Perez, Two Rivals Had Other Commitments; Another Weighs His Plans
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
September 19, 2007
The table was set for eight, but four mayoral candidates didn't show up for a forum at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church Tuesday night.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez had a board of education meeting. Frank Barrows and Minnie Gonzalez had prior commitments, and Art Feltman - who says he is considering whether to stay in the race - stayed home.
"I'm watching a movie. `Footloose,' with Kevin Bacon," Feltman said Tuesday afternoon. Asked whether people should read anything into the fact that he was watching a movie about teenage dancing instead of attending the mayoral forum, Feltman said they should.
"At this point," Feltman said, "I prefer dancing."
One week after Perez won the Democratic mayoral primary, taking nearly half of the close to 8,000 total votes cast, four candidates sat in front of about 70 people to take questions from various community organizations. Those present included Perez's closest rival in the primary, former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews, and former Mayor Thirman Milner, newcomer Raul DeJesus, and Republican J. Stan McCauley.
The forum's questioners asked the candidates to pledge various things, including: creating programs to address issues facing single mothers, guaranteeing that any new development in the city would have 30 percent of the units set aside for low-income residents, committing to hiring more police officers without raising taxes, creating a "teachers review board" for students and addressing gentrification and homelessness.
The mayoral forum was organized by Hartford Organizing for Power and Equality.
On homelessness, the candidates offered different views and different solutions. For Mathews and Milner, the key was job creation. For McCauley, it was about mustering political will. And DeJesus reminded people that "it's not how you started, it's how you finished."
Charter reform was also an issue taken up by the candidates. Milner said electing council members by district should be looked at, as did McCauley. McCauley also said the council should have its own legal representation.
"I think you're going to see the new council step up to the plate and hold the chief executive a lot more accountable," he said. "I just think the charter needed time to mature."
Mathews said a new charter revision commission is needed. "Right now we have a strong mayor and the strong mayor is getting stronger, the council is getting weaker," Mathews said, referring to Perez. "There simply are no checks and balances in the system."
Mathews and McCauley got into what appeared to be a heated verbal exchange out of range of the microphones. Both campaigns said afterward that the subject of the discussion was that some questions were coming not from concerned citizens, but from campaign plants.
Leaving the issues aside, one question that remains is whether Perez's primary challengers will unite behind one candidate. Former state Sen. Barrows said in an interview Tuesday that he had yet to make up his mind, but that he would only support a candidate with a plan.
"It can't just be, `Beat up on Eddie,'" Barrows said.
Feltman, a state representative, said he hoped to have an announcement "sooner rather than later."
But in a statement on his website, he was more direct about his feelings for Perez.
"We cannot forget that our purpose is not to elect one man or woman, but to save our city from a crooked despot," he said, referring to Perez. "49 percent of the members of one party does not a majority make."
In response, Kenny Curran, Perez's campaign manager, said "The primary results spoke pretty loudly. ... I think that shows broad support throughout the city for the direction that Hartford is going."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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