Rumors of Eddie Perez's political weakness were greatly exaggerated, or so the results of Tuesday's Democratic mayoral primary suggest. Hartford's first strong mayor stiff-armed three opponents, sprinting ahead of I. Charles Mathews, his closest challenger, by 20 percentage points. State Rep. Art J. Feltman and former state Sen. Frank Barrows finished well behind Mr. Mathews.
The incumbent is well positioned for the November general election, in which he could again face his three primary opponents and longtime nemesis Minnie Gonzalez, a state representative. Her name was tossed from the primary ballot, but she has qualified for the November runoff.
Mr. Perez obviously used the extraordinary powers given him in the city's new charter to good advantage in expanding his electoral base of support. He is not only chief executive of city government, but chairman of the school board and head of the school building committee. He has a vision for the city and works hard to make it happen. His appointment of two high-profile, popular city officials - school Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski and Police Chief Daryl Roberts - undoubtedly helped Mr. Perez at the polls. In addition, the mayor ran an aggressive campaign fueled by a huge - by comparison to the others - campaign treasury.
But it isn't all roses for Mr. Perez. Disgruntlement with his iron-fisted, my-way-or-the-highway leadership style has been evident in recent years. He drew deserved criticism for his stubborn insistence on siting a magnet school at a terrible location at Farmington Avenue and Broad Street, and having to retreat after clearing the lot at great expense without first securing needed state approval.
Worse, he faces a criminal investigation for questionable parking lot deals he made with North End political operative Abe Giles, and for his use of a city contractor to do repairs on his home - a renovation that was undertaken without building permits and that he paid for after the fact.
Voters in the primary seem to have given Mr. Perez the benefit of the doubt on these ethics matters. They may not be so understanding if investigators find anything else.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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