Mayoral candidate Minnie Gonzalez slammed Mayor Eddie A. Perez on Tuesday, saying much of the trouble facing Hartford - blighted buildings, higher taxes and impoverished neighborhoods - comes from what she called "failed leadership" at city hall.
Gonzalez issued the statement in response to Perez, who announced he was taking steps last week to try to rid the city of blighted downtown buildings.
But Gonzalez said some of the very buildings Perez is now addressing are empty because of Perez. She pointed to two as examples: the WFSB television station that moved to Rocky Hill after negotiations with the mayor's office about possible relocation fell apart; and a deteriorating brick structure called the "Butt Ugly Building," which still stands after the collapse of a condominium development deal involving some city land.
And blight is not the only problem Gonzalez lays at Perez's feet. She said major employers, such as Mass Mutual and ING, have moved out of Hartford, taking jobs and tax money with them. And while taxes in Hartford go up, Gonzalez said, its people suffer - driving poor families into homelessness and pushing building owners to abandon their properties.
"If people can't pay their taxes, they are going to abandon their buildings," Gonzalez said. "As taxes go up, there is going to be blight all over the city."
Kenny Curran, Perez's campaign manager, said Gonzalez has conveniently left out the good work Perez has done in the city to fight blight, keep jobs and revitalize downtown. For example, Curran said, she does not mention the hundreds of jobs being created by Aetna, Travelers and Prudential, all of which are "growing jobs in Hartford," he said.
"She is not giving facts to the voters of Hartford, and the voters deserve better," Curran said Tuesday. "The fact is that we have made progress on blighted property, and we did it by working together."
"The mayor is working hard, working with the people of Hartford, and I think the residents of Hartford appreciate that and want to continue it for the next four years."
John F. Palmieri, the city's outgoing director of development services, said Perez also deserves recognition for a $50 million anti-blight program that Perez pushed for in March as part of his state-of-the-city speech. The program would aim to remove blighted buildings in some of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods in favor of viable housing, starting with the city's North End.
According to the city's planning department, the number of blighted buildings has dropped dramatically since 2002, when Perez first took office. In 2002 there were 366 boarded buildings, city officials said, whereas now there are about 135.
"The mayor takes the blame when things aren't happening, and he should also be given credit when they do," Palmieri said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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