Though he has a seemingly remarkable ability to compartmentalize his life, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez will be hard-pressed to give the city his best effort in the coming months. He needs to vacate the mayor's office, temporarily if not permanently.
Mr. Perez was arrested Wednesday on charges of attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion. It is alleged that he conspired with former state Rep. Abraham Giles to extort money from the potential developer of a downtown property where Mr. Giles operated a parking lot. Mr. Perez denied any wrongdoing and says he won't resign.
It was the second time in less than a year that the mayor was arrested; the first time was on bribery-related charges stemming from home improvement work done in the Perez home by a city contractor.
This is a sad day for the city, a disappointment to the many residents who believed the change to a strong mayor system early in this decade would improve city leadership. It still may. The challenge now is Mr. Perez.
He is innocent until proven guilty and deserves his day in court. Grand jury findings are sometimes not all they seem.
That said, Mr. Perez should not be running the city while he is facing charges that could send him to jail. Who can have confidence in the city's top leader when he is under a cloud of suspicion?
One possible way to relieve Mr. Perez of his duties would be for the city council to declare that he is "temporarily absent or disabled" by the arrest. Under the city charter, if the mayor is absent or disabled, the council president can step in and serve as acting mayor.
But this is a long shot. The council would have to pass an ordinance making arrest a criterion for "absent or disabled." Given that Mr. Perez is close to the current council leaders — and one council member, Veronica Airey-Wilson, was also arrested Wednesday — the chances of such a move are slight.
Another option might be a plea bargain in which the charges are lowered in return for Mr. Perez's resignation. When prosecuting public officials, it's appropriate to consider the needs of the public. Although the charges against Mr. Perez are unquestionably serious, they do not reach the systemic level of corruption seen a few years ago in Bridgeport and Waterbury. A plea agreement would be an appropriate end to a sorry chapter in the city's history.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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