Story By Ken Krayeske • 6:30 PM EST
The status quo remains tonight on the Hartford City Council despite a coup attempt led by Councilman Pedro Segarra to unseat Council President Cal Torres — an ally of beleaguered Mayor Eddie Perez. Working Families Party councilman Luis Cotto provided the swing vote against Torres’ removal, allowing Torres to remain Council President.
Segarra and fellow councilmen Ken Kennedy and Matt Ritter failed to muster the six votes necessary to remove Torres because Cotto — after a weekend to reflect — refused to join the mutiny. Republican Veronica Airey-Wilson abstained. By a 5-3 vote, City Clerk Dan Carey said the measure failed.
The drama played out before a packed council chamber.
“I am not sure if the ends justify the means,” Cotto said. “We need change. My question is, is this how I want to do it? I have to answer to my two children and my 13 nieces and nephews, and I don’t have to answer to anyone else here.”
And the he dropped the bomb that he would not be supporting the coup.
“What is good for the city? I am going to vote ‘no’ because I am not down with the way this is happening,” Cotto said. “I would like you to look at this and say, ‘This is not what the city needs.’”
Torres started the meeting without Cotto or Airey-Wilson, who were held up by the snow. Torres read a statement, which mentioned Friday’s reporting by the40yearplan.com — reporting which predicted the ouster of Torres based on Segarra’s count of how he believed council members would votes. Segarra turned out to be wrong, as was the story.
Much like his letter on Friday, Torres said he was upset by Kennedy’s assertion that if Torres should resign if he is indicted.
Torres then turned over the leadership of the meeting to Councilwoman rJo Winch, the majority leader.
But Torres also vowed a fight. Based on corporation counsel John Rose Jr.’s Monday opinion, Torres maintained that he had a property interest in the position of council president. He asked for a full due process hearing with cross examination of witnesses.
“If council determines that it will not hold a hearing, I advise the council now that I consider the vote null and void and reserve the right to challenge such proceeding,” Torres said.
Winch apologized to city residents for the situation. She said she was embarassed and saddened by the evening’s proceedings.
“I am saddened that we as a council body could not iron out our differences peacefully,” Winch said. She scolded her Democratic colleagues for attaching the alleged crimes of Mayor Eddie Perez to Torres.
“The president is too close to the mayor and cannot be objective. President only has one vote,” Winch said, repeating the reasons for removing Torres. “I fail to see the rationale. I agree that from time to time any establishment should consider where it is and where it wants to go under any administration.”
But she said this is not the time for such soul searching. Kennedy had his hand up the whole time, and Winch ceded the floor to him.
Kennedy then responded directly to Torres’ reference to his comments, noting that he has always been against Torres’ leadership and only agreed to Torres becoming council president when he saw that it was the will of the Democratic caucus.
“I would like to remind the council president - you engaged in worst form of politics - you went to the lowest common denominator and attacked people personally, and did so in public,” Kennedy said. “For you to question the ethics and integrity of anyone here is interesting.”
Kennedy read a prepared statement, listing step by step his grievances with Torres’ leadership: that Torres not only dragged his feet on charter reform, but he blocked reform efforts and worked for the mayor’s position; that Torres failed to balance legislative oversight of the Mayor.
Before reading a similarly prepared statement, Ritter said he had nothing to gain personally in the effort to oust Torres, as he would not be moving up either way. Quoting President John F. Kennedy and former Councilman Steve Harris, Ritter said the city needs an open debate.
“This is the beginning of a new chapter for the city of Hartford’s history,” Ritter said. “Disagreement is powerful because it can serve as a source of unity. When people can learn to disagree amicably and disagree without being disagreeable, that is the ultimate sign of respect.”
Boucher spoke next in support of Torres’ removal.
“This leadership change is a necessary change,” Boucher said. “I will be supporting Pedro Segarra to be the next council president because he can provide the necessary leadership. I must admit I find this most unfortunate. I find it counterproductive to dwell on it this time.”
Boucher’s vote tonight, he said, was in the best interest of the city.
Then Winch turned it over to Torres, who issued a rejoinder. He responded to all the Democrats criticism, and but then called the council a democracy and said the popular will would be done.
Councilman Larry Deutsch, who also is a Working Families Party member, said he urged Torres to resign and departed from prepared remarks to criticize Torres for saying that the evening was about democracy while also claiming he would contest any vote as null and void if it were to be cast before a full due process hearing.
“I heard that. Did you?” Deutsch asked the cheering audience. Winch then reprimanded him for engaging the audience.
“Through you Madame chairman,” Deutsch said. “I always like to engage the audience.”
Deutsch said that “if corporation counsel feels there needs to be a hearing, this is it. Council president has spoken twice while some of us had not spoken at all,” Deutsch said.
Cotto criticized the majority for ignoring the Working Families Party in the council. “I need to refocus everybody. We are not voting on council Segarra. We are voting to remove the council president. I have my reasons.”
Cotto said Segarra was appointed by the Mayor, as was Ritter, and said he’d hoped to see a measured response to Torres.
“This is contrary to what I have experienced on this body this past year,” Cotto said. “The only reason we are here is one side — they are sure they have six votes. The other side is not sure if they have six votes. We are here because of the math.”