March 13, 2008
By Ken Krayeske • 11:05 PM EST
Who counts the votes for Mayor Eddie Perez and his supporters at the Democratic Town Committee meetings?
Eddie won't say who his people are, but before the election for the coveted DTC chairmanship Tuesday, March 11 at City Hall, someone counted and figured out that Perez supporter Sean Arena needed a few more to win and succeed outgoing DTC chair and Perez lieutenant Noel McGregor.
Arena's opponent, challenger Jean Holloway, the executive assistant to City Councilman Ken Kennedy, had her team counting, and on Monday night, they calculated she had 30 votes out of 59 Town Committee members, enough to capture the powerful post.
But on Tuesday, Arena had the 30, Holloway lost her majority, and she withdrew her candidacy. So Arena won by default.
Holloway supporters were crying foul because two of her supposed "yes" votes from the Town Committee's Fifth District, Mamie Bell and Ludella Perry Williams, both resigned Tuesday under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
Replacing Williams was North End power broker and Perez ally Abe Giles and taking over for Bell was Giles' grandson Miles Wiles. Giles had resigned from the DTC a few months ago, and was replaced by his wife, Juanita Giles, who napped intermittently during the meeting Tuesday night.
Giles has testified in front of the grand jury investigation into the alleged corruption in Mayor Perez's administration.
State representative Marie Kirkley-Bey, who is on the Town Committee in the Fifth District, stopped short of laying the blame for Holloway on Perez's machinations. But Kirkley-Bey went on the record claiming that people were threatened if they didn't change their vote.
"My understanding was that people were threatened with the loss of jobs or in other ways," Kirkley-Bey said. "Jean has chosen to withdraw to save people trouble. I'm not telling who made the threats, but they were made."
It is doubtful that anyone will file a complaint with appropriate law enforcement authorities, Kirkley-Bey said. She won't be filing any complaints, she said, because "I'm not running." Nor was she threatened directly. But Kirkley-Bey was not happy.
"It is going to go Eddie's route," Kirkley-Bey said.
State representative Minnie Gonzalez, a longtime Perez nemesis, also claimed that phone calls were made to Holloway supporters. But she, too, was circumspect about laying blame.
"This is about changing the system and changing the process so one person is not in control of the Town Committee," Gonzalez said. "Town Committee members deserve a choice. They volunteer. We want them to feel free to have a choice about who is in power."
Neither Kirkley-Bey, Gonzalez nor State Rep. Doug McCrory, all of whom were at the DTC meeting Tuesday night, attended Perez's state of the city the previous night.
Bell said she resigned because she needs to look out for herself.
"I am tired of the bullcrap," Bell said. "I am not going to stand here and feed you a bunch of lies and feed you stuff I don't know about. Mamie is worried about Mamie and her family."
A few years back, Bell was arrested for helping people doctor community service reports for court.
"When I do one little mistake and I pay for it with the rest of my life, and some people make a mistake and they get their hands slapped, I am tired of it," Bell said.
Bell was tight lipped about the events that led to her departure from the DTC.
"It ain't none of nobody's business who I talked to," Bell said. "I don't know nothing about it. I was too busy."
But she promised she was done with the DTC. And she hung up the phone. "Goodbye honey, I'm busy," Bell said.
Ludella Perry Williams was sick, and couldn't attend the meeting.
"I will return to the town committee," Williams said before hanging up the phone. "If I was going to go to the meeting, I was undecided."
But Holloway said she was counting Williams as a "Yes." Holloway jumped into the race two weeks ago when she heard no one was interested in the position. Now, she is off Town Committee completely.
"I was on a Town Committee once that was divided," Holloway said after she left the meeting. "I don't want to be a member of a divided Town Committee."
Arena, who owns the Polo Club bar in the South End, said that he has been campaigning for the chairmanship for six weeks, and that two weeks ago he was at a Fifth District meeting aiming to win votes.
After he was annointed chairman, arena had trouble controlling the DTC meeting. Aside from the lingering anger from Holloway's departure, former city councilman John Kennelly won his point of order and successfully derailed the agenda to elect a new slate of DTC members for the Seventh District.
Nor would Arena say if Perez supported him to be the chair, but it is widely thought that Perez approved of McGregor's successor.
Abe Giles indicated that Arena was the man because he was "trainable." Hartford Courant reporter Dan Goren reported on the situation, but curiously Goren neglected any mention of supposed threats and bad blood.
Since Town Committee bylaws have no procedures for write-in or absentee ballots, it is standard practice for a Town Committee member to resign if they are ill, and have stand-ins appointed for them, Mayor Eddie Perez said.
"It is what it is," Perez said of the switcheroo that benefited his supporter Sean Arena. "All I'm telling you is that people resign. There are no proxies. This is the normal procedure. They get back on at the next meeting."
Perez stood outside the meeting chatting with some men while outgoing chair Noel McGregor handed over the reigns in the function room. When McGregor exited, he and Perez walked down to the parking lot together.
I joined them, and asked Perez what all the fuss was about. McGregor answered for him, explaining that Williams was sick, and Giles filled in for her.
"They have known each other for years," McGregor said.
Perez didn't know anything about any phone calls. As McGregor walked towards his car, and Perez stepped into his black SUV, I asked who counts his votes. Perez avoided the question.
"It is what it is," the Mayor said, sitting in his front seat, running a brush through his hair. "I talk to my people."
Giles said he hasn't talked to Perez since July 2007, and not under any direction from his attorneys. He couldn't say if he would resign from the DTC now.
"Politics means backroom," he said. He heard nothing about threats to anyone. And most importantly, he said that Holloway didn't even know she wanted to run until former deputy mayor Nick Carbone told her to run.
"She agreed to support us all along and then she changed her mind," Giles said.
Carbone stood at the meeting and complained of outside interference.
"Eddie happens," is how one veteran poltical observer described the situation.