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A Black Mark On The City

Eddie A. Perez Hartford's mayor traded his office for personal gain

Hartford Courant

June 19, 2010

Eddie Perez was entrusted by Hartford voters with unprecedented power as the city's first strong mayor in more than half a century. That power may have gone to his head. He turned out, sadly, to be a grifter, another politician who traded his office and his city's resources for personal and political gain.

He came cheap: a mere $40,000 worth of home improvements in return for keeping an inept contractor on a multimillion-dollar city job.

On Friday, a jury found Mr. Perez guilty of bribery and attempted extortion, among other charges. The conviction is a black mark on the city and an embarrassment for all those who supported Hartford's first Hispanic mayor.

Why did Mr. Perez do it?

Why risk his office, his reputation and his city's, and possibly his freedom, for countertops and appliances? He has let down legions of people who hoped he would rescue, not exploit, the troubled city as its first chief executive with real authority in decades.

His behavior is especially puzzling in light of corruption scandals that raged around the time of his transgressions: Both Gov. John G. Rowland and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim did jail time for taking gifts and services (including home renovations) from people doing business with the state. Yet the mayor had a city contractor work on his home for free anyway and paid the bill only after a state investigator questioned him about it two years later.

The jury didn't buy the thin defense that Mr. Perez was too distracted by his wife's illness to ask for a bill. They may have been more moved by the contractor's explanation that the home renovations were "the cost of me doing business with the city" the price for keeping a lucrative city contract after he botched the job.

The mayor was also found guilty of trying to extort a $100,000 payoff for a political ally from a developer who wanted to buy city property. The mayor's dyslexia defense was almost comical that he didn't know about the payoff because a reading disability kept him from seeing the e-mail on it. It's hard to believe a mayor characterized as a control freak would miss such an e-mail, or that the staff going through his e-mail wouldn't alert him.

Mr. Perez had raised hopes he'd be a better leader. His expertise at overseeing the construction of Trinity College's Learning Corridor seemed well-suited to a city that was undergoing a $1 billion building boom underwritten by the state. He was adept at spotting talent such as Steven Adamowski, who as superintendent is turning around city schools.

But when Mr. Perez first ran for mayor in 2001, The Courant prophesized that "his biggest problem may be the spoils-seekers on the Democratic Town Committee, who can be expected to beat a path to his door seeking favors or delivering threats." Among those was Abe Giles, the North End political boss.

In 2006, the mayor handed Mr. Giles, under the table, a gold-mine parking-lot deal for peanuts. Mr. Giles made a small fortune off it money that should have gone to the hard-pressed city. A parking authority had been set up in 1998 to avoid just such sleazy secret deals. The payoff that Mr. Perez now stands guilty of trying to arrange was intended for Mr. Giles.

What now?

The city has to stop the patronage deals that lose Hartford much-needed revenue. The city's parking authority, not the mayor, should be in charge of awarding parking-lot contracts through a formal, open bidding process, not backroom deals. This trial has shown all too well what such deals are costing the people of Hartford.

And the Hartford city council needs to quickly install a different leader one who can restore trust in city hall.

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.
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