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A Just Sentence For Perez

Former Hartford mayor threw away the trust he had earned

Hartford Courant Editorial

September 15, 2010

No one who has followed Eddie Perez's career should take any pleasure in his being sentenced Tuesday to serve three years in prison. Mr. Perez, an energetic community organizer, project manager at Trinity College and then mayor, did much for many people.

Yet the sentence was just and appropriate. Mr. Perez succumbed to the temptations of elective office. He clearly and egregiously violated the trust that the people of Hartford placed in him, engaging in conduct that was, as Judge Julia Dewey rightly said, "totally unacceptable."

Mr. Perez was sentenced to prison and probation for three years each on bribery and extortion charges for accepting deeply discounted home repairs from a city contractor, Carlos Costa, who needed a favor, and for trying to extort a payoff in a separate deal on behalf of a political ally, North End warhorse Abe Giles. Make no mistake, what Mr. Perez did was despicable. Giving special treatment to Mr. Giles, a city parking lot impresario and longtime ward boss, meant that money the city desperately needed was instead going to a political payoff. Keeping Mr. Costa on a $5.3 million streetscape job he was botching meant the city was settling for inferior work.

Judge Dewey said what many thought, that Mr. Perez brought this on himself and is entirely responsible for his fate. What remains almost incomprehensible is that Mr. Perez accepted the home improvements while other public officials, Gov. John Rowland and Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, were being shipped off to prison for essentially the same thing.

Like the others, Mr. Perez had no prior criminal record. But he and the others apparently came to feel entitled to the offerings often laid before public officials. What each needed and apparently didn't have was a conscience, or, failing that, a "no" man, someone in the inner circle who evaluated the ethical conduct of the administration and had the authority to say "no." It is something those running for office this fall might consider.

That Mr. Perez felt the need to keep Mr. Giles happy should give Hartford officials pause. Political bosses go away when they are no longer needed, when government is open and all have equal access. There is no more Tammany Hall. Why is Abe Giles, at 84, still a power broker in Hartford?

The Carlos Costa situation also should be a cause for policy review. If Mr. Costa was the poor-performing contractor that city staff people portrayed him as, how did he get the job in the first place?

Also, why doesn't the city have a fixed, transparent process for removing a contractor thought to be doing inadequate work? The informal, ad hoc process in this case allowed intervention by the mayor. Perhaps in such situations an outside board of examiners ought to be convened.

The conviction of Hartford's first strong mayor in generations has induced some nostalgia for the old council-manager system. It shouldn't; that system was hopeless. Many strong mayors are good mayors. It was Eddie, not the system.

Yet Mr. Perez leaves a legacy with some high points, notably the radical change and improvement in the city's public schools. Mr. Perez brought in superintendent Steven Adamowski, who has dramatically changed and improved Hartford's schools. That is in Mr. Perez's plus column, as are the appointments of some good department heads and his commitment to the Hub of Hartford and One City, One Plan planning efforts, among other things.

Now he has thrown away all he has accomplished, and for peanuts. Post Nubila Phoebus: after clouds, the sun, as the city's motto goes. Hartford will survive.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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