The city council elected former corporation counsel Alex Aponte on Tuesday to fill the seat left vacant when Pedro Segarra became mayor in June, ending an increasingly bitter fight that had paralyzed the council for much of the month.
Yet to be settled is who will replace Segarra as council president, a decision that complicated choosing the ninth member. Aponte may now become the swing vote in what several sources said has been a deadlocked race for the council presidency between Democratic members rJo Winch and Jim Boucher, each who had four votes.
Boucher backed Aponte for the vacant seat, while Winch, currently acting council president, backed Arnaldo J. Sierra, a member of the redevelopment and ethics commissions. Sources said the five Democrats and three minority party members were deadlocked 4-4 through hours of wrangling that started at a meeting Aug. 9 and was continued to Monday, then again to Tuesday.
Aponte ultimately was elected 6-2, with Winch's support, and Sierra was not formally nominated. Winch said Tuesday after the meeting she still intended to run for council president. Aponte declined to say who he would support.
"I'm going to listen to all the candidates, all my supporters and make a decision based on the facts," Aponte said.
It was unclear what broke the logjam, but residents who attended the meetings this week grew increasingly vocal in their frustration at the drawn-out process at a time when the city is trying to restore confidence after Mayor Eddie Perez was convicted on corruption charges and resigned. As council president, Segarra replaced him.
On Monday, about two dozen residents, many of them Democratic loyalists, waited in the council chamber for more than three hours as its members were ostensibly negotiating in other parts of city hall. Many of them jeered when the meeting was recessed with no decision at about 10 p.m.
"Hartford has had enough embarrassment," said Jan Appellof, a member of the 6th district Democratic town committee. "We really don't need any more."
They were equally cantankerous Tuesday as they waited, beginning at 5 p.m. "This is chaos," said Patricia Nelson, a Winch supporter. "Where's the respect," said Hyacinth Yennie, a community activist. "This is downright disrespectful."
At 8:15 p.m., a heated argument among supporters of different camps broke out in the lobby of an office near the chamber and a Hartford cop stepped in and threatened to start arresting people.
The council's lone Republican, Veronica Airey-Wilson, waited through the evening for the Democrats to set their house in order.
"In the 17 years I've been here, I've never seen anything like this, trust me," said Airey-Wilson, who voted against Aponte along with Councilman Larry Deutsch. "It was handled poorly from the beginning."
Both Boucher and Winch looked frazzled after the meeting, as the six Democrats now on the council almost immediately went in to a conference room to caucus.
"The counsel had to make a tough decision," Winch said. She said she had backed Sierra but did not explain why she ultimately voted for Aponte.
Boucher said he supported Aponte because he understood the mechanics of city government and "will be able to jump in" immediately to a term that ends in 18 months.
"These things take a long time," Boucher said. "I hope people will understand we wanted to do our due diligence."
In an interview in his city hall office before Tuesday's meeting, Segarra said he had kept his distance from the process. He said he did not want to appear to be meddling and it was up to his former council colleagues to make the decision.
"I don't mind the delay if the end product of the delay is a good working model for the council," Segarra said.
But the council now has its work cut out for it. "They're going to have to work that much quicker in the future to make up time," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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