In their last face-to-face debate before the Nov. 6 election, Mayor Eddie A. Perez and leading challenger I. Charles Mathews had one of their most contentious moments Tuesday since they started campaigning months ago.
As the two cordially answered questions at a student-organized debate at Capital Community College Tuesday, Perez accused Mathews of ditching Hartford and living out of state for several years, only to return two years ago.
Mathews then let loose on the incumbent mayor, telling members of the audience that they should be worried that Perez could be re-elected but end up being arrested on corruption charges.
"He don't want to talk about that," Mathews said, referring to an investigation by the chief state's attorney's office into city hall corruption allegations. "He don't want to talk about his own personal behavior, so what he will do is talk about non-issues. If you're concerned about anything, don't be concerned that I left town and then came back. Be concerned about what will happen when they lead him out of city hall in handcuffs. That is what you ought to be concerned about."
The exchange began when Perez, in answering a question about the merits of four-year terms for mayor and council, asked students to raise their hands if they had lived in Hartford for the past six years.
"You haven't been around," Perez said, pointing to Mathews. "Charlie, Charles Mathews, hasn't been around for six years."
"I think the voters of this city are going to say they were better off than they were six years ago, that they were better off than four years ago, and that they were better off - when did you move into the city, Charlie?" Perez asked.
Mathews: "I've been here 30 years."
Mathews: "How long you've been here?"
Perez: "Since 1969. A little longer than you."
Mathews: "Yeah? I've been here since 1967. Thank you."
Mathews, a former Hartford deputy mayor, lived in Hartford from 1967 until 1996, when he took a job in Chicago as a vice president of Quaker Oats. He returned to the city in 2005.After their debate, Mathews pointed out to The Courant that Perez, too, once moved out of Hartford, taking advantage of suburban schools and lower taxes. Perez bought a house in Bloomfield in 1986 and sold it in 1998.
While Perez has said he moved back to the city in 1993, Courant stories published during his 2001 campaign for mayor stated he continued to register his vehicles in Bloomfield for years, taking advantage of the suburb's lower auto insurance premiums and automobile taxes. Perez has maintained he never truly left Hartford, since he continued to work in the city.
"Who is more of a carpetbagger?" Mathews said. "Someone who moves thousands of miles away for a great job opportunity and then returns home, or someone who works in the city but decides to move out to a suburban community for 10 or so years and only returns back to town when he decides to run for mayor? He is just a hypocrite."
In addition to Perez and Mathews, the forum included Republican candidate J. Stan McCauley and independent Democrat Raul De Jesus, the youngest candidate at 20. Candidates Thirman Milner, a former mayor, and state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, were not in attendance. Topics included crime, education, taxes, parking and the environment.
De Jesus summed up the exchange between Mathews and Perez, likening it to a student council race in junior high school in which he participated. The only difference, according to De Jesus, is that the candidates in junior high "acted a lot more mature than these two leaders here."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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