The Rise and Fall of Eddie Perez

The Rise and Fall of Eddie Perez Hartford’s Mayor on the Hot Seat I don’t know Eddie Perez, the embattled mayor of Hartford, Connecticut. But when you assign a story, edit the story, work with the photographer, see the story in layout, write a title, then see the story in the June 2006 Yankee (Eddie […]

By Mel Allen

Feb 02 2009

The Rise and Fall of Eddie Perez
Hartford’s Mayor on the Hot Seat

I don’t know Eddie Perez, the embattled mayor of Hartford, Connecticut. But when you assign a story, edit the story, work with the photographer, see the story in layout, write a title, then see the story in the June 2006 Yankee (Eddie Perez: Mayor of Hartford), you can’t help but feel some sort of affinity. So last week, when the news broke that the state of Connecticut was charging Eddie Perez with bribery, fabricating evidence, and conspiracy to fabricate evidence, well, it shook those of us who worked on the story. In the story he was portrayed by the people of Hartford as a local hero and a role model. The first Latino mayor of Hartford was an inspiration across the region.

Here’s part of what we published in 2006:

In trying to create better days ahead for Hartford, Perez draws on his own unlikely journey to City Hall. He sits in the regal mayor’s office and speaks of his mother, on welfare with nine children; tenements so desperate that the family moved 21 times in eight years; junkies in the hallways; riots in the streets; friends who died; brothers addicted to drugs and sent to prison; his own involvement with a gang called the Ghetto Brothers.

“I model the behavior I want [kids] to follow,” he says. “I’m an example of the reality that it can be done.”

Then, in 2001, after just about everyone had given up on Hartford — one of America’s poorest cities in one of America’s richest states — Perez became the first Latino mayor in Hartford history.

He was reelected in 2003, this time to a four-year term, and handed a new city charter that strengthened the mayor’s powers. Years of weak-mayor/city manager government had failed miserably. One city manager, in the early 1990s, had commuted from Chicago. Hartford had ceded control of its schools, its economic development, even its downtown parking, to the state. Hartford had been in freefall for decades, symbolized by the night in 1978 when the roof of the Hartford Civic Center collapsed under heavy snow just hours after a college basketball game. The city’s lone professional sports franchise, hockey’s Whalers, left town. Football’s New England Patriots spurned a generous offer to move into a new riverfront stadium. Hartford, the nation’s insurance capital, was mockingly called “America’s File Cabinet” by a Boston newspaper columnist.

Now, in the early summer of 2006, Perez presides over a city that bills itself, optimistically, as “New England’s Rising Star.”
“I live the American dream every day,” he says.

Hartford needed Eddie Perez to be as good as his word. But the state charges that a contractor who had done many jobs for the city also did more than $40,000 worth of work on Perez’s house, apparently without charge. At least until investigations began and cancelled checks were produced-all of which led to the charge of fabricating evidence. We don’t know how any of this will eventually play out. We do have, for starters, Eddie Perez’s apology-which has not calmed the waters in the city.

“First, I wish to apologize to the people of Hartford. My lapse in judgment in using a city contractor to perform work on my house was inexcusable. Though I firmly believe that I have not committed a crime, I have allowed the appearance of impropriety to color how those may view my administration. For this, I am truly sorry and take full responsibility.
“As you know, I turned over records and cancelled checks showing the payment for the work performed by the contractor in question, Carlos Costa. Costa is a longtime friend and a capable contractor. In spring of 2005, he began the project to renovate my bathroom and install a new kitchen countertop in my house.

“In June of 2005, my life was turned upside down when my wife, Marie, collapsed at a community function and underwent surgery and treatment for multiple brain aneurysms. It was not clear she was going to live, and I spent the better part of that year working to bring her back to health. During the period of Maria’s illness, the work was delayed.

“Mr. Costa completed most of the work in 2006 and he billed me $20,217 in early 2007. I had made inquiries for securing financing during the summer of 2006. After I received the invoice in early 2007, I made an additional inquiry. I obtained financing from the Hartford Federal Credit Union and then paid Mr. Costa in July of 2007. I have previously released those records and paid for all permitting and inspections of the property.

“At various times, Carlos Costa has worked on city construction contracts. In 2003, he won a competitive bid for the Park Street Streetscape improvements and was the low bidder. The bid was awarded by the Department of Public Works, the project is complete, and as of this date, the city has spent less than the original $7.3 million estimate of the cost of the project.

“Even though Mr. Costa was paid for the work he completed at my house, it was a mistake on my part to retain a city contractor to perform work at my house. Further, I should have ensured the proper permits were obtained. The perception in today’s environment has the potential to undermine public confidence in government.
“That being said, I firmly believe that I did not commit a criminal act. Anyone who has followed my decades of community and public service knows that there has never even been an allegation that I have betrayed the public trust. The voters of Hartford have voted for me twice since these facts have become public, and with humility, I will continue to do the job that they have elected me to do.

“I look forward to a quick trial on these allegations and look forward to a vindication in court.”

If only the mayor’s words could heal the damage done to his reputation and the faith put in him by so many thousands. And the hope that here was an example of how a local kid could pull himself from the bottom to the top. But the people who know him so well, the reporters at the Hartford Courant who are covering the story, aren’t buying what Perez is selling. From reading their coverage, it seems they feel betrayed, too.

As if they didn’t know him, either.