The Hartford Courant has called for Mayor Eddie Perez to step aside, at least until his trial is over. The state’s largest newspaper summed up the feelings of many city residents and supporters of Hartford who live in the suburbs with this line:
“A man accused of corruption should not be this struggling city’s public face. It just isn’t fair.”
If the Mayor doesn’t take the cue from the state’s biggest newspaper he will likely become embroiled in an ugly debate at City Hall. It is highly likely some members of the city council, pressured by constituents, business leaders, and state lawmakers, will be forced to look into what power they might have to temporarily strip Mayor Perez of his powers. This issue was raised last year when Eyewitness News questioned who will run the city during the Mayor’s absence at trial. This week Channel 3’s Hallie Jackson asked Mayor Perez that very question, and his answer, well, wasn’t an answer, at least not to that question. She rephrased the question and asked it again, and again did not get a specific answer.
When the Mayor stands trial, he will be in court for most of the business day. Experts have told us they expect the trial to last four to five weeks. Mayor Perez won’t be able to answer his cell phone in court, and I can’t imagine the judge will allow him to leave the courtroom whenever he wants. The Courant spelled out the concerns of many:
“Hartford, with all its troubles, needs a chief executive working overtime to prevent more flight, to create jobs, to fight crime, and to make a budget that keeps taxes down if that’s possible, but one that provides good basic services for the city’s residents. A man fighting for his reputation and his freedom in a courtroom is not likely to be that executive.”
So what can the city council do? I’m told the City Charter does allow the council to remove a mayor if that person becomes incapacitated. There’ll be a big argument over it, but Mayor Perez will be incapable of his carrying out his duties by virtue of his confinement in court. He would still be paid during this leave, but the Deputy Mayor would make sure the city has a 24/7 chief executive.
Such a battle between council members, attorneys, the Mayor and his supporters will certainly bring more negative attention to your capital city.
There is no doubt about it, the corruption scandal gripping City Hall is damaging the city. It used to be we were known around the country for the Whalers. Now, it is for scandal. A buddy of mine from Pittsburgh learned about our Mayor getting arrested in his paper, and ribbed me about it. “Hey, Den…first it is your Governor, now the Mayor, what is the deal? That rap also tarnishes the suburbs, especially the ones with “Hartford” in their names. If you live outside New England, you don’t know West Hartford from West Palm Beach…you just know Hartford, and you don’t hear good things about it.
We don’t know for sure how much the Perez scandal is impacting business, but look around downtown. There are plenty of empty storefronts, even while new shops and restaurants pop up in suburbia. The Aldi supermarket chain just spent millions opening several new stores in Metro Hartford. They opened stores in East Hartford, West Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, New Britain and Vernon. They did not come to the most populous community in the region, you know where the call of “we need a grocery store” couldn’t be louder. The same city where a brand new empty grocery store sits at the base of a brand new skyscraper financed by the state? There are vacant lots, some city owned that could easily have housed a store. It is definitely curious. Why did Aldi avoid Hartford? You can’t use the argument Aldi doesn’t like urban areas because it also has stores in Waterbury and New Haven.
I’m going to venture to guess there are people who do not want to do business with the city right now because of Mayor Perez and his legal situation. It’s uncomfortable. Does a developer, investor or business leader want to negotiate with someone who could be headed to prison?
Here at Channel 3 we are not allowed to make public appearances with the Mayor at this time because of his pending trial. News anchors often serve as emcees at various events, and as part of our job, we occasionally introduce dignitaries. We will not be appearing with the Mayor in an emcee capacity unless he is acquitted. Other television stations undoubtedly have similar policies. I have turned down invitations, including an offer to emcee Hartford’s 375th birthday celebration.
Mayor Perez is innocent until proven guilty. The serious allegations against him and the pressure of a trial are burdensome for him and his family. The Mayor has said he loves the city, and I don’t think anyone doubts that. But since the Mayor was arrested more than a year ago, the city he loves has suffered, and that should be a burden to him, too.
Here is a link to the Courant Editorial http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-mayor-perez-should-go.artmar10,0,4053224.story