It was downright depressing to watch Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez in court this week: the way he'd stand up to introduce himself to potential jurors in his bribery and larceny trial; that strained smile/pucker that's become El Jefe's go-to "everything's fine" emotion since his arrest.
But more depressing — heartbreaking, really — is another reality that's emerged inside that third-floor courtroom.
Each day, Perez's lawyers ask jurors the same question:
"Do you have any opinions about the city of Hartford?"
No surprise, the mostly suburban jurors talk about crime in the city.
Other than serving on a murder trial two years ago and being called to potentially sit on the mayor's corruption trial, one Enfield woman said she hadn't spent any time in Hartford. Same with another woman from East Granby — even though she was born and raised in the city, and her elderly parents still live here.
"I try to avoid it," a 24-year-old Farmington Valley woman said Tuesday. "Just some of the scummy areas — what you hear on the news; the shootings."
But it's not just the perception of a crime-riddled city that keeps these suburbanites out.
The truth, they said, is that they just have no reason to come here.
"We don't go over the mountain," a Canton mom said.
The city has potential, she acknowledged. But there's "not enough of anything going on to come to Hartford."
Restaurants, they have them out there.
Stores, they've got plenty of those, too.
Other than the occasional game at the XL Center or show at the Bushnell and field trips or infrequent family outings to the Science Center, many jurors were clear: There's really no reason to come into Hartford.
Having the mayor of the state's capital city on trial is clearly embarrassing. It definitely doesn't do any favors for a city with an already tattered image.
But the irony here is just sad. As the allegations of wrongdoing against Perez began to surface, it was always his track record of so-called success that his supporters waved around.
"He's done so much for Hartford," Wethersfield resident Phil Knecht said Tuesday during a break in the court proceedings.
For all the talk and dreams and the cheesy motto of turning Hartford into "New England's Rising Star," it's clear that many people still don't have much use for Hartford.
Now that's a crime.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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