It's been a little more than a month since Pedro Segarra took over as mayor after Eddie Perez resigned following his conviction on corruption charges. The Courant recently spent a day job shadowing Segarra, and sat down with him to ask a few questions about his ascent to the city's top office and what he plans to accomplish as mayor.
Q: What are your biggest priorities for the remainder of the term you are serving (which ends in January 2012)?
A: Number 1: Good fiscal management, because we're in the middle of a fiscal crisis. Number. 2: Make sure we come up with a good legislative package that suits our interests, including tax reform, and hopefully sustain the education efforts that we've undertaken. Three: Make sure that we're accountable and efficient in our operations so as not to give anyone any doubt that we're managing properly. Accountability is a big issue.
Q: What was the public perception of city government when you took over as mayor?
A: It was a mixed review. There was a group of people who felt that things were going all right and that we were making improvements in education, that things were starting to happen downtown — the convention center, the science center, front street, some of the major developments. And then there were some people that just felt everybody here is just [out] for themselves.
Q: How have you worked to change it?
A: I've tried to show people that my one and only interest is the wellbeing of the city. I've almost converted into sort of a monk lifestyle where everything is about the city. I've put the effort into learning it, and I'm trying to move some projects that are already on the table forward.
Q: Have you noticed a change?
A: We are the Capitol city and I think people are very concerned about that. I'm trying to do my best to promote our city. But there's always going to be a distrust of government and we just have to be reassuring and do what's right.
Q: Will the public see more changes in staffing at city hall in the coming months?
A: They'll see some staffing changes, but, you know, [the term is] 18 months. I have to be very wise about also not creating disruptions. But that doesn't mean that I cannot be firm about what my expectations are. Also, we have to make this government a little bit leaner to fit in with the fiscal realities that we have. So a lot of it is about reorganization. Some people I'm clearly not going to accept their resignations. Some people I'm just going to not take action and they're basically just going to be at-will. At any particular point — whether it's a month, two months, a year — I could act at those resignations. There's no deadline.
Q: How did you prepare for the role of mayor?
A: To prepare means to anticipate. I had no anticipation. I didn't prepare for the role of mayor. The only preparation that there was was 10 minutes prior to being sworn in, locking myself up in the bathroom and just praying for internal peace, praying for divine guidance, praying for making sure that I would do the best that I could and produce the best that I could. Other than that preparation of 5-10 minutes being locked up in the bathroom and then going out and raising my hand, that was all the preparation that I had. I have a set of skills that I think help me in the job: being a lawyer, being a social worker, being a community organizer, being a former city council person, city council president, corporation counsel. Those things do help. But you know, the thing is, you're never totally prepared.
Q: What did you learn from former Mayor Eddie Perez?
A: I learned that given the population and the problems that we have, you have to be highly active if you want to have some impact. I learned that I need to be very, very careful who is around me and to be able to surround myself with good, competent, trustworthy people who are ethical because it reflects on me. I learned that the bar has been raised and that the legal standards have somewhat shifted so that you have to ultimately be accountable for a lot of stuff that is often somewhat removed from you.
Q: Before being sworn in as mayor, you said publicly that you love Hartford and regard it as a great place to live and work. Has your perspective on the city changed at all since taking over the city's top office?
A: Of course I still love the city, but now that love is tempered with a lot of responsibility. I don't want to love it to death. There needs to be balance in terms of me doing the right things to get it moving in the right direction.
Q: Many Hartford residents have expressed concern about their taxes going up under the revaluation that runs through 2011. Will the city do anything to ease that burden for homeowners?
A: In January, when the legislature comes back into session, there has to be a clear legislative strategy that protects our taxpayers from going into a crisis mode and thus, generate an economic crisis for our city. At this point, we don't have a choice. We're at the point where we I think we tax to the maximum and spend to the minimum in order to afford the services that need to be done.
Q: Do you plan to run for your own term in November 2011?
A: At this point, my only priority is to do the day-to-day management of the city, move the city's agenda — its programs and services — forward. I've indicated that that is my focus. I'm not thinking about November 2011. I'm too focused on the day-to-day operations. I want to do a good job; that's my focus. That's my priority.
Q: What do you like most about being mayor?
A: I've always tried to be in a position where I can have some ability to make a difference. Just being in this leadership position, if I can use all the skills I've learned over the years in terms of trying to get people working together, trying to be a cheerleader in our communities to get people inspired again — that's, I think, the primary thing I like. The opportunity to be able to make a difference.
Q: What do you like least about being mayor?
A: The family takes a big sacrifice, and so does my partner. I don't like having to give all those things up. But fortunately, I have a very supportive family, a very supportive partner, and I know I'm not going to be doing this forever. For me, it's a way to give something back; to try to take the city through a difficult time.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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