Stephen Dunn photo
Luke Bronin and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra square off at debate hosted by Courant and Fox 61 (Stephen Dunn photo)

In a debate that showcased the Democratic mayoral candidates positions on myriad issues impacting Hartford, it was clear that the two opponents were steadfast in their approach to one of the city’s biggest crises — the uptick in violence.

Democratic challenger Luke Bronin was not shy in stating that he believed public safety to be Hartford’s chief concern. Earlier this month the city experienced its 21st homicide, surpassing last year’s total of 19.

The mayoral hopeful, who throughout his campaign has accused Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra of failing to address the gruesome milestone, repeatedly made his doubts clear during the debate.

“For months, as it was apparent, you did nothing,” Bronin said. “It took a Courant editorial asking ‘Where’s the Mayor?’ until you took some action, and that action was a closed-door meeting followed by a press conference. This city yearns for stronger leadership.”

This week, Bronin held a public forum where roughly 150 community members, including family members of victims, gathered to offer insight on the issue. The candidate has previously said that he values “meaningful conversations instead of lip service” when it comes to the rise of violent crime.

But Segarra had his rebuttal ready.

“To politicize the deaths of his young men and women who have been killed, for political purposes, is really the lowest I’ve ever seen in politics,” Segarra said.

In the past, Segarra has made it clear he believes he’s doing all he can to tackle the city’s rise in violence. He says he’s working on crafting more “short term, medium term and long term” solutions.

After the debate, Segarra dismissed claims that his approach was more of a private method, saying that he’s been walking a “narrow line” between approaches.

“If I start to do public forums on violence, then I’m using it as a public relations stunt, and as a political relations stunt,” Segarra said. “If I do it in a more private setting, then I’m attacked because it’s a private setting.”

As a Latino who grew up in Hartford, Segarra has often referenced his connection to the racially diverse city and the communities within. One of his biggest criticisms of Bronin is his nine-year relationship with the city, making him an “outsider” in the eyes of Segarra supporters.

Bronin grew up in Greenwich, but has made Hartford his home since 2006 after graduating from Yale Law School.

Bronin said that his experience, both in Hartford and beyond, has shaped his approach — private forums are fine, as well as when they are balanced out by a more public presence.

“The turnout at the community meeting that we held on Monday demonstrated that there’s a real yearning in our community to have this conversation,” Bronin said. “I don’t think we should shy away publicly from talking about the most important issue facing Hartford right now.”

As the two highest-profile candidates, Segarra and Bronin have been pitted against each other since the start of the race. And while each continues to criticize the other on their approach to public safety, the core aspects of their action plans are similar.

When rattling off the ways he hopes to tackle violence, Bronin almost always mentions three plans of action — increasing career and other opportunities for youth, taking illegal guns off the street, and bulking up the police force.

The same goes for the mayor. Youth programs, early learning programs, and community policing are Segarra’s three strategies for reducing violence.

Even though they actually agree on a lot, they focused on their disagreements during a majority of the debate.

Bronin focused on what he sees as Segarra’s lack of accountability.

“You used to make public safety your main concern, until it became incredibly inconvenient for you to handle the rise in crime that was spinning out of control,” he said to the Mayor.

For Segarra, it came down to Bronin’s lack of experience.

“If you need to call a community meeting to get ideas about what you’re going to do about crime, that really shows how ill-prepared you are to be mayor,” Segarra said.

The Democratic primary in Hartford will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 16. The debate will be be re-aired on Fox 61 at 5 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 23.