Chris Powell: Hartford mayor's brilliant fiscal overloading; will extortionist ex-mayor return?

Hartford’s Beaux-Arts City Hall.

Hartford’s Beaux-Arts City Hall.

Hartford could do worse than give Luke Bronin another term as mayor, as those who live outside the capital city may realize from former Mayor Eddie Perez's candidacy to return to City Hall.

A decade ago Perez got caught taking kickbacks from a city contractor and was convicted in state court of bribery by extortion. In case anyone had forgotten this, just a few weeks ago Superior Court Judge Cesar A. Noble revoked Perez's city pension. Perez's misconduct, the judge wrote, was "severe" and had caused people to lose confidence in the honesty and integrity of elected officials.

The judge may have overstated expectations of honesty and integrity in government, but at least Bronin seems to have run a clean administration, insofar as it can be done in Hartford. In any case he has performed a spectacular and lasting service to the city. That is, Bronin helped former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy snooker the General Assembly into passing legislation transferring to the state the city's more than $500 million in bonded debt, a measure legislators said they understood to be doing no more than giving the city $40 million in emergency aid. It may have been the Brink's Job of Connecticut politics.

The state's assumption of Hartford's debt will be worth millions of dollars to the city in interest payments every year, tens of millions over time. Of course this will cost state taxpayers the same amount. Governor Lamont's "debt diet" won't help; the damage has been done.

Will Bronin's re-election campaign tout the debt transfer? The mayor's boasting about it may not make friends for the city, but the people who were snookered can't vote there. While by seeking concessions Bronin has alienated the unions representing city government's employees, the debt transfer will save the city far more than concessions ever would. Somebody in Hartford should be grateful for that.

Perez isn't Bronin's only challenger but he is the best known and the only Hispanic in the race, which may mean something to voters if corruption doesn't. Like politics in Bridgeport, politics in Hartford is so grubby and grasping that city voters may consider corruption merely incidental, as voters in Bridgeport did when they re-elected Joe Ganim as mayor four years ago despite his conviction for bribery and extortion and his long imprisonment.

Ganim and Perez are Democrats and it already has been fun to watch Connecticut's Democratic leaders dance around an extortionist's return to power in the state's largest city. Imagine the awkwardness that might ensue if the capital city vindicated another extortionist.

But power will help the Democrats get over it, leaving the challenge to those remaining in the state who would prefer preserving some standards in public life.

That is, what does it say about the last half century of urban policy in Connecticut that city voters have such low aspirations or are so indifferent to integrity in government?

Could Eddie Perez's return to Hartford City Hall shock anyone in authority into suspecting that the state's urban policy doesn't work, that it just impoverishes, degrades, breeds dependence on government, and nurtures corruption? Could Perez's return even shock anyone in authority into suspecting that urban policy \ does work because it is meant to do those things, since they are so lucrative in politics?

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.