The decision by several of the state's constitutional officers Thursday to back the re-election of Mayor Eddie A. Perez could have a "chilling effect" on the chief state's attorney's criminal investigation into the mayor's conduct, according to Perez's leading political opponent.
I. Charles Mathews said he was particularly troubled by the endorsement Perez received from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who as the state's "chief elected law enforcement officer," should have backed away "from any perception that he supported any alleged criminal activity."
"Hartford's present mayor is currently being investigated for home improvement work he had done at his home by city contractors, as well as allegations of awarding no-bid contracts to friends and supporters, special parking garage deals for political allies and other allegations of wrongdoing and unethical conduct," Mathews said. "Despite this, the attorney general, who's supposed to serve as one of the chief law enforcement officials for state residents, stands in support of him.
"It's no wonder so many citizens are disenchanted with the political process," said Mathews, who finished second to Perez in this month's Democratic primary and is running against Perez in November as an independent Democrat.
J. Stan McCauley, the Republican candidate for mayor, also criticized Thursday's endorsements, saying in a prepared statement that the elected officers were acting unethically by getting paid state funds - their salaries - for political activity.
McCauley said it seems "two sets of ethical standards" exist, "one for the Perez campaign and our elected Democratic officials, and another for everyone else."
As news of the endorsements spread, two other mayoral candidates - former Mayor Thirman Milner and state Rep. Art Feltman - said they found Blumenthal's endorsement troubling, especially given Connecticut's recent history of corruption involving top elected officials.
"I'm deeply concerned about it," Milner said. "Whether the mayor is guilty or not, he is under investigation. For the attorney general to come out and endorse him along with all those other officials, it seems puzzling to me. It really is surprising."
Blumenthal said that although Perez admitted making a mistake by hiring a city contractor to do a $20,000 renovation of his bathroom and kitchen, that misstep is minor compared to Perez's record of leadership and achievement.
"I have complete trust in Eddie Perez's integrity, his honesty and his dedication," Blumenthal said.
Later, questioned by The Courant, Blumenthal - who said an investigation into Perez is far from "actual charges" - hedged, saying, "If there are further disclosures that show a basis for criminal charges and those criminal charges are brought, those will be factors in the election as they would be in my decision whether to endorse him."
Blumenthal and several other high-ranking Democrats endorsed Perez at the Legislative Office Building Thursday. Those present - Blumenthal, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, city Treasurer Kathleen Palm, Hartford Democratic Town Chairman Noel McGregor and state Rep. Kelvin Roldan, D-Hartford - spoke of wanting "unity" in the Democratic Party. DiNardo called upon all Democrats who lost in the primary to fall in behind Perez.
Perez said the endorsements showed he had widespread support and an excellent relationship with state officials.
"Everywhere you look, you can see the changes in this city," Perez said. "Hartford did not do that alone."
Mathews, who was one of four Democrats who ran against Perez in the party primary, noted that Blumenthal, in the past, has leapt at the chance to investigate and prosecute those who have claimed their wrongdoing was just a lapse in judgment.
"I'm just puzzled why the attorney general would say [Perez] had made a mistake," Mathews said. "There are a lot of people who have said they have made a mistake in this state, and the attorney general has gone after them. Why is this mistake different from those other mistakes?"
Mathews also took issue with Bysiewicz's endorsement, saying her office should be "above reproach" and not take sides in the election.
"I understand supporting an endorsed Democrat, but when that Democrat is under criminal investigation our state officers should respect the law enough to not taint themselves," he said.
Bysiewicz said she stood behind Perez in her capacity as a Democrat, not as the state's chief elections official.
"I tremendously respect the primary process, and that is why I'm here, as a friend of Eddie's and as a Democrat, to support the winner of the Democratic primary," she said. "I do believe people are within their right to run, and I would not discourage them."
McCauley also called for an investigation into the use of the Legislative Office Building for the Perez press conference. The room was booked for use in a "meeting" by Roldan, a former Perez aide and now Hartford's representative for the 4th House District. According to the Office of Legislative Management, Roldan did not identify the event as a press conference.
State regulations prohibit the use of Capitol facilities for press events except for specific circumstances - if the event takes place in a legislator's office, if it relates to a lawmaker's official activities and if it is held by the incumbent secretary of the state, comptroller, treasurer and attorney general.
Roldan said he was not completely familiar with the rules, but that he believed the use of the building "conformed" with past practice.
"I don't know what all the rules are, but there is a history of this," Roldan said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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