Saying that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had urged him to put his "differences aside" with Mayor Pedro Segarra, Shawn Wooden withdrew from the mayor's race Thursday and said he would instead run for city council.
Wooden, a city lawyer who was considered Segarra's strongest opponent, said he has a goal of obtaining a "leadership role" on the council. Wooden wouldn't say what role he had in mind, but sources said he is considering a run for council president. Under the city charter, the council president would become mayor should a vacancy occur, which is how Segarra got the job after the conviction of former Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
Malloy joined Wooden and Segarra at a press conference Thursday on the steps of city hall for the announcement. The governor said it made more sense for Wooden and Segarra - both Democrats - to work together.
"There is no sense dividing the Democratic Party or taking the chance of ripping the party apart," Malloy said. The governor said he expected Segarra to win the in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Malloy's interest in the mayor's race is in stark contrast to previous relations between the top officials in the city and state. Perez was often at war with the General Assembly and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Segarra and Wooden both served on Malloy's transition team when he became governor in January.
"I don't intend to get involved in every race in my new city, but these are two races I intend to get involved in," Malloy said, referring to Hartford's city council and mayoral races.
Wooden's departure from the race less than a month before the party nominating conventions places Segarra in a strong position, given the Democrats' dominance in the city. It also took at least one of the other candidates by surprise.
"I am surprised and confused by the recent development of Shawn Wooden dropping out of the mayoral race," Edwin Vargas, a former teachers' union member, said in an e-mail Thursday. "This news reeks of the back room political deals Hartford residents are sick of. Hartford deserves better."
Other candidates include local television entrepreneur J. Stan McCauley and the Rev. Patrice Smith, both Democrats, and former city Councilman Michael McGarry, a Republican.
Wooden said he would continue his campaign strategy of knocking on doors and talking with city residents, only now to seek a different seat. He said that despite disagreeing with Segarra on some issues, "I truly believe Mayor Segarra is a good man with a good heart."
Wooden had severely criticized Segarra in earlier campaigning. At a candidates' forum three weeks ago, Wooden attacked Segarra's leadership.
"If we are serious about turning this city around, we can't do it with the failed politicians of the past," he said at the forum. "We need a fresh face."
Asked Thursday why he switched gears so quickly, Wooden replied: "I have always been on record as saying [Segarra] cares about this city. He wants what's best for this city."
Malloy added: "I wasn't so happy with the mayor when he supported another candidate for office one time, either. So, these things move on." He was referring to Segarra's support for Malloy's opponent, Ned Lamont, in the gubernatorial primary last year.
Wooden said he was not promised any deals by the mayor or city council regarding a council seat.
"I've got to get elected to council first," he said. If elected, he said, he plans to meet with colleagues to discuss his bid for a leadership position.
"This was never about me and a title," Wooden said. "[Segarra's] in the office now and I was comfortable with that."
Some political observers said it appeared that Segarra cut a deal to get Wooden to back out of the race, but the mayor denied that suggestion Thursday. Segarra said that, if elected, he would serve out his full term.
"The governor asked for us to both get together and talk," Segarra said, "and we did."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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