Elections are no time for foolish pride. Word on the street in Hartford Tuesday was that turnout was "strong," which, of course, is all relative coming off a September primary in which 75 percent of the electorate did not vote.
But Eddie Perez - who posted decisive numbers in that primary despite facing a state investigation for the possible misuse of his office - wasn't taking any chances. He was asking for votes, groveling really.
As a woman approached the polls at North Hartford's Rawson School, considered a key voting district, Perez curtailed our conversation and beckoned: "Ma'am ... Give me a shot. ... Let me stay in there. ... I need four more years. ... Let me finish it."
The mayor then resumed our chat until he saw a middle-aged man walking to the school.
"Hey, Papi," Perez pitched. The man ignored him.
With six candidates in the field, persistent questions about his leadership style and concern that he could even be arrested, the mayor was hoping a strong turnout would somehow work in his favor.
"I feel good that we got our message out, and made sure people knew what's at stake," Perez said before the polls closed.
His opponents weren't so sure.
"I think many of those coming out are because they've lost trust in this administration," said I. Charles Mathews, Perez's closest competitor, who also stopped at Rawson to greet voters. "Eddie and I agree on many of the issues. It really comes down to style - and trust."
Perez was the overwhelming favorite when he decided to run for mayor in 2001. As the head of SINA - the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance - he helped to build the $110 million Learning Corridor in Frog Hollow, which many initially thought was a pipe dream.
The diminutive former gang member promised he also had big plans to rebuild the city.
Perez wanted to increase homeownership from 25 percent to 30 percent. He vowed to improve neighborhood schools and "find ways to make a better education available to more of our children as quickly as possible." He said community policing wouldn't be just a slogan, but a meaningful partnership between the residents and the cops.
All this could happen, Perez told supporters, if they followed through on a movement to change the city government to one run by a "strong mayor." They did.
Since 2002, according to Perez's office, there are 1,350 new homeowners in the city. Perez's hand-picked police chief, Hartford-bred Daryl Roberts, is leading a recruiting effort to hire dozens of new cops over the next year. Perez's hire of Steven Adamowksi, a straight-shooting reform-minded schools chief, has been widely heralded.
Gotta give Eddie an `A' for effort.
But he gets an "F" in personal relations. His arrogance under "strong mayor" overshadowed his progress and made him unnecessarily vulnerable in an election that he won Tuesday.
Perez got into needless tiffs with the governor over the placement of a magnet school, feuded with city legislators over tax reforms and got overly cozy with unions who disrupted business at the city's new convention center.
Perez also placated political operative Abe Giles with cushy and unethical parking lot-management deals that served Perez's political agenda, not the city's. The attitude of entitlement was further displayed in the shady deal Perez cut with a city contractor to renovate his home, and the long leash he has given his pit bull chief of staff, Matt Hennessy.
Tuesday was a referendum on whether voters would look past Perez's transgressions, his arrogance - and applaud his efforts.
Effort won out.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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