Here is my article for the August edition of Hartford Magazine.
The long civic nightmare that has dogged your capital city for the better part of three years is now over. Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is likely headed to prison, the newest entrant to a dubious roster of corrupt elected officials who have tarnished our state’s reputation by betraying the trust of voters who chose them to lead.
New Mayor Pedro Segarra is the most experienced mayor to lead Hartford in a generation. He is a former prosecutor, former corporation counsel and most recently, city council president. As an historical note, he is the first openly gay mayor in city history and the first attorney to become mayor in decades.
Segarra will have to serve as ambassador for the city and head cheerleader, by creating a strong message that Hartford is now business-friendly. He will also have to restore the loss of millions in tax revenue lost during the Perez years when several high profile companies, Mass Mutual, MetLife, ING and WFSB fled for suburbia. Segarra should instead regularly sit down with the CEOs and merchants and find out what they are thinking and how they can all work together to improve Hartford. This is a practice New Haven Mayor John DeStefano has used to turn around the Elm City. I remember being stunned when a CEO of a major downtown corporation told me he had never met Mayor Perez.
Segarra’s task will be to encourage investors to come to Hartford to build, refurbish and help resurrect the renaissance began in the late 1990s with the state’s six pillars program. The eloquent West Ender will essentially have to be the city’s chief business recruiter. Downtown is full of vacant stores that are long overdue to be filled with shops and restaurants. There are two empty hotels, dozens of vacant lots that were once home to thriving buildings, and more than a handful of empty eyesores. The new mayor should be ready to jump on a plane to meet with companies to persuade them to set up shop in one of America’s oldest cities that is full of culture, architectural gems, and loads of potential .
Mayor Segarra will have to complete several projects Mayor Perez either could not or would not finish. The new public safety complex, approved by voters in 2000, remains a pile of dirt with police headquarters out near the landfill. Also, action needs to be taken on the old Clarion Hotel, sat vacant since the 1990s. At the beginning of his administration Perez told us he would take the building by eminent domain. Instead it casts a defiant, dark shadow over Consitution Plaza and serves as a Festival of Blight during the Festival of Light. The so-called “butt ugly” building was all set to be torn down for a skyscraper, and if you want to see how that story ended, read the transcripts from the Perez corruption trial.
Segarra should also look to tourism to help boost Hartford’s fortunes. Boston, Providence, Newport, Portsmouth, Portland, Maine and other colonial cities have pumped millions into their economies thanks to visitors who flock to see 300 year old buildings and walk on cobblestone streets. How hard would it be for downtown to have just one street that would bring back visions of yesteryear?
The new mayor needs to be a beacon of hope during times of trouble. When a nightclub was causing problems downtown and common sense dictated it should be shut down, the city needed a mayor to lead the charge to close it. During the hit and run of Angel Arce Torres on Park Street that sent a message to the nation that Hartford was a heartless, out of control place, the city needed a mayor to be front and center calling for law enforcement and decency.
As the new face of the city, Mayor Segarra has much to do in the 16 months left in his predecessor’s term. For the sake of the people of Hartford and all across Connecticut whose taxes support our capital city, let’s wish him well.