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Mayor's Transition Team Role Brings Hope For Hartford

Segarra In Position To From Strong Ties With Malloy

Jenna Carlesso

December 13, 2010

Just six months ago, Pedro Segarra was one of nine votes on the city council.

Now the new mayor has a place on Gov.-elect Dan Malloy's transition team, where he has the opportunity to forge stronger ties with the state's top elected official than any other Hartford mayor has in two decades.

Owing his victory in large part to cities like Hartford and Bridgeport, Malloy last month named Segarra to his 22-member transition team, with the responsibilities of identifying key state priorities and helping to draft policy documents.

"It's incredible to have somebody of the same party in this role who has an understanding of urban problems from the perspective of being mayor," Segarra said, referring to Malloy, a Democrat who was mayor of Stamford from 1995 to 2009. "I feel I've already established a relationship with him, and I can really communicate my viewpoints about things that are important to the city."

Malloy's knowledge of urban issues from poverty to crime to unemployment is something Segarra hopes to draw on.

"I think he's going to be able to instantly relate to a lot of our challenges," Segarra said. "He's going to be living here as a city resident. There's no learning curve in that aspect."

The mayor's role on the transition team could pave the way for city officials to have a stronger voice in the new administration.

"Part of this process is to develop lines of communication," Segarra said. "We didn't have this opportunity in previous administrations. We're at the table now."

Hartford Priorities

Poverty, unemployment and the city's tax structure are just some of the issues Segarra said he hopes the new governor's administration will focus on.

For his part on the transition team, Segarra said he'll present "the urban contemporary perspective." He was named to the steering committee, which will work with others to create policy proposals.

"I feel we have a better opportunity now to really showcase our city all the assets but at the same time, all of the challenges," he said.

A key priority, Segarra said, is to address the city taxes.

"We're very limited in terms of how we're permitted to collect taxes," he said. "That's all ruled by state legislation."

Hartford's three primary revenue sources are the real estate tax, the conveyance tax and building and permit fees, "which," Segarra said, "in a slow economy gets difficult."

Another pressing issue is unemployment, which in Hartford hovers at about 15 percent the highest in the state. Segarra said he will push for more literacy and job training programs, as well as explore options for job creation in Hartford's neighborhoods.

"We have a poor population here, and a lot of those folks are probably unemployable because they still need to get the skills to get into a job situation," he said. "We need to start deciphering that population to see how many of those folks we can get back to work."

Segarra finds himself serving on the steering committee with a Hartford ally and a competitor in the 2011 election. Shawn Wooden, a lawyer for the Hartford-based Day Pitney law firm, has announced that he'll run for mayor.

Wooden, a Democrat, also said he hopes Malloy will work closely with top Hartford officials in overseeing crucial projects. He pointed out that although former Gov. John G. Rowland was committed to the city's Adriaen's Landing redevelopment project, there was little collaboration between Rowland and city leaders.

"Dollars went in, but the relationship was less of a partnership, rather a top-down, 'This is what's going to happen' situation, and the control was taken away from Hartford," Wooden said. "It would serve the governor and the city well to see it as a partnership rather than a governor dictating to the city."

City Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, chairman of the council's operations, management and budget committee, said the mayor should work with Malloy to find creative solutions for enhancing revenue.

"The city is too reliant on property taxes," he said.

He suggested exploring the option of a hotel tax that would benefit Hartford, a local sales tax or taxing vacant properties at a higher rate.

"I'm hoping Hartford gets out of this a very productive relationship with the governor," Kennedy said. "I was excited to see the mayor's name on the transition team. I think it's a signal that we'll see a good relationship between the two top executives city and state."

Commitment To Cities

Segarra will continue to work on the transition team until the group disbands, possibly in mid-January. But Malloy's chief of staff, Timothy Bannon, said the governor-elect hopes to extend his relationship with the mayor beyond that point.

"Mayor Segarra is a hands-on expert in municipal policy," he said. "He shares a number of general insights about solving urban problems. We're looking for that view."

With a looming budget deficit of about $3.5 billion, Bannon said, state officials will have to make tough decisions in the upcoming legislative session. But the administration will still focus on the needs of cities, he said.

"We've got to cut the state budget, but we realize that we have to make a commitment to cities," Bannon said. "In order to be effective in each of the separate venues, the state needs to better understand their separate needs.

"We want to make sure our commitment is effective, and the best people to help us figure that out are the people who manage our cities, like Mayor Segarra."

Segarra said his goal is to work with the administration to pinpoint the cities' needs.

"One of the things I've seen from the gubernatorial platforms and policies is that the broader concepts tend to be very good," he said, "but now we need to get to a point where we have a little bit more definition and really match those policies with the actual needs of the cities."

"Moving cities forward," he added, "is not inconsistent with moving the state forward."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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