The Democratic caucus of the newly elected Hartford city council has chosen its future leadership, selecting Calixto Torres to take over as the council's next president.
Torres will replace John Bazzano when the new council takes office in January. Bazzano did not seek re-election.
Torres, 56, said he was honored to be selected as president and he looks forward to working with all members of the council, including its Republican and Working Families Party members.
"I was flattered and honored to hear from them that they wanted me to do the job, and that they thought I would make a very good president," Torres said Tuesday. "I think the sentiment among the team of Democrats was that we really feel very strong about working as a team and moving the city forward."
Torres is a retired assistant city manager for Hartford and the former executive director of the Puerto Rican Forum, a job he left in June. He was first elected to the council in 2001 and recently served as the chairman of the its public safety committee.
Joining Torres in a leadership position will be rJo Winch, who will keep her post as majority leader, and James Boucher, who will be the next assistant majority leader.
Torres said he will serve as president for thefirst two years, then turn the job over to Boucher for the remainder of their four-year term. Winch will remain majority leader throughout the four years.
Winch said Tuesday that she had been under the impression the president's job was chosen by succession, and that as the majority leader she would be next in line. But when the Democratic caucus went with Torres, Winch said she agreed to go along with the group.
"I'm pleased with our choice," Winch said. "We came up with what would be the best choice for the team."
Kenneth Kennedy Jr., a council member who had been interested in the job of president, said the negotiations were "at times difficult." The caucus "made it clear" to Kennedy that "although I was interested in the job, I did not have the support of the caucus."
Matt Ritter, one of the council's newest and youngest members, said the caucus chose its leaders in an equitable way. He praised both Torres and Boucher as the best choices.
"We met as a caucus, we talked as a caucus and we came to a decision as a Democratic caucus," Ritter said. "I was very proud of the way we were able to negotiate this."
Who would become the next city council president became a hotly debated question leading up to the re-election of Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
According to the city charter, the council president takes over as mayor if the mayor unexpectedly leaves office — a scenario believed by many to be a real concern, given Perez's recent troubles.
The mayor is under criminal investigation, in part for giving a lucrative contract to a political supporter and hiring a city contractor to do $20,000 worth of work on his bathroom and kitchen. State criminal investigators applied for and were given a state investigatory grand jury to compel testimony in the case.
But Torres said he does not believe Perez is likely to leave before his four years are up, unless it is for a job with a new Democratic administration in Washington.
"Knowing the mayor, I have utmost admiration for his integrity," Torres said. "Yeah, he has made some mistakes, but I don't think they were deliberate or anything that were of any criminal substance. I have full confidence that he will be here for the next four years. So I have not really given thought to that. I have given thought to the possibility that he might be tapped by a future administration in Washington, for a potential job. To me that is within the realm of possibilities."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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