April 11, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 12:00 AM EST
This time, Mayor Perez and his crack crew of about three dozen executive staffers have sent a magnet advertising the new 3-1-1 phone info service to every Hartford resident. This past Saturday, I received my 5.25" x 8.5" laminated card with a magnet glued onto it. Some residents I know have yet to get them, but we'll talk about the timing issues later.
The card features a picture of the Mayor, as does the magnet. I think the idea is that a resident like myself will toss the expensive four-color card in the trash, and stick this magnet on my fridge.
First, though, I think they want me to read the card, where Perez is pictured holding a telephone receiver. The text says "Dear Friend, I have always believed that Government Works Best When It Listens!" Funny, his campaign is positioning itself to be a listening tour. The themes are eerily similar.
Among my many issues here is that the Mayor's office has a good idea to convince citizens like me to dial 3-1-1 when we see a pothole, when someone dumps trash incorrectly, or when the neighbor hasn't shoveled the snow on his sidewalk. There are plenty of illustrations for these problems that don't involve Eddie's mugshot.
However, by branding 311 with the Mayor, an individual political figure who serves at the pleasure of the voters, it takes away from the power of it. If the mayor loses in September or November, will his successor eliminate the program after we have invested so much money into it?
Perhaps, perhaps not. But after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the project, why put it at risk? The card equates 3-1-1 as a public service on the level of 9-1-1. It says "Burning Building? Call 9-1-1" and then "Burning Question? Call 3-1-1".
The Mayor's obviously political advertising scheme designed to extract the largest amount of name-recognition belies the civic effort. Imagine if when 9-1-1 was instituted, the parties in power tried in an underhanded manner to tie it to their efficacious leadership and re-election.
Suppose that leader lost the next election, and the winner said, this program is too much a project of my vanquished opponent, thus I shall eliminate it. Where would we be? While some may consider a comparison with 9-1-1 as superfluous in the first place (remember, some think 9-1-1 is already a joke), it bears consideration.
Over the years, 9-1-1 has saved its share of lives. Successful policies and an important tool for public improvement should supercede personality and politics. Imagine if Mayor Perez could see beyond his re-election and instead pitched the program as a community pride initiative. Or if the brand imaging associated with 3-1-1 appealed to Hartford's sense of self, and sense of bettering the city.
By trying to take credit for it, the Mayor is jeopardizing a valuable project. Will people still keep the magnet on their fridge if he loses in September? If the voters reject Perez, are they rejecting this initiative? Not likely, but a winner may see it differently, and by positioning it thus in the marketplace, Perez is risking tax dollars for political gain.
And that is the worst part: he is spending thousands of our tax dollars on his re-election campaign in a way that appears to be for the informational good of the city. I received the card in the mail Saturday (from a publishing house in Gardner, Kansas), two days after the city became aware he was officially announcing his bid for re-election.
Yet since March 12, the evening of the state of the city address, he told us that he would be running again. So we have known for more than a month that he was seeking another term. Once he says this, any time he sends out his picture at taxpayer expense should be illegal.
The problem here is that the state elections enforcement commission is powerless because the law allows incumbents to use franking privileges until three months before the election, primary or otherwise. The law is wrong. As soon as a candidate announces, they should be prohibited from using public funds to disseminate their names, images and likenesses.
This is one of the many instances where the law is far behind ethics. Perez's conduct is unethical. Timing the release of a magnet to coincide with a campaign kick-off announcement is duplicitous. Eddie Perez's re-election campaign owes us an apology and if not a full refund of our tax dollars, at least half of the cost of the mailer, because as we acknowledged, 3-1-1 is a good idea.
But Perez's current 3-1-1 mailer offends the sense of justice and fair play.