By Ken Krayeske • 8:00 AM EST
Working Families Party Registrar of Voters Urania Petit stands in front of the office in Hartford City Hall that she will soon be sharing with the Republican and Democratic Registrars. Getting in there, though, has not been easy for Petit.
Update: Urania Petit called me Thursday, Dec. 11 to let me know that she ran into the Mayor Wednesday, December 10, in the evening at the Charter Revision Commission meeting. She said the Mayor congratulated her.
Mayor Perez, any time you want to call Urania Petit and congratulate her on being the first third-party registrar of voters elected in Hartford’s history, you go right ahead.
Perhaps your call welcoming Urania into City Hall as the Registrar of Voters for the Working Families Party would signal to the rest of the city that you respect the will of the electorate.
Your spokesperson, Sarah Barr, said that it was merely a mistake that more than a month after this historic occasion, you have neglected to call Urania Petit.
"I'm sure that's an oversight that he hasn't called," Barr said in City Hall Wednesday, December 10. "The Mayor wants the people of Hartford to be as well represented as possible."
It's funny, because Working Families Party councilmen Larry Deutsch and Luis Cotto found the time to call her. So did Democratic councilman Matt Ritter.
Susan Byseiwicz, the Democratic Secretary of the State, contacted Petit to recognize her achievement. Petit has spoken with outgoing Democratic Registrar Shirley Surgeon.
"I would be an idiot not to talk to Shirley," Petit said. "She had the leadership role. One of the questions I asked her, what of the projects she was working on, which would she like to see move forward."
Surgeon was pleased by the question, and glad that Petit is interested in continuing the project to recruit youth as poll workers. Surgeon was surprised, though, Mr. Mayor, that you had not contacted Petit.
Heck, even Mike McGarry, who railed against the concept of a third party registrar, has reached out to Petit.
"I feel slighted that the Mayor hasn't reached out to me," Petit said. "Why am I getting the cold shoulder?"
No one on your staff has made a call either, she said. Not that the residents of Hartford have come to expect grace from your chief of staff Matt Hennessey.
But Barr assures us, Mr. Mayor, that you are on board with a third-party Registrar. "Everything is going to be done to insure a smooth transition," Barr promised.
Great, so Mr. Mayor, take the first step and pick up the phone to call Urania, and make it clear to the people in City Hall that they are to cooperate with her, that the registrar's office is non-partisan and works for the good of the city.
Your standard ignore-it-and-maybe-it-will-go-away style of management isn't solving this new conflict in the Registrar’s office. As of this point, Petit's transition into City Hall has not been easy.
Only recently did City Clerk Dan Carey tell Petit will be sworn in on January 7. But it took almost a month for that to happen. Carey wasn't in City Hall Wednesday, so he was unavailable for comment.
With her starting date settled, so much more remains. Petit introduced herself to city councilors and incumbent Republican Registrar Sal Bramante and incoming Democratic Olga Iris Vázquez with a letter on Nov. 17.
Petit tried to settle confusion about the significance of a third registrar in relation to the budget and the deputy and the assistant.
Currently, the deputy and the assistant are patronage positions that pay fairly well. The Registrar makes $80,000 a year, the deputy makes $60,000 a year and the assistant rakes in $40,000, according to Petit.
Petit, as the current executive director of Community Works, makes a salary of $50,000. I can see why Bramante doesn't want a pay cut to that level. But this needs to be worked out in the most apolitical manner possible, and nonpartisan leadership from your office would help, Mr. Mayor.
"The Registrar's office will have to live within a budget approved by City Council," Barr said. Petit said she knows the Registrar's Office has to do that, but her idea for a new arrangement is ruffling feathers.
"There is no requirement in either state statute or in the municipal code that these be full-time positions, or even that they be paid employees," Petit wrote to Bramante and Vázquez.
The deputy registrar could be part-time, on-call, perhaps paid by stipend when needed, Petit said, and the registrars could operate only with an assistant. That, of course, would upset Vázquez's potential deputy and that $60,000 a year plum job.
Other towns in Connecticut have a part-time deputy registrar who is available when the Registrar is ill or away, outgoing Democratic registrar Surgeon said. And other towns like Norwalk and Bridgeport have had third-party registrars before.
"When you have a budget crunch, what has been done traditionally may have to be adjusted," Surgeon said. "If that is an idea that can work, the city may have to adjust to a new way of doing things. We have to live within our means."
Vázquez responded to Petit December 3:
"Congratulation on your recent election and making history in the city of Hartford, as the third Registrar representing the Working Family. Although I am not 100% in agreement with some of your statements I am willing to meet with you," Vázquez wrote.
Bramante was on vacation, so he only penned a short letter on December 4. The voters hiring a third registrar, Petit, means that Democrats and Republicans will only have a deputy, he said Wednesday, December 10.
"There will be no more assistants," Bramante said. "The city is still working on a plan. But we haven't discussed anything with the budget people yet."
Petit, Bramante and Vázquez will sit down December 19, but it is to hash out issues about a vendor contract. Bramante said he and Vázquez have talked, but not about anything substantial.
Petit was not certain that Dec. 19 meeting would confront the elephant in the room, and its progeny, like where will Petit park? And where will she sit? Will she have an office? A cubicle?
"Just give me a computer and a phone, and you can have the big office," Petit said. "Any non-profit in Hartford would give me a chair to sit in. The office is not a big deal. I would like to have a good working relationship so we can get the job done."
She won't hire an assistant or appoint a deputy until she knows what is going on, but she figures by February of 2009, her part of the Registrar's office will be fully functional.
"I would go in there by myself, and based on that, I will assess who I need to bring with me," Petit said. "If I am going into a hostile environment, I don't need to expose anybody to that just yet. I need to test the waters."
Mr. Mayor, you can make sure the waters are safe for Petit by calling her to congratulate her, and making sure that she is welcome in City Hall.
And Mr. Mayor, don't worry, the footsteps behind you are not from the Working Families Party. Petit said the WFP has no interest in running a mayoral candidate in 2011.