Supporters poured into a Hartford courthouse Wednesday for the closing arguments in Mayor Eddie A. Perez's corruption trial.
Friends and family hugged El Jefe tight and wished him luck. Loyal city employees on a day off? personal time? a take-your-employees-to-court day? offered him firm handshakes, and a little playful ribbing.
"Of course we'd be here for you," one first-time attendee told a grateful-looking Perez.
Inside the packed courtroom, lawyers made the most of their last chance to make their cases, revisiting just about every point made during the mayor's monthlong trial.
Boiled down, prosecutor Michael Gailor said, Perez abused his power for some home renovations and tried to extort favors on behalf of political ally Abe Giles.
On cue, Perez's lawyer Hubert Santos disagreed and in a mildly amusing Nixonesque moment insisted that Perez isn't a crook.
Sure, Santos admitted, El Jefe showed some bad judgment: He lied to an investigator about paying a city contractor for renovations. But he was distracted by his wife's illness, embarrassed. He wasn't trying to get freebies and he definitely wasn't trying to facilitate a payoff between a developer and a has-been North End ward boss.
Perez is an honest guy who cares for the city, Santos said. "There's not too many crooks showing up every day at city hall, working for the betterment of the people of the city of Hartford."
But of all the things said in court Wednesday, the most striking came from Gailor.
"Ladies and gentleman, the loser in this case is the city of Hartford."
Read that sentence again. Seriously. I'll wait.
From the very beginning, Perez's supporters and lawyers have tried to paint the mayor as the victim of rival politicians, a newspaper with an anti-Jefe agenda, dyslexia let's never forget El Jefe's 11th-hour dyslexia defense.
But whatever happens to Perez and that's up to a jury now the fact is that the only true victim in this mess is, and has always been, the city of Hartford.
For too long, Hartford has been a place where leaders seem to linger just long enough to suck it dry. A get-yours mentality rules.
At the very least, Perez has been a distracted part-time mayor.
Sorry, Jefe, carrying around a Blackberry you may or may not be able to read doesn't count as leadership.
Look, whether Perez is acquitted or not, Hartford already has lost.
The much discussed Butt-Ugly building still stands.
The business as usual patronage deals continue.
Schools continue to fail their most vulnerable and needy students.
Crime, and gang activity, persist.
And, in the meantime, the city's leaders continue to take care of themselves.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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