State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez says she is running to be Hartford's next mayor to correct one of her worst mistakes - supporting Eddie A. Perez when he first ran for the office in 2001.
She remembers when Perez called from his job at the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, asking for her help. He said he needed her strong base of supporters in the city's 3rd House District, which she has represented since 1996.
At the time, Gonzalez now says, she felt good about a Latino candidate getting a chance to run city hall. Maybe it was "our time," she remembers thinking. She and her husband, Ramon Arroyo, threw themselves into Perez's campaign, rallying her supporters behind him.
Six years later, after feeling repeatedly snubbed by Perez's with-me-or-against-me style and disagreeing with him on several key policy and political choices, Gonzalez says her initial support of Perez was a giant blunder.
"I made a mistake, and I want to correct that mistake," Gonzalez said. "I want him out. Bad. He is destroying the city. We can't let him go back."
Many political insiders say Gonzalez launched her campaign because she dislikes Perez personally. Her loathing was spurred by Perez's firing of her husband from a job at city hall, they say, and then exacerbated when Perez backed candidates against her in her House elections.
Perez's supporters have called her a spoiler - someone whose only purpose in the mayoral election is to split the Latino vote, potentially benefiting the mayor's main challenger, I. Charles Mathews.
Gonzalez, 57, insists her campaign is not about revenge.
"I'm running to win," she said. "I'm raising money and working hard. If I wanted to be a spoiler, I'd just have my name on the ballot and stay home and do nothing."
Those who follow Hartford politics say Gonzalez's greatest strength is how she reaches out to her constituents. She wins fervent loyalty the old-fashioned way - her front door is always open to those in need and her phone is always turned on, day or night.
Once a single mother on welfare, Gonzalez champions those in her district who can't advocate for themselves - poor single mothers, the homeless, the jobless and teenagers who turn to crime because they have no hope.
"It is just who I am," she said. "I think I got it from my mother."
While she offers few solutions, she can cite a litany of problems with the Perez administration.
She says the mayor has done little to solve the city's ailing tax system, which has hurt Hartford's small businesses. Several major corporations have been lost to the suburbs on his watch, along with the taxes they generated, she said.
There is too much waste at city hall and its school construction program, she said - the mayor's staff is bloated to $11 million in salaries, about $2.5 million was thrown away on an ill-fated push to build a school on state-owned land, and the cost of building Hartford High School is at $107 million and rising.
As Perez hands out deals to political friends locally, Gonzalez said, he has also made countless enemies at the state level. Perez treats the city's legislative delegation like doormats, he has insulted Gov. M. Jodi Rell several times, and many suburban legislators now question whether Hartford can be trusted to use money as the state intended, she said.
"We need change," Gonzalez said. "We need a mayor who is going to serve everyone."
Perez's campaign manager, Kenny Curran, said Perez is focused on reaching out to voters in every district and believes that voters will endorse his record on Election Day.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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