Perez showing up without a scheduled appointment, Everhart said, “Oh. No. He’s certainly welcome to come by.”

But critics said Perez’s visit – announced to the media in a morning press release – was no more than political showboating at a time when the city is suffering.

“The solution isn’t to go out and grandstand and pull these political stunts,” said Rep. Robert Farr, a West Hartford Republican and a candidate for attorney general. “What was the point of this?”

Farr said Perez’s move was a carbon copy of his announced threat in late April of widespread police and teacher layoffs if the state legislature did not delay Hartford’s property revaluation.

At the time, lawmakers were already trying to help the capital city, and Perez’s public statement angered many who’d been working with him.

“I think part of the problem is Eddie Perez’s style doesn’t render itself to the resolution of problems,” Farr said.

“Eddie,” he added, “thinks he can bully things through.”

Senate Republican leader Louis DeLuca said Perez should have met quietly with Rell to resolve the problem “instead of going out and making a political issue out of it.”

But Matt Hennessy, the mayor’s chief of staff, said Perez’s only focus was on solving a public safety emergency in the city. “This was not a media stunt,” Hennessey said. “It was the mayor’s best shot of getting in to see the governor with any expediency.”

When Perez emerged from his meeting with Rell’s staff, he said he had assured that he would soon get a call from the governor.

“I am confident that there is a new day, a new relationship is going to be based on a partnership to make sure that the city of Hartford is safe,” Perez said. “Both he governor and I understand that getting the business done of the city and the state is more important than our own personal agendas.”

Thursday afternoon, Rell said “It’s time we put our pens down” and stop writing public letters to each other regarding the situation.

“The mayor, I know, wanted to talk,” Rell said. “I wish he had called first because, as you know, I wasn’t here. But we will get in touch and we will get together.”

She added: “I think everyone is frustrated with the violence that’s taking place in the city. We want action. We want it now. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be working toward getting.”

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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