At Hartford’s first mayoral debate Tuesday none of the seven candidates challenging incumbent Mayor Eddie Perez seemed to emerge from the pack. The debate, which was somewhat civil aside from the cat calls from Perez supporters, offered some insight into why so many candidates had emerged to challenge Perez.
The first question of the night for all the candidates was: “What is your vision for Hartford?”
Republican candidate, J. Stan McCauley, said “everyone in this room knows what’s wrong.” In order to fix the problems in Hartford “you have to bring people together.” The other six Democratic candidates including state Rep. Art Feltman, Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, I. Charles Mathews, Raul Dejesus, Frank Barrows, and Rev. Patrice Smith said similar things about how their vision for the city is a shared vision.
Perez, whose leadership seems to have divided the city, said, “I ran to make a difference.” He was interrupted by applause from his supporters. “My vision for the city is to keep the momentum we have built,” he said. “I want the job again because the job is not finished.”
Many of the candidates talked about accountability, transparency, and integrity in government.
DeJesus, the youngest candidate, said people tell him “you put yourself in a sea of sharks,” in entering the race. But he said his intentions are “good” and “pure.” A police cadet in Hartford, DeJesus who used to intern for Rep. Kelvin Roland when he was working in Perez’s City Hall office, said even if he doesn’t have a job working for the city at the end of the race he will be successful in life.
One of the first things DeJesus and McCauley would do if elected would be to clean out city hall. McCauley said he ask the department heads why they should keep their jobs.
What about tax policy?
Perez said his hands are tied until the state decides to change the over reliance on the property tax. Gonzalez said the property tax debacle where Perez came up to the Capitol and demanded the legislature do it his way or else, ended their friendship. Perez lost a lot of friends at the legislature with his approach to the tax problems his city faces. Mathews comes at the tax problem with a different approach. He said in order to keep taxes down over the next five years the last property revaluation is going to be phased in then you have to control spending. “Do we really need 33 people working in the mayor’s office?” Mathews asked.
None of the candidates were against the strong mayor form of government which gave rise to Perez’s reign, but its obvious the charter change created some problems when it took away some of the City Council’s power.
McCauley said the council just needs time to mature. Barrows said you don’t have to tweak much. He opined the mayor and the council should work hand-in-hand. Gonzalez said the council should not be a rubberstamp for the mayor. But Mathews said the first thing he would do as mayor is convene a charter revision commission to look at electing the council from neighborhoods with some at-large members. He said when the charter change was passed “we didn’t envision a city council that’s a rubberstamp.” And he said he would stop the practice of having the corporation counsel report to the mayor before reviewing something submitted by the council.