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Perez's Promise And Downfall

Colin McEnroe

June 20, 2010

After the verdict was given there was the slow, agonizing polling of the jurors, during which the sniffling and dabbing of eyes on Eddie Perez's side of the courtroom waxed into full weeping, as if every utterance of the word "guilty" 30 times in all turned loose a new stream of tears.

And then that was done, everyone one rose to leave, and Maria Perez began to clutch her husband and wail, crying out her sorrow in Spanish and English and then sinking to the floor, unable to rise

That's when it all began to feel like a movie, where you see the boy's migration from Corozal to the mainland, the days and nights with the Ghetto Brothers gang, the shift toward respectability and legitimate social action, the rise to power, the fall. Martin Scorsese, your iPhone is buzzing.

I stopped being an Eddie Perez fan a long time ago, but breathes there a man with so soul dead that he would not feel a little sympathy for that wife who, we are repeatedly told, is in poor health? Her husband remains a major puzzle.

He seems to have not even the instinct for self-preservation of John G. Rowland, who had a great fall on a similar fact pattern but had the good sense to cut a deal.

There's something inside Perez that resists bargaining. As a leader, he was quick to draw his sword and slow to compromise. As a defendant, pretty much the same. One of the fundamental promises America makes to its politicians, as far as I can tell, is that magic moment when you can trade your office and a guilty plea for light jail time. Perez, it seems, was having none of that.

As we headed into the weekend, the big mess was breaking up into little messes, tarballs of civic chaos bobbing up along the city skyline.

Late Friday afternoon, Eddie unveiled another surprise. He announced he would relinquish his duties during his appeal. This happened within minutes of a unanimous statement of the usually fractious city council, giving Perez until Monday to resolve his own fate. Even in the spasms of political death, Perez managed to introduce a note of confusion. Was he resigning? Stepping aside? Would a hiatus blunt the council's appetite for his removal?

Who knows? But sooner or later, Eddie is done. He's over. And, as people always say, it didn't have to be this way. It could have been a great American story. It looked so much like that on Sept. 11, 2001.

That was the day of Eddie's first primary. The state kept the polls open. After I had staggered through the day, choking on tragedy, I remembered the vote and drove to the South End to Eddie's small celebration. It seemed like such a win on a day of losses. You see that, terrorists? A guy with brown skin comes here and makes some mistakes and lives that down to rise and lead a city.

And then what happened?

Charter revision took the mayor from a guy with the power of life and death over ribbons to a guy with real control over every major decision. It may have been too much power to give to a guy from a world where softness equals weakness. Maybe a few bad staff choices. If you already have trouble forgiving your opponents, Matt Hennessy was probably the wrong choice for chief of staff. And some little bad habits that grew up into big ones. It doesn't take much.

There are about 120,000 people in Hartford. By next year, roughly 118,000 of them will be running for mayor. About half of those will be claiming they can really change the way things are done. The sad irony is that Perez will have set the bar pretty low. If you're not a bully and you run a halfway clean saloon, you're a game changer.

And Hartford needs so, so, so much more than that. It needs a whole bunch of people who care less about themselves and more about the clean, safe streets, bustling with children and food and music and commerce, that make a good city. It needs another Eddie Perez, but this time, one who plays nice.

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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