By now, just about everyone's tipped their hat to former Hartford Mayor Mike Peters, his optimism, his enthusiasm, his love of Hartford.
Makes sense; he was our contemporary, a guy who made a connection with anyone who crossed his path — including every writer here, it seems.
But there's another reason Peters' death is resonating the way it is, and it's not just because he was a good guy.
Mayor Mike's passing is a vivid reminder of what's lacking in this city today.
Look, the man had his share of demons. By the end of his administration, more than a few cracks were showing. But even at his lowest points, there was an authenticity, an accessibility, to Peters that is glaringly absent in Hartford's current leadership.
Maybe it's an oversimplification, but Peters was actually about Hartford. More important, he was about reaching out and working with its people to spread the kind of faith that things could get better, that they would.
Good luck finding much of that these days. Look around and mostly what you feel is a sense of malaise, of frustration that not enough is changing, that not enough can.
For all his faults, Peters had this natural ability to make people believe in a way that for years now we just haven't.
Believe in what? Believe in whom?
Mayor Eddie Perez?
Sorry, Jefe, but you're no Peters.
Too often, if feels like Eddie is about nothing more than Eddie.
Displease the mayor and behold his wrath. What, the governor won't talk to him on his terms, his schedule? Watch the guy scorch earth all the way to the Capitol with reporters in tow to catch every juvenile, bridge-burning moment.
Someone says he can't build his school where he wants to? Watch him fire up the bulldozers.
Council member giving him a hard time? Suddenly, the mayor wants to push for a change in the ethics code that could force his enemy to publicly declare he had a child out of wedlock.Not exactly the kind of behavior that engenders a spirit of collaboration.
Oh, we had high hopes once. Perez was supposed to be the one who pulled it all together. El alcalde, remember? The city's first Latino mayor who would finally take Peters' enthusiasm and put it to action as a strong chief executive.
Instead, his promises of real change, of rejecting politics as usual, lasted about as long as his need for a new john. (Oops, just ignore that delayed payment to a city contractor.) Can't wait to see what the grand jury corruption investigation finally comes up with.
Maybe it was easier to be a cheerleader in Peters' day; the economy was certainly better than it is now. And people seemed more receptive to the idea that change was possible.
But the sign of a real leader is one who can rally people in good times, and bad, who is aware enough of what's going on around him to understand the consequences of low morale, and does something about it.
Oh, Perez tries to play the booster, with his office's superficially sunny press releases about New England's Rising Star.
But it all just falls a little short.
In life, Mayor Mike infused this city with a sense of possibility, of pride.
In death, he's teaching us another lesson: that there's more to being a leader than putting up buildings or attracting businesses.
That's Peters' legacy.
Now the question is, what will Perez's be?
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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