We glory in our democracy, but election results show that the path to power is often paved with a paltry number of votes. The main event in the region last week was the Democratic primary for mayor of Hartford. Despite a crowded field, a desultory city electorate mostly stayed away in droves.
About 25 percent of the city's 30,000 active registered Democrats voted; it took fewer than 4,000 votes to win. The scandals splattering incumbent Eddie Perez failed to ignite his fractured opposition.
Although Perez's three opponents kept his total beneath 50 percent, none of them came close to toppling the bully-in-chief from the top Democratic spot. Perez faces seven fretful weeks as state investigators paw through evidence to determine the details of the new kitchen and bathroom in the mayor's house. They'll see if there are new details to add to the sordid tale in the public domain of a city contractor doing work on the Perez home without benefit of building permits or inspections. And then there's still the matter of the payment for the work two years after it began.
Someone may still have a chance to topple Hartford's most celebrated former gang member in November. An arrest would presumably cause more discontent than the investigation. Perez's admission of his dealings with the city contractor leaves him forever hobbled as a leader. The capital city will pay a fearsome price if it re-elects him. One of democracy's great attributes is that voters are as free to make bad choices as good ones.
The four contenders in Tuesday's primaries hedged their bets earlier this summer by securing individual spots on the November ballot. Add to them state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez. So far, only former state Sen. Frank Barrows, who garnered only 9 percent of the votes cast in the primary, understands the imperative of last week's results. They need to unite behind one challenger.
Barrows is unlikely to fight on to November. He's a very nice guy, but there's no point. State Rep. Art Feltman lost the primary and took a drubbing in the expectations competition by winning 13 percent of the vote for a third-place finish. Feltman's failure to win in his own legislative district drew much comment. That looked weak and will invite a strong challenge should he run for re-election next year. More time and money wasted on the race for mayor would move Feltman closer to a trip to oblivion next year.
I. Charles Mathews, a former deputy mayor, is still standing but only just. He needs to make a forceful appeal to the city's unaffiliated voters while reminding Barrows and Feltman supporters that he is their only hope of ending the Perez regency. If he wins only the support of everyone who realizes what a bad idea it was for Perez to appoint himself as head of the school building committee, Mathews will be in with a chance.
Mathews should put some verve into his campaign with a few taunts at Perez for trying to characterize his commode-gate as "political." Perez's alleged transgressions with the contractor look more like elephantitis of entitlement. Mathews may still be the antidote.
Voters got a glimpse of the dark future last week when the first candidate qualified for taxpayer funds to run his campaign. The death of state Rep. Richard Belden, R-Shelton, triggered a special election last month to be run under the 2005 campaign finance law. Belden would have been appalled that his district is where that piece of unconstitutional legislation gets unfurled.
That a Republican seeking Belden's seat is the first to glom onto tax money to pay for brochures and postage is an insult to Belden's memory. That the legislation was promoted and signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who paid an emotional tribute to her friend at his funeral, reminds us that Snow White has drifted.
Remember too that Rell and the legislature couldn't find $46,000 a year for copies of the sentencing transcripts of imprisoned felons to go to the parole board. Last week we heard testimony from law enforcement officials decrying the antiquated state of technology provided them. The consequences of that failure, we now know, can be deadly. Rell and the legislature willfully ignored that nagging problem while finding millions, many millions, to fund political campaigns.
Voters aren't the only ones who make choices. Leaders do, too. They've yet to explain why they choose to use tax dollars to pay for their campaigns instead of to protect the public from marauding convicts.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state lawmaker.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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