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Vargas Primaries Segarra In Hartford Mayoral Race

By Jeff Cohen

September 09, 2011

Tuesday is primary day across the state. In Hartford, Democrats will pick their mayoral candidate and, as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, incumbent Mayor Pedro Segarra has a challenger.

Segarra handily won the endorsement of the city's Democratic party earlier this summer. He's now being challenged by Edwin Vargas -- a former teacher and veteran of Democratic politics and state unions.

On the numbers, Segarra looks stronger. He's raised more than $300,000. By contrast, Vargas has raised just $58,000. And he's loaned himself another $55,000.

And with the benefit of the incumbency, Segarra has already eliminated two earlier potential Democratic challengers -- city lawyer Shawn Wooden and State Representative Kelvin Roldan. It's worth recalling also that Segarra wasn't elected to this office -- he was put there following the resignation of then Mayor Eddie Perez.

SEGARRA: It's my first mayoral campaign.

COHEN: And you didn't want to do this initially.

SEGARRA: I did not want to do it. And I doubt that I'll ever want to do it again, but so far, it's been good.

In an interview from his campaign headquarters in Hartford's South End, Segarra spoke on a broad range of subjects -- including the future of mayoral appointees to the board of education, and the future of Police Chief Daryl Roberts. He says both are up in the air.

SEGARA: Everything is up for review. It's a new administration and it should have the protocol of having to transition into it because there will be a mandate from the public which requires such.

Still, Segarra has the feel of a guy who doesn't really think it's his place to govern.

COHEN: If you're reelected, would this feel like your first term?

SEGARRA: You couldn't have said it better -- except that I will have been experienced as a mayor. There's a lot of things that will have to be revisited. But once you have a mandate from the public, then it becomes a new administration, I will have been elected in my own right.

He's also heard the criticism that he didn't bring enough change to city hall after Perez left.

"Looking back, I could have probably done a little bit more cleaning of the house but I wanted to ensure that I didn't in the process of mopping wear down the floor and fall through the roof, because you are somewhat vulnerable coming in."

Vargas, the challenger, says the mayor is weak in city hall and worse on the issues. Vargas says Segarra is more interested in the ceremony of service than in the actual work of running a city.

"Well, he seems to rely a lot on press conferences and on press releases and appearances at public events rather than on administration and running the city."

Vargas says that he and city residents see a lazy response from city hall on quality of life issues from abandoned cars, to break-ins, pot holes. He says he would be a hands-on mayor.

"When I'm elected mayor I will work hard on these three issues -- accountability in our city government, our youth, and our neighborhood businesses."

In a lengthy press release, Vargas cited several examples of how he says Segarra doesn't play by the rules. On at least one of those issues, he may have a point. The mayor's office recently took out an ad in a local publication promoting the start of the school year. Segarra doesn't appear in the ad, but his name does.

State law seems to ban the use of public funds for advertising that features a public official's name in the twelve months prior to an election. Vargas has filed a complaint with the state.

"Well, it's a question as to whether it should have run an ad with the city seal and with the mayor's name on it."

Both men say they've got the momentum going forward. Vargas says his campaign's internal polling shows him with good name recognition, low disapproval ratings, and a tentative lead.

But Segarra says that while he initially feared running against a union veteran, he doesn't now. The mayor is getting lots of union support.

"When you put out yourself as a union guy, and you get very, very minuscule union support, what does that say about that person?"

Democrats in Hartford go to the polls on Tuesday. In addition to mayor, they'll vote for city council and treasurer.

Reprinted with permission of Jeff Cohen, author of the blog Capital Region Report. To view other stories on this topic, search Capital Region Report at http://capitalregionreport.wordpress.com/.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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