In a sharp change of plans, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said Sunday night that he will seek a full term for the office he stepped into last June.
Segarra had been expected only to finish the term of Eddie Perez, who resigned after being convicted on five felony counts in a corruption scandal involving bribery and extortion. Since taking over on June 25, Segarra said he has been looking for a competent administrator who could be the next leader of the city. He decided it should be him.
"I've been speaking with many, many people who've encouraged me to run,'' Segarra said Sunday night. "I thought it would be in the city's best interests. I'm already there. This really wasn't in my plans, but it's an opportunity to help as much as I can. ... Hartford is going to require someone who works very, very hard, and I don't see anyone on the landscape. I feel I have what it takes.''
Declining to reveal any names, Segarra said he had asked various people — "who I thought can get the job done" — if they were thinking about running for mayor.
"Nope. Nope. Nope,'' Segarra said. "I haven't seen anybody who has what it takes to tackle these very, very big problems.''
"Ultimately, the residents will make their choice,'' he said. "I have nothing to lose, I guess.''
The job ahead will not be easy.
Segarra says Hartford has an unemployment rate of 14 percent and a projected budget deficit for the current fiscal year of $8 million to $10 million. He is heading to Washington, D.C., during the next 10 days to meet with the Connecticut congressional delegation in an attempt to obtain as much federal money as possible for Hartford.
After watching particularly nasty campaigns this year for governor and U.S. senator, Segarra says he wants his campaign to go in the opposite direction.
"I'm hoping I can run a very transparent and honest and clean campaign,'' he said. "I hate these negative campaigns. I pledge to avoid it altogether. It shouldn't be that way. Our community deserves better than that.''
A longtime attorney and social worker who has worked in Hartford for 35 years, Segarra, 51, said he had not thought extensively about his potential opponents or the details of the money that he will need to raise for a campaign.
"I don't know,'' he said of fundraising. "I'll stick out my hand and ask for donations.''
Hartford could have an all-out battle of relative newcomers in the next election.
"This race is going to be a Wild West kind of race,'' said a longtime Hartford political insider. "There will be a lot of people who will take a crack at the race.''
Among those who might seek the mayor's office include city council president rJo Winch, state Rep. Douglas McCrory, and former state Rep. Kenneth Green, an eight-term Democrat who lost a primary in August to city council member Matthew Ritter of Hartford's West End.
Democrat Shawn T. Wooden and now-Democrat J. Stan McCauley, who ran unsuccessfully in 2007 as a Republican against Perez, have declared they will run. Their campaigns have established websites at http://www.woodenformayor.com and http://www.mccauleyformayor.com
Wooden, 41, is a partner at the Hartford law firm of Day Pitney LLP and a political ally of insiders Frank Borges and Denise Nappier, the state treasurer. A city native who graduated from Trinity College and New York University law school, Wooden lives on Scarborough Street — one of the city's most prestigious residential addresses. He was described by an insider as "a very formidable candidate'' in a potential Democratic primary next year.
They will be running against Segarra, who filed his papers Friday to make his run official for the November 2011 election.
Upon becoming mayor after Perez's resignation, Segarra began shutting down his private law practice and devoting his energy to the mayor's office. Under the city charter, the "strong'' mayor is now paid the same as a state Superior Court judge — about $150,000 per year.
Segarra is looking to tackle the daunting problems facing the capital city. The first, he said, is taxes and spending as he attempts to avoid tax increases while balancing the city's $545 million budget. Second is "trying to eliminate blight'' and third is "having a plan of development and preservation for the city,'' he said.
Segarra is negotiating with the city's unions to gain concessions on the city's costs for prescription drugs and health insurance. No deal has been reached.
The city also has a hiring freeze and is offering an early retirement incentive plan in an attempt to encourage high-paid, veteran employees to leave the city's payroll and cut costs. These moves are being made as the city's projected deficit could be as high as $10 million.
If all of those moves cannot close the budget gap, Segarra said, "I'll have to decide if there's a need for layoffs.'' He added, "We're leaner than ever, and we're just going to have to make ourselves leaner.''
Recently, Segarra has been working seven days a week.
"It's work, work, work, work — continuous work,'' he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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