City Councilman Pedro Segarra claps during Mayor Eddie Perez's state of the city address in March, 2007.
Assuming that Eddie Perez does not survive the remainder of his term, City Councilman Pedro Segarra will in all likelihood be the next mayor of Hartford, according to Councilmen Pedro Segarra, Ken Kennedy and Matt Ritter.
A resolution circulated this afternoon for a special meeting Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. to install Segarra as Council President, which is the position that ascends to the mayor's seat should Perez resign, and thereby removing Perez ally Calixto Torres from the council presidency, Segarra said.
City police officers are delivering special meeting notices to the houses of Council members, to keep with the 48-hour notice rules for special meetings, according to various sources.
Mayor Perez, of course, was arrested on Monday on charges of bribery and fabricating evidence surrounding $40,000 worth of home renovations done by city contractor Carlos Costa that Perez only paid $20,000 for.
Council caucused on Tuesday to determine this course of events, Ritter said. To remove Torres, six votes are needed.
Democrats Kennedy, Ritter, Segarra, Jim Boucher and rJo Winch as well as Working Families Party councilors Luis Cotto, Larry Deutsch will support Segarra's bid to become council president, Segarra said.
Segarra will not run for Mayor in any subsequent election. "I don't have an interest in being mayor," Segarra said. "But I do have an interest in helping the city go through tough times."
"If Council Segarra became mayor, not only would he not run for election, he would make sure that there was a fair election to elect the next Mayor," Ritter said Thursday night.
"We were pretty clear that if anyone was interested was being mayor they should not serve as council president, it would give them an undue advantage," Kennedy said. "That is something we not want to have happen. I would not want that to happen, none of my colleagues do. Assuming that the mayor would be replaced, then yes, whoever the next council president would be would serve as an acting or interim basis."
Torres, one of the lower vote getters in the 2007 council election, has not returned Segarra's calls to discuss the situation. Torres did respond with a two-page letter issued from the Mayor's press office here.
He comes out swinging, though, explaining that he has not been connected at all with the investigation into the Mayor's alleged crimes, and that this should not be happening now.
"Cal has asked for an opportunity to analyze things, which I interpret as submitting his resignation in order to not be removed," Segarra said.
Torres has not agreed to the plan, Kennedy said.
"I would not use the word agree – we have had ongoing discussions. some people want a change in leadership, others don’t," Kennedy said. "We don’t know how it is going to turn out. If an arrest warrant is issued for the council president, it would make it hard for him to continue in leadership."
Segarra was a bit more forceful.
"This is not an open-ended thing in order to give him time," Segarra said. "Once [Torres] sees that the votes are there for my appointment, then he will resign. The consensus on Council is that this has to happen. Everyone who is voting for me has come to me and said we want you to be our leader. This is a very different scenario. I did not go to people, they came to me."
Councilwoman rJo Winch responded via email: "I prefer those who want my opinion on any situation to get my position from me. I also think it is premature for anyone to talk about what Council President will replace the Mayor. To presume this happen gives the impression that the Mayor is already convicted, locked up and serving time," she wrote.
"The facts are, I am waiting to see if my council members can sit down like professional adults and iron this thing out. Certainly, I want the best for the council which means the best for the residents of the City of Hartford. I do not agree with the current methods chosen by my council colleagues in dealing with our current Council President. I have a hard time participating in the public lynching of anyone and I have expressed this to all of them. We are all professionals in our own fields and we should forget about personal feelings and political ambitions, take some time and sit down, iron out our differences and get back to the business of serving, which is what I believe is what the residents of Hartford elected us to do," Winch concluded.
Segarra was unaware of Republican Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson's support for the plan, as he said it was not his job to contact her.
Airey-Wilson, though, is ensnared in this probe. Grand jury investigators inspected her house because Carlos Costa did work there. If the Chief State's Attorney issues an arrest warrant for her, she will certainly not be voting. But Kennedy said even with only eight voting members of council, they still need six. Airey-Wilson has not returned multiple calls to her office.
Although if Airey-Wilson resigns, Council must vote to replace her with a Republican. Ritter said that the Charter demands a new Council member has to be of the same party affiliation as the outgoing member.
Segarra said he is worried that if he becomes mayor, his community law practice will suffer. "I have a lot of clients that depend on me," he said. But at the same time, his sense of duty to the city and the institution of self-governance overrules his fears.
"I can be sure that there is an overwhelming consensus on the Council that the president needs to change," Segarra said. "We are going through some very tough times, and they need someone to step up to the plate and get the Council focused on some very important issues, like how to get the next budget put together, how to work with our state legislature and how get more resources from state and federal government to get out of this financial situation and also dealing in an objective manner in what is happening with the mayor."
The Council will likely need to get an attorney to make sure they are handling the matters surrounding Perez properly, Segarra said.
A UConn Law grad, Segarra was appointed to the Court of Common Council in 2006 to replace the retiring Hernan LaFontaine. Segarra won election in 2007, but he knows city government well. From 1991 through 1996, under both Mayors Carrie Saxon Perry and Mike Peters, Segarra served as Corporation Counsel.
"Mike Peters wanted someone there 200 hours a week. I wanted to go back to my practice. I had some relationship issues I needed to deal with. I left to make myself a better person," Segarra said. "When I think that I can add something to the process, I will join in. But if I am either not needed or won't add any improvements, I am willing to step back. In the five years as corp counsel, I never took a hit, I was not a political corporation counsel. I tried to represent the best interests of the city. I tried to follow the best traditions of the office to work in the best legal interests of the city."
When Council members met Tuesday to discuss the crisis in city government brought on by Perez's arrest, Ritter said, the focus was on how to get the city running.
"People have been fair about it," Ritter said. "People are more focused on now on how to keep the government running. What the heck are we going to do right now with essential functions? Like who is going to lobby about ECS (educational cost sharing) funding? Who is going to meet with the Governor when President Obama's stimulus packages come down? Eddie Perez is not in a position to do that now."
All agree that Perez deserves a fair trial, and he has the right to clear his name in a court of law. Yet if he is arrested again, Kennedy said it will be tough for Perez to continue as Mayor.
"Assuming there are other charges, the more arrests there are, the more difficult it becomes for the Mayor to govern," Kennedy said. "If the Mayor is subsequently arrested, it will become necessary for Council to act. The more incidents there are within this administration will call into question the validity of this administration and whether or not it is a legitmate government or not. At that point it is incumbent upon Council to take action. When a government ceases to be legitimate and loses the faith of its citizens, then we have to move forward."
Mayoral Spokesperson Sarah Barr responded Thursday morning to the simple yes/no email query: If found guilty by a jury of his peers, will Mayor Perez resign his post as Mayor?
Barr's response: "The Mayor has said in his statement that he will continue to serve as Mayor, the job the people of Hartford have elected him to do. As for any questions regarding the legal process, I need to refer you to the Mayor's attorney, Hubert Santos."
Perez's Attorney Hubert Santos has been emailed this same question, and he has yet to respond.
Removing Perez would likely result in a legal battle, Ritter said. The Charter allows Council to impeach, but it may take special permission from the state legislature.
"The Charter says we can remove him, the question is whether it is statutorily legal," Ritter said. "There is a debate among lawyers whether or not there needs to be additional legislation. People like Allan Taylor who wrote the Charter say it's a state law issue. A municipality cannot remove its chief executive officer unless the legislature passes an enabling act."
Without an enabling act, case law and statute are vague, Ritter said.
"It would be a court challenge, no question about it," Ritter said. "You may see a push to have some General Assembly tweaks."
Once Perez is gone by any mechanism, and Segarra is Mayor, a new election would be held as part of the way to restore faith in city government, especially considering that Perez's 2007 campaign coffers are now tainted by this scandal. The arrest warrant details that Costa forced contractors who worked on Perez's home to make donations to Perez's campaign.
Ritter, Kennedy and Segarra were the three highest vote getters on council in 2007's contest. Kennedy this morning said it was inappropriate to think about running for mayor now.
"It is true I have expressed interest in the past," Kennedy said. "At this time it is too volatile to express it, and people will question your motives. We have to restore confidence and faith in government and move forward with elections as soon as it becomes necessary. I have not denied interest, but it is way too soon to express interest."
Ritter said he doesn't know what is happening three days from now. Running for mayor is too hard to see.
"My only focus is on what we have ahead of us," Ritter said. "When I do think about it, I will have a conversation with the appropriate people."
Charter calls for a special election to be held in conjunction with the next general election, Kennedy said.
So Hartford could see three mayors in 2009, or it could see one. In the meantime, though, Kennedy, Ritter and Segarra agree that putting the business of the city first is most important.
"We're going to know by vote or resignation where everyone is in terms of the validity of the administration and in terms of leadership," Kennedy said. "Our job on council is to continue government. We have serious budget issues. The focus has to be the closing of an $8-$20 million budget gap. Hartford's best days are in front of it, not behind it. This is a small bump in the road, and it is incumbent on all members of the Council to keep our eyes on the ball, which is to close the budget gap."
The uncertainty of the coming months doesn't mean that Segarra isn't formulating plans to restore decency to City Hall.
"If that were to happen, I cannot fathom the amount of work," Segarra said. "My number one move would be to work very hard to restore public confidence in local government by taking action that goes to prove that we merit the opportunity to restore the trust."
Fiscal responsibility is key, and depending on what actually caused the Mayor to leave, Segarra would look at everything that has been done and insure that such behavior stops.
"I would not tolerate any situation that goes against the interests of taxpayers and residents and the obligation that is owed to them," he said. "We have the incredible task of managing finances to continue to deliver services and not exploit taxpayers."
Segarra would also try to quickly build relationships with state officials to help the city. But his most important goal is honor.
"I think people start better putting some honor into what they are doing as representatives," he said. "This isn't about us - if you want to volunteer your time to public service, it should be about that. The further people dont meet that, the worse it is going to get about public perception. We have had some major transitions at federal level, we need to see that at the local level. If we talk about service to make ourselves richer, then that is not what it is about. If we talk about service as making this a better place to live, then that is what it should be about."