Despite a close-to-the-vest management style and a sometimes self-destructive stubbornness, Eddie A. Perez has been a good mayor of Hartford. He has appointed top people to key city posts, engaged the major issues of crime, education and economic development, and kindled momentum in the capital city.
He would be The Hartford Courant's unequivocal choice for another term if not for his recent ethical lapses. A criminal investigation into renovations done on his home by a city contractor is clouding his administration. Nevertheless, he has owned up to mistakes, and we trust he will make no more.
The chastened mayor is still the strongest candidate in the field. His leadership has put Hartford on a more promising path than it's followed in decades. He should be re-elected.
Mr. Perez, 50, is the city's first strong mayor in decades. Under the old council-manager system, it was often difficult to tell who was in charge. That's no longer the case: Mr. Perez is the boss.
And he has not been shy about flexing his new muscle. For example, he took control of the city's schools by putting himself on the Board of Education (another first), getting himself elected chairman and heading the school building committee - a comfortable spot for the man who led the construction of Trinity's Learning Corridor in the late 1990s.
His eye for talent drew in the visionary Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski and the popular Police Chief Daryl Roberts, among others who are transforming and re-energizing their departments. New schools are going up; crime in many categories is going down. Though there are still a few weak areas, city government is working better than it has in decades. Mr. Perez's constant interest in the city's children is laudable.
Though he can't claim credit for all the new development around town, he demanded a seat at the table when the state was dispensing hundreds of millions of dollars in Six Pillars investments. He's resurfaced many streets, removing once-ubiquitous potholes, though he needs to pay more attention to other quality-of-life complaints - the noise, litter and speeding that drive city residents out.
Mr. Perez is to be commended for resisting pressure for more homeless shelters in Hartford. The region must share the burden rather than making Hartford a dumping ground for the needy.
He also deserves credit for setting up a wireless network to get neighborhoods onto the information highway. Some question such projects when so many other needs go begging, but 21st-century technology is critical in cities.
Mr. Perez inspires fierce loyalty in his many fans - but he also has a considerable foe club because of his insular, autocratic, occasionally antagonistic governing style. He needs to broaden his inner circle to include more department heads and state leaders.
The same pugnacity Mr. Perez puts to good use fighting for his city can also alienate allies. He must master the art of diplomacy for the city's sake and stop public displays of political bravado.
His antics may play well to his base, but they earn him no capital at the Capitol or in corporate boardrooms.
He provoked the governor and legislature, for example, by breaking ground for a magnet school on Asylum Hill without clear title to the land. He had to abandon the site, at considerable cost to the city.
He didn't endear himself to the business community when he lectured MetLife on how many workers it should employ and criticized ING for moving out. MetLife didn't return his phone calls a few years later when it decided to leave Hartford. Why ING couldn't be kept in the city is still unclear.
Mr. Perez has been more incendiary than helpful in labor disputes, needlessly stirring up one at the Marriott Downtown that cost the neighboring convention center some major conferences.
But Aetna, Prudential, The Hartford and Travelers, bless them, are among Hartford's committed - and growing - companies. And business leaders say Mr. Perez's behavior is improving.
Most serious was his Rowland moment, when he hired a city contractor for $20,000 worth of work on his kitchen and bathroom and didn't pay him for two years until the state came investigating. This is so wrong on so many levels that it calls his character into question. So does a no-bid city parking lot deal and other troubling arrangements with North End power broker Abraham L. Giles, whose help Mr. Perez doesn't need.
These transgressions are not as minor as state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and other high-ranking Democratic backers make them out to be. But Mr. Perez's accomplishments outweigh his errors, worrying as they are.
He has proved he can lead the city to greater things. His integrity, however, is still on trial.
The Other Candidates
Mr. Perez's most serious rival, petitioning candidate I. Charles Matthews, 63, is a former deputy mayor and retired corporate executive who works as a consultant on human resources. He was a tough politician in his time and is a worthy challenger to the strong-headed mayor. His message is trustworthiness, but his chief appeal to many is that he is not Mr. Perez.
State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, 57, also a petitioning candidate, provides a good check on Mr. Perez's worst instincts - such as her proposal for taking ethics commission appointments away from the mayor and giving the panel the power to impose penalties. But her call to open the old YMCA to the homeless is not a formula for urban success.
Republican James Stan McCauley, 47, is a pastor and CEO and executive director of Hartford Public Access Television. This mellifluous speaker would make a good city council candidate with his fresh ideas, but he is too new to electoral politics to oust a solid incumbent.
Thirman L. Milner, a petitioning candidate who will turn 74 on Monday, set his own record when he became the first popularly elected black mayor of a Northeastern city in 1981. His campaign, however, has been perfunctory.
Newcomer Raul DeJesus, 20, a police cadet and petitioning candidate, is a fresh face who also needs seasoning in elective politics. But it's reassuring to get this bright glimpse of Hartford's political future.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at