Eddie Perez was the politically wounded, well-financed incumbent Tuesday. But he fended off a trio of former or current elected officials - all counting on a support base that could make them problematic to a vulnerable mayor.
After six years in office, Perez could tout that he was hiring more new cops than any mayor in recent memory, and that he had a plan - through his handpicked school superintendent - to make the low-achieving city schools much more competitive and desirable.
A pending chief's state's attorney investigation into whether Perez is misusing his office for political favors and personal gain was expected to be a blow to Perez - even possibly derail him. Didn't happen. Not Tuesday, anyway.
With 49 percent of the vote, Perez was leading comfortably as the unofficial tallying began shortly after the polls closed. I. Charles Mathews, the former deputy mayor with the endorsement of the New York Times, AFSCME and popular former city Mayor Mike Peters, was running second at 29 percent.
Many of Perez's supporters from six years ago have left him, saying he's grown arrogant with power and dismissive of other ideas not originating from his office. Yet, the power of strong mayor is undeniable. Controlling city hall, the Democratic town committee and the school board makes him formidable and provides the kind of clout that raised almost $500,000 for the primary.
The biggest thing Perez had working for him Tuesday was that this was a four-person race. State Rep. Art Feltman and former state Sen. Frank Barrows were the other challengers. They cobbled together, collectively, more votes than Perez. That was just fine with the mayor as long as he had the most votes.
As volunteers were closing the doors to Mathews' Albany Avenue headquarters Tuesday night, the candidate was outside on the sidewalk. Mathews was looking toward the November elections and hopeful that he could persuade a challenger or two to drop out so he could build momentum.
"I think it was a good showing against a guy who's been in office for the last six years," Mathews told me. "We wanted to make sure that we could absolutely show a strong second. And we did that and we hope as we go into November, that this field will narrow."
Barrows and Feltman should step aside now, if their true goal was for a change in leadership. Of course an indictment at city hall could mean a cattle call of contenders again.
The Rajun Cajun restaurant on Main Street is one of the best places to hear the handicapping of a city election. On Tuesday, Chef Thomas Armstrong and some of the post-breakfast crew were assessing the primary when I stopped in before noon. Some had Perez winning handily. Others had Mathews giving a strong showing.
Takwana Berry-Pipkin, 31, was sitting in a booth and called me over. She was upset about some things going on in her children's schools. Berry-Pipkin said though she thought that the schools were improving, the interior of the two elementary schools her children attend was deplorable.
Could I do anything about it? she asked. I reminded her that she actually could do something - by voting. Berry-Pipkin said she was undecided about the candidates.
Voters will make a final decision about mayor in November. For now, there are two ways to spin Tuesday's results: Perez won big. Or, more than half the people voting didn't choose him.
Stan Simpson's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He is guest-hosting on the Colin McEnroe Show today from 3 to 6 p.m. on WTIC NewsTalk.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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