Christine Stuart photo

Four of the eight candidates running for mayor in Hartford and more than 50 residents attended Tuesday’s debate at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church. 

Political newcomer Raul DeJesus, Republican J. Stan McCauley, Independent candidate Thirman Milner, and Democratic candidate I. Charles Mathews were in attendance and ready to talk passionately about the issues.

The debate format gave each of the candidates one minute to respond to the questions posed by the neighborhood groups that helped organize it.

Many of the questions centered around housing development, the inclusion of neighborhood groups in the city planning process, and crime.

Vera Calloway, of Stand Up 4 Your Rights, asked the candidates if they thought requiring housing developers to dedicate a third of their units to low-income residents was a good idea.

Mathews said he supports the concept, if the city gives money to the developer to help with the project. Milner agreed with the idea, saying that the new housing downtown is very expensive and out of reach for many of the city’s residents. In answering a similar question later on in the evening, DeJesus proposed establishing a fair rent commission and requiring renters to obtain occupational certification. He said during the certification process a city worker would inspect the apartment to make sure it’s livable.

McCauley said gentrification is happening in the city and in order to reverse the trend he would empower tenants to take ownership of their buildings. He said this would take the power away from the developer’s looking to turn a profit by upgrading Hartford’s housing stock and displacing the low-income residents that live there.

Jackie McKinney, of the Asylum Hill Problem Solving Revitalization Association, asked if elected mayor would they include community groups in the city planning process.

“We have to support these groups who are doing it from their heart,” DeJesus said. McCauley said this is a “no-brainer.” He said that empowering these organizations is good for Hartford. The audience seemed to agree and applauded the notion.

Christine Stuart photo

Mathews said he sees the community groups as an extension of city hall and would make sure to include money for them in the city budget.

Eve Christian of the West End Civic Association asked if they planned to hire more police officers without raising taxes.

McCauley said he understands that the police department is understaffed, but the money to increase the police force would have to come from somewhere. He said “it’s less an issue of more police than it is better response time.” He said he would like to see police increase response time to two-minutes.

Mathews said “I think we need to hire more police officers,” but “we can’t control crime just with more police officers.” He added that there is currently a lot of wasteful spending at City Hall. Dejesus, who is a police cadet, said “nobody wants to hear about people raising taxes,” and maybe just making sure the police substations are staffed and police are equipped is enough. He said there are currently 12 police cars that don’t work and often city officers have to get bullets from surrounding towns.

Milner said he agrees there’s a lot of waste in the current budget, but that in order to combat crime you need to look at what drives it: poverty. He said by addressing the issue of poverty the city’s crime would go down because people making $30,000 to $40,000 a year don’t need to be on the street selling drugs.

During the open question portion of the debate where audience members were able to ask candidates questions, a member of McCauley’s campaign stood up to ask Mathews a loaded question about his involvement in hiring Hartford residents for construction jobs at Saint Francis Hospital back in 1992. Debate moderators asked the staffer to leave the debate and shortly after Mathews and McCauley argued quietly back and forth as the debate continued.

When asked after the debate about the argument Mathews said in 1992 the hospital asked community groups for names of residents who may be interested in working on the construction of the new wing. He said he was given 113 names and of those about 35 Hartford minorities were trained for the job. He said Rev. Nora Wyatt came to him at the eleventh-hour with more names of residents and was upset when it was too late to get them jobs.

McCauley’s staffer contends that what Mathews said was that minorities didn’t want to work. Mathews, who is black, disputes the accusation.

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, who is school board chairman, was absent because he was attending a school board meeting. State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, state Rep. Art Feltman, and Democratic candidate Frank Barrows were also absent. Click here to read the Courant’s story and find out what Feltman was doing instead of attending the forum.