What If The Mayor Wins But Then Gets Bounced Out Of Office In A Corruption Scandal?
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
October 24, 2007
With the city election less than two weeks away, a "What if" question is being raised quietly among politically savvy Democrats:
What if Mayor Eddie A. Perez gets re-elected and later ends up leaving office under criminal corruption charges?
Supporters and critics of Perez are toying with the question, which has members of the party's endorsed council slate talking about who could become the next council president, a position currently held by John Bazzano, who is not seeking re-election.
Should Perez be forced to leave office, whoever succeeds Bazzano would serve as mayor until the next regularly scheduled election, according to the city charter, effectively completing Perez's four-year term. The charter does not specify what could require the mayor to vacate his seat.
"No one wants to say anything bad about the mayor," one person involved in those discussions said. "Eddie Perez is the kind of person who would not take it kindly, and would probably consider it a kind of treason to even talk about it."
Perez faces a criminal investigation by the chief state's attorney's office, which is looking into remodeling done on his home by a city contractor and parking lot deals his administration made with a political supporter. The chief state's attorney has declined to comment on the scope or direction of the investigation and no charges have been lodged against Perez.
Perez declined to comment for this story.
Kenny Curran, his campaign manager, said he had not heard the banter about Perez's fate, but said such discussion was "walking on very dangerous ground."
Curran then issued a written statement:
"A debate about this scenario is about as useful to Hartford voters as a debate about what to do if the tooth fairy retires, as both are rooted in pure fantasy," Curran wrote. "Mayor Perez is focused on the real debates that matter to the voters of Hartford in this campaign. Debates about how we can continue to work together to improve our school system, lower crime, invest in our neighborhoods and create opportunity for our youth."
To date, four members of the city's Democratic slate are said to be vying for the council president's position: rJo Winch, the current majority leader; Kenneth Kennedy Jr.; James Boucher; and Calixto Torres.
What's driving the discussions, aside from concern over Perez's future, is political in-fighting and ambitions among the council hopefuls, political insiders say.
Winch's future features prominently in those discussions.
Winch became majority leader with the strong backing of Perez, a position that would serve as a natural stepping stone to becoming council president.
But many city Democrats question her ability to lead the council, let alone serve as mayor, and she may have trouble securing the necessary votes she would need to lead the council. Her election could "be a total disaster," one person involved in the discussions said.
Winch denied she had been involved in any speculative discussions involving Perez and said the descriptions of her ability was a "horrible" thing to say.
"But this is America," Winch said. "And people are entitled to their opinions."
With Winch out of the way, the remaining Democratic slate candidates are left to jockey for the council presidency. The candidates realize, insiders say, that Perez unexpectedly leaving office may be their only chance to ever become Hartford's mayor.
The speculative discussions have reverberated throughout the city's political scene.
"The greatest fear would be a new leadership forced on the city which wasn't a direct reflection of the choice of the people," said John B. Kennelly, a member of the Democratic town committee. "How could that happen? If the legal problems that the mayor is having necessitated that he remove himself from office."
I. Charles Mathews, generally considered Perez's main challenger on Nov. 6, said he, too, has heard the talk about who should be the next president of the city council, but argues that debate will be "moot."
"I fully intend, with the help of the voters of this city, to turn Mr. Perez out of office," Mathews said. "But the mere fact this is being talked about is some indication how serious these investigations really are."
Former Mayor Mike Peters, who is backing Mathews, said he has heard people express concern over the criminal investigation and Perez's future.
"I hope Eddie doesn't get into a whole lot of trouble, because that would be an embarrassment to this wonderful city," Peters said. "I can't remember the city ever facing anything like this in my lifetime."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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