When we supported and elected Eddie Perez, the first Puerto Rican mayor of a New England capital city, our sense of pride and achievement overflowed. We were soldiers in his army from the beginning to the end. Friday, his conviction for bribery and other crimes gave us a blow. But here we are, ready to fight the good fight and ready to overcome.
For the past five weeks, I watched Eddie's trial in the courtroom of Judge Julia Dewey, a fair and competent judge. I listened to a prosecution saga and to a parade of witnesses who made me cringe. I would never like to be alone in a room with some of them.
The leading subtext woven through this story was ignorance, arrogance and disdain. Like the failures of the Tower of Babel, a chorus of incompetent assistants and a century-old political machine set Eddie to become oblivious and develop a management style that eventually led him to fail. He was told by many to be careful. He listened to those he trusted more. They set his agenda and assembled his stage. Ironically, that same machinery remains untainted and intact. Political patronage, corruption in the awarding of parking contracts and the domination of the West End establishment is alive and well. By the way, where is Matt Hennessey?
My Latino community has some demons to sort on its own. We must bear some of this guilt ourselves. Although Eddie's tenure brought advances in the educational and physical landscape of the city, it also has been marked by significant in-fights and polarization among Latinos. Eddie's conviction is a setback for our cause. Like our African American brothers and sisters, however, we are resilient. We know how to come out of this fire, remake and rebuild ourselves. We are all ready to continue to fight. We are lucky that we have Pedro Segarra ready to take the helm. He is a brilliant and compassionate lawyer adept at navigating the dark alleys of city hall. He will take the torch and light the path for us.
Eddie taught us that we can forge partnerships with our African American allies. This is a wake-up call for Latinos who will no longer take leaders at face value but who will look at their alliances, their commitments and a concrete sense of vision for ourselves.
Despite Eddie's many accomplishments as a mayor, his failures and now his conviction, the burden that falls upon us cannot be underestimated or sugarcoated. Despite a presumption of innocence until the appeal, a guilty verdict is a guilty verdict. Raw, painful and tough. Hopefully, Eddie will come out of this stronger and wiser. He will redeem himself. He is a humble and good man. I am proud to call him my friend.
In my heart of hearts, I know that a granite countertop or a steam shower means nothing to Eddie. This community will be there for him as he has been there for us.
In the meantime, rest assured that stronger bonds will be forged between the African American and the Latino communities. We will push, scratch and climb to claim our share of the dream. Together, we are the majority of the people. We must begin behaving like that.
Let's remember that we will always find those willing to sell us out for their own good. Where is Ken Kennedy? Adam Clayton Powell warned us to beware of Northeastern liberals. This is still true. Fortunately, we have leaders of the caliber of Kelvin Roldán, Juan Figueroa, RJo Winch and Hector Robles ready to work for the common good of us all. Can we stop the fight? Can we institute a process of rational following amongst ourselves?
May we go through this grieving process together, come to closure and give the political machine and everyone else who stomps on us from now on bloody hell! Si se puede!
Serafín Méndez is a Hartford resident, a community leader and a professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Central Connecticut State University.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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