He was trying to keep from unraveling while paying respects to his pal of pals — Mike Peters — at the downtown Hartford restaurant that bore the late mayor's name.
I offered condolences to Anderson, who for years ran a successful housing operation for the poor, at a beer-flowing farewell Monday night. Peters died Sunday of liver failure.
It had to be tough, I said, to lose one of his best friends.
Choked with emotion, Anderson admonished me with the wagging of his index finger. He couldn't get the words out. None were needed.
This wasn't ONE of his friends, the gesture said. Mike Peters was his BEST friend.
There's that old adage that says something to the effect of best friends love you, despite knowing all about you.
Mayor Mike was Hartford's best friend.
The turnout Monday reflected that. I suspect the gathering at his wake today and funeral Thursday will reaffirm it.
Sadly, in the past nine months, our capital city has lost three of its BFF's — best friends forever. Richard Weaver-Bey. John Wardlaw. Mayor Mike. They were larger-than-life personalities and flawed men, each with the gift of gab — commanding your attention with their oratory and advocacy for Hartford.
The sartorial Weaver-Bey, an entrepreneur, ran a real estate management company and radio stations and served on almost every civic and community board imaginable. His life's purpose was to empower Hartford's African American community and unify the city around worthy causes.
Wardlaw, a tall, sturdy chain-smoking, golf-ball-crushing man with enormous hands, used his platform as the long-standing executive director of the Hartford Housing Authority to inspire a generation of poor people to believe that poverty was something that could be overcome with attitude and education.
Too many of the folks he tried to help, he said on more than one occasion, had "poverty of mind, not of the pocketbook."
Then there was Michael Paul Peters, the firefighter built like a fire hydrant. He was a beer-swilling, cigarette-smoking, wisecracking son of the city who used good humor and a can-do attitude to win an improbable run for mayor and serve four terms. He was a strong personality in a weak-mayor form of government, but that didn't restrain him from championing the virtues and possibilities of his hometown. Whether he was in Simsbury or in China, folks could expect the mayor to hand out paraphernalia and pamphlets about Hartford.
Peters, Weaver-Bey and Wardlaw were genuine and candid. They were keeping it real before that term became a catch phrase.
"Hartford is never going to be the same. Those were icons," said Saundra Kee Borges, the former city manager who was elevated under Peters' administration. "Those were movers and shakers, a lot of things got done with those three individuals involved. Those are some really, really big shoes to fill. I don't know how we're going to fill them."
You can only hope a next generation of Hartford's leaders will be as committed.
There's promise out there, including Sam Gray, the president of the Boys and Girls Club of Hartford; Benjamin Cruse, youth director at Leadership of Greater Hartford; and Matt Ritter, the rookie city councilman with the pedigree and promise that put him on a collision course to be mayor one day.
To those up-and-comers, Peters would surely proffer his signature tag line:
"Good luck. God Bless. … And Go Hartford!"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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