By MARK PAZNIOKAS, DANIEL E. GOREN And JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writers
November 07, 2007
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez survived complaints of ethical lapses and a bullying style Tuesday to win his third and closest race for mayor since 2001.
Outspending his nearest opponent by nearly a 4-1 margin, Perez, 50, capitalized on a divided opposition to win a six-candidate race. But after twice being elected with about 75 percent of the vote, Perez won with only 49 percent.
The runner-up was I. Charles Mathews, 63, a retired corporate executive and former council leader, who also finished second to Perez in the Democratic primary in September. He had 34 percent.
Mathews failed to rally voters to a campaign that insisted Hartford needed relief from the mayor's heavy-handed style and the cloud of a criminal investigation into Perez's dealing with a city contractor and the awarding of a city parking lot lease.
In declaring victory, Perez said he had the trust of voters.
"I want to thank the voters of Hartford for putting their trust in me. I will honor that trust," Perez told supporters who packed the Arch Street Tavern, near city hall. "They have endorsed the direction that Hartford is headed."
He cut short his speech when his wife, Maria, appeared to nearly faint in the overheated tavern. With her history of brain aneurysms, paramedics were summoned, but she quickly revived in the cool night air.
"We put our record out there," Perez told reporters after tending to his wife. Of investigators, he said, "They have to do their job, and I have to do mine - and that is to lead this city."
Still, the unofficial results showed that Perez will begin his third term with less than a majority. After winning with 8,609 votes in 2001, his totals dropped to 7,590 in 2003 and 6,453 Tuesday. His winning margin was just 1,898 votes, down from 6,746 in 2001 and 5,714 in 2003. A total of 13,213 votes were cast, representing a turnout of about 31 percent of registered voters.
Perez was elected to a two-year term in 2001, then was re-elected to a four-year term in 2003 under the city's new charter, which abolished Hartford's council-manager government, making the mayor the city's chief executive.
Mathews, by far the strongest of the mayor's five opponents, had 4,555 votes Tuesday. No one else broke 900.
Each was dogged by potential spoilers: Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, 57, who drew Latino voters from Perez; and former Mayor Thirman L. Milner, 74, who tried to blunt Mathews's appeal among black voters.
The other candidates were: Raul De Jesus, 20, a police cadet; and J. Stan McCauley, 47, a pastor and the Republican nominee. Other than McCauley, the challengers all were Democrats running as petitioning candidates.
Gonzalez finished third with 867 votes, followed by McCauley with 720, Milner with 463 and De Jesus with 155. Complete results were not available until early today.
Early returns buoyed the mayor's supporters at the Arch. Perez led Gonzalez in her House district, and ran strong in precincts that Mathews needed to win big.
"Hi, Charles! Bye, Charles!" chanted Perez supporters, mocking Mathews, the opponent known as I. Charles.
Mathews conceded defeat from a gathering a few blocks away at the Polish National Home.
"Now we have to hope and pray the mayor will have the capacity to bring us all together," Mathews said.
Mathews said he did well enough in the West End and northwest neighborhoods to win if Gonzalez had defeated Perez in her base of Parkville and Frog Hollow.
"I'd say the Hispanic community united behind the mayor," said Rep. Art Feltman, who endorsed Mathews after finishing third in the primary.
Feltman said Mathews' decision to run a largely positive campaign and to shy away from attacking Perez had little effect on the result.
"I ran a negative campaign against Perez, and I lost. He ran a positive campaign against Perez, and he lost," Feltman said. "The moral is that, for now, Perez is on top."
The mayor acknowledged prior to the primary that he had made a "mistake" in using a city contractor in a home remodeling project. Investigators for the chief state's attorney's office searched the mayor's office as part of their continuing investigation. No charges have been lodged.
Election Day was not without controversy.
Lydia Saez, a Perez supporter, said she worked as a Spanish translator for voters inside one of the city's polling locations for four hours before election officials expelled her.
The city's Democratic registrar of voters, Shirley Surgeon, said Tuesday that state law allows only election officials and authorized poll checkers inside the polling place. Saez was neither, Surgeon said.
And police were called to two polling places where witnesses said that workers for Perez and Gonzalez taunted each other. The candidates were not directly involved.
Perez and Mathews ended their day campaigning side by side in Blue Hills, a predominantly black, middle-class neighborhood that Perez narrowly carried in the primary.
Perez and Mathews stood outside a polling place at Rawson School, an elementary school renovated by the Perez administration, jockeying for the attention of voters during the evening rush.
"God bless you, man," Perez said to one supporter, then rocketed to greet new arrivals. His wife, Maria, called out to others, "Vote for Mayor Perez and Row B!"
Perez, who appeared energized and upbeat as he greeted voters, said he tried to use the same basic tactic he used in 2001 and 2003.
"I'm doing as much voter contact as possible. That's all that matters," Perez said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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