It's easy to dismiss dog-and-pony shows as carefully choreographed circuses for officials to spin their latest idea or misstep. But sometimes those scripted events can be telling.
Take this week's back-to-back press conferences in Hartford. Let's start with Thursday's, a hastily called gathering on city hall steps by Hartford mayoral hopeful Shawn Wooden. The strongest opponent to Mayor Pedro Segarra announced he was stepping aside to run for city council instead, giving Segarra a relatively easy path to victory.
It was an interesting about-face that had back-room deal written all over it. But more surprising was what it revealed about Segarra and Wooden, and the questions it raised about whether either was ready for the job.
You'd think that Mayor Segarra would have led the press conference. But it was Gov. Dan Malloy, taking a break from the legislature's special session, and resembling a dad stepping in to settle a sandbox scuffle between two bickering children.
For much of the presser, Segarra stood by quietly, looking content to take a back seat to the big guy. And then there was Wooden, a man who consistently slammed Segarra for lacking the leadership skills to resurrect the city, stumbling over a reporter's question about his sudden change of heart.
It was a no-brainer that any aspiring leader should have seen coming. The simple answer: Last week I was running against him. This week, I'm not. It's politics, folks. A cliche -- but one Wooden clearly couldn't handle.
At first, Wooden attempted to say he didn't recall making the critical remarks against Segarra that a reporter attributed to him. Nice try. but they came from his very own press releases. (Note to all candidates: You don't have to write your own statements, but you should at least read them.)
The stammering became so bad, Malloy finally took pity on his friend and gently moved him aside to come to his rescue. "I wasn't so happy with the mayor when he supported another candidate for office one time, either," the experienced politician said, to laughs. "So, these things move on, you know. They figure it out."
Or they don't, and cut a deal.
And then there was press conference No. 2, just a day later. This time Segarra was front and center, at least physically, outside a Martin Street community center to announce that local, state and federal agencies would be working together to combat city violence.
As dog-and-pony shows go, this one brought out the big names, including Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane and Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy. The mayors from East and West Hartford were even on hand, presumably to help bolster Segarra's latest line about violence being a regional problem.
To a point, sure. But the 17 homicides in the headlines - make that 18; a man was later killed on the very street where officials had so proudly announced their anti-violence plan - are all Hartford's. Bodies aren't racking up in either town like they are in the city. And while the plan includes some decent ideas - they all seemed too little, too late.
Think about it: For all the back-patting officials were doing about the collaborative effort, this summer's violence didn't just sneak up on them. It's a perennial issue; as predictable as the sun rising ... or Segarra saying he's all about transparency.
So why wait so long to bring everyone together, to come up with a plan? Even one homicide is too many, Segarra and Police Chief Daryl Roberts are fond of saying. OK, so where was all this collaboration after the first homicide, or the fifth? Or how about the 11th, which was the number of homicides we had this time last year?
Why didn't Segarra show he's got the leadership skills this city desperately needs by stepping up earlier and dealing with the violence before it became a crisis - again?
This wasn't lost on the few residents who showed any interest in a bunch of politicians suddenly showing up in their neighborhood. When one woman watching the press conference asked another passing by if she was going to stop and listen, the woman barely slowed down to answer: "Why? My house was already shot up."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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