By Andy Hart • Courtesy of the Hartford News • 10:30 AM EST
Former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews attended the Free Kenny Legal Defense Fundraiser, Jan. 19. 2007 at La Paloma Sabanera in Hartford. Photo by Holly Krayeske
To the surprise of virtually no one, former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews has officially declared he is running for Mayor.
Hartford residents who are new to the city may not be familiar with I. Charles Mathews, but he was one of the dominant forces in Hartford politics in the late 1980's and early 1990's, serving three terms on City Council. He moved out of Hartford about 10 years ago but returned in 2005. He currently resides on Woodside Circle.
Mathews said he understands why Hartford switched to the strong mayor form of government, but feels the recently revised charter must be modified again so that less power is concentrated in the mayor's office.
"When I was Deputy Mayor I had to line up the necessary votes on [City] Council to get something through...I used to dream of having a single voice to get things done," he said. "But I think the people who voted for the new charter never imagined that Council would be weakened to the extent of having virtually no authority at all... You've got to have checks and balances."
Mathews said increasing Council's power could be done through such measures as staggered terms, neighborhood representation and at-large council members. He also said that the Council should be in charge of filling the post of Corporation Counsel.
With less power situated in the Mayor's office, Mathews said, more emphasis would be placed on reaching a consensus among the mayor, council and other city leaders.
"Some people think consensus is a bad word these days," he said, "but you need consensus to govern a city this diverse."
Although he is a challenger and has been out of city politics for over a decade, Mathews is confident that he can win a primary over Perez in September if the Mayor does indeed decide to run.
He has already garnered support from some of Hartford's leading politicians – former Fire Chief and City Council member John Stewart, Jr. is serving as his Treasurer – and Mathews said more will rally to his side when they feel the time is right.
"I can tell you this: most of the political leaders who can still bring out the votes are supporting I. Charles," he said with a smile.
Mathews also said that he could raise "$100,000 and more" to finance his campaign, but added, "I don't think money will be crucial in this campaign."
Instead, he said, he wants to concentrate on what he terms "retail politics," such as speaking at community meetings and neighborhood gatherings and appearing on local radio stations.
If Mathews' confidence in his ability to win the election is vindicated, he said he would try to create more "regional coalitions and develop a better relationship with the state. The City can't do it alone...If I was mayor, I'd be the governor's best friend. . . It's bad policy to bad-mouth the governor. She has the checkbook."
Mathews said he is still reviewing last year's city budget and therefore is not ready to give any specifics on how he would allocate the city's limited resources.
He did say that, if he were mayor, his top three priorities when drawing up the budget would be jobs; economic development in both downtown and the neighborhoods; and neighborhood revitalization in terms of such things as improving quality of life and providing more youth programs.
In terms of employment, Mathews said, "You know, my friend [former Democratic Town Committee Chairman] Bob Jackson used to say that if you give a man or a woman who is unemployed a good job, it solves about 80 percent of their problems. I agree with that."
He went on to say that there are numerous current and future projects in Hartford that could provide jobs for city residents, such as the Metropolitan District Commission's sewer upgrade project, the proposed upgrading of Bowles Park and Westbrook Village and the University of Hartford's proposed residential complex. These should be encouraged by city government and directed in such a way that they produce the maximum number of jobs for the people who need them most.
Mathews also said that, if elected mayor, he would create a Department of Neighborhood affairs that would coordinate the efforts of various non-profit and community groups.
"There are a lot of great people out there doing great things, but they're all doing it alone. We have to bring them together," he said.