One mayor and four mayoral hopefuls met for a public forum Thursday night - the last of its kind before Tuesday's Democratic primary.
They came together at the Hartford Key Issues Forum at the Hartford Public Library and faced questions on topics that included public safety, education, property taxes, urban blight, keeping college graduates in Hartford and creating the jobs that attract them.
But as they weaved in and out of the issues, Mayor Eddie A. Perez hit home the idea that the city is moving in the right direction and he wants to continue to lead it, while his challengers agreed that the time had come for Perez to move on.
"Mr. Mayor, you've been in office almost six years," said former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews. "It's time for you to talk about results, not what you will do when you're re-elected."
Perez responded with spunk.
"Am I going to fix every empty house in the next four years? No. Neither is Mr. Mathews," Perez said. "I wake up every day at 6:30 and I put every hour that I can into helping every resident in the city. No call goes unanswered."
Well over 100 people packed a room at the auditorium for the event that was sponsored by The Courant, the MetroHartford Alliance and Hartford 2000. It was moderated by Courant columnist and editorial writer Tom Condon. Participating were Democrats Perez, Mathews, state Rep. Art Feltman and former state Sen. Frank Barrows, as well as Republican J. Stan McCauley.
The forum got moving with questions on how to improve the city as a convention destination and how to increase job opportunities for residents, but the heat came when public safety was the concern.
Condon read the room a quote from former Washington Mayor Marion Barry Jr., who said that "crime wasn't bad at all except for the murders." He then put the question to Perez and asked how he was handling crime.
Perez focused on his community policing plan, his choice of police leadership, the need to involve neighborhoods and the need for consistency.
"One of the things that Hartford does, it tries something, tries it for two days, and then gives up on the third day," Perez said. "We have a system that's working, we have a leader taking that system to new heights, and what we need is to continue to stay the course."
His challengers disagreed.
"The people of Hartford are pretty smart, and when you serve them hamburger, they know it's not filet mignon," Feltman said. And Hartford's track record in addressing violent crime is not filet mignon, Feltman said.
"I will cut the mayor's staff in half, I will put another 100 police officers on the street, and I will make sure they respond to you," he said.
Mathews said Perez missed his chances over six years to increase the size of the police department and address all complaints - not just the violent crimes. Barrows stressed a strong approach to crime-fighting, saying it's about eliminating the everyday quality-of-life problems as well as the homicides.
Everyone seemed to stand behind Perez's choice for a new schools superintendent, Steven J. Adamowski. Barrows said the key to education is one-on-one contact in the homes of the city's students and contact with their parents.
"If the parent is having a tough time in life, struggling, they can't help their child out," Barrows said.
When asked how to deal with the issue of school desegregation, McCauley said the key isn't to mix children of all races - the key is to teach children of all races. And the school system will have his full support, he said.
"As mayor," McCauley said, "I will make sure that [Adamowski] has all the resources necessary to see his task to its conclusion."
McCauley's bigger moment, though, came toward the end of the 90-minute session, when he said Perez will go down in history as one of the city's great leaders.
But, he said, "in every relay there comes a time to pass the baton. ... Thirty-eight years of single-party rule, cronyism and patronage, the city can no longer support that kind of management style. Hartford needs leadership."
Perez said he brings it.
"I want to finish the job, Hartford," Perez said. "I want to finish the job."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at