This article appeared on The 40 Year Plan on Aug. 15Mayor Perez says what’s fair is fair.I know this because the Mayor’s Update told me so. In my mailbox, I found this full color promotional mailer that, in eight pages, features Eddie Perez’s name 33 times and his likeness in 16 of 19 photographs. Four times a year, Perez sends out these Perez-friendly mailers at a cost of about $45,000 to taxpayers. His office claims these franking privileges promote Hartford.
“The Mayor’s Update is a way to inform residents of all the positive things that are happening in our great city,” Perez’s communication director Sarah Barr wrote in an email to the 40-Year Plan. Anytime someone uses their name 30 times in eight pages and appears in 11 of 12 photos on the same brochure, like Perez did in his Winter 2006 Mayor’s Update, we can’t honestly call it unbiased news. I’d call it a warped mirror.State law calls them franking privileges, and recognizes them as de-facto campaign devices, unfair benefits of incumbency. The Connecticut legislature was so concerned about impropriety with publicly-financed communications that in 2005, it extended the interval between when an elected official could send voters one of these brochures from three months before Election Day to five months. Even harsher, the law forbids elected officials from appearing in taxpayer-financed television commercials or the like up to 12 months prior to Election Day. It’s an overdue acknowledgment of the influence of image saturation.A red three-ring binder in the office of the State Elections Enforcement Commission stores pages and pages of opinions from Commissioner Jeffrey Garfield about the usage of John Rowland’s likeness in election years in state published literature.Garfield applies a consistent standard, best articulated in a June 18, 1998 decision about Rowland’s words appearing in a sports program: “since the message neither promotes the governor’s candidacy nor is so laudatory as to implicitly do so,” it is not illegal.Perez adheres to the letter of the law, but the congratulatory tone borders on cultishness. I’m sure the city has a better use for the $45,000, a figure which doesn’t even include staff time for writing, proofreading and designing the piece.Lebon Press in Hartford prints up the 26,950 copies quarterly at a cost of $7,238 per issue, or 107,800 annually at a total cost of $28,952, according to Barr, Hartford’s communication director. She said Dillon Mailing of West Hartford mails 24,658 copies quarterly, or 98,632 annually, at a cost of $4,267 or $17,068 per year. The other 9,000, I imagine, are distributed at conferences or in spots like the library or City Hall. Written mostly in English, with a condensed Spanish language section that repeats the English storylines, the Mayor’s Update features bold-faced lead sentences that all start with – you guessed it – his name.“Mayor Perez is fighting to get illegal guns off the streets of Hartford,” says one lead, under a photo of Perez next to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Other photos, like the one of Perez marching with the Puerto Rican flag, accentuate leadership qualities. Perhaps the Summer edition’s only bold-faced lead sentence that doesn’t begin with “Mayor Perez” describes the Mayor’s quest for a labor peace at the Connecticut Convention Center. Perez has been pro-union in this fight, so it seems odd that the mailer lacks a union bug. Congressman John Larson’s summer brochure update, which arrived in my mailbox a day after Perez’s, proudly displays the union logo. Larson also announces he is cashing in on a federal frank with a clear sentence: “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.“Larson’s John Hancock substitutes for postage, and it is only one of nine appearances his name makes in six glossy color pages. Larson is more subtle with his subsidy. He boasts of his achievements and accolades through declarative statements, 22 of which start with the personal pronoun “I.” Perez also employs the first person liberally, with “I” or “yo” anchoring the text six times each in the Summer and Winter editions. Such is shaping opinion on the dole. Franking privileges date back to the English House of Commons in the 17th Century, according to the U.S Congress webpage, and it argues that franking is essential tool of democracy. I tend agree with the public sentiment that forced their abolition multiple times in the 19th century. The Connecticut state legislature should ban this shameless self-promotional literature in the next campaign finance reform bill. It’s cheap self-preservation, and if Hartford’s Primary Day spanking of his mentor and ally Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman is any indication of what’s in store for Perez, he needs to mine all the advantages he can.While Perez lacks an opponent, and enjoys limited scrutiny of his exploration of the limits of executive power under Hartford’s new charter, Perez is already losing his race. Repeating his name dozen of times wreaks like a desperate, arrogant attempt to tilt the election in his favor. Mayor Perez says what’s fair is fair.