Minutes after the city council issued a statement Friday saying that it would "take action" if Mayor Eddie A. Perez didn't decide whether to resign, Perez told council members that he would step down from his post.
"He has indicated to me that his intentions are to submit a letter of resignation to the council," council President Pedro Segarra said Friday after speaking with Perez by telephone. The letter could arrive as soon as Monday, council members said.
Perez's decision to relinquish his duties as mayor came just hours after his conviction on five felony charges, including bribery and extortion.
Once the mayor resigns, Segarra will assume the position for the remainder of Perez's term, which runs through fall 2011. Segarra said that he plans to meet with Perez next week to discuss the transition.
"It's been a very difficult two years. We want to turn back to what we've been trying to do, which is the city's business," Segarra said.
Perez was charged with receiving a bribe, fabricating evidence, accessory to the fabrication of evidence, conspiracy to fabricate evidence, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny by extortion and criminal attempt to commit first-degree larceny by extortion. He was not convicted of a charge of fabricating evidence.
Perez has been under scrutiny since The Courant first reported in February 2007 about his agreement to let former state Rep. Abraham Giles manage a lucrative city-owned parking lot — awarded without the knowledge of the council or a formal bidding process. That story triggered the chief state's attorney's investigation into corruption at city hall that would eventually bring down the mayor.
The maximum sentence that Perez could receive is 55 years. His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 10. Perez said Friday that he plans to appeal.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Friday that state law allows him to go to court to revoke the pension of municipal officials convicted of corruption.
"My office will seek revocation of Mayor Perez's pension upon final judgment," Blumenthal said.
In a statement released shortly after the council met to discuss its next steps, Perez said: "I have decided that it is not in the best interests of the city and my family for me to continue my duties as mayor during the appeal of my case."
"Today's verdict was a tremendous disappointment to me and my family," he said in the statement. "Anyone who has followed my 40-year career of public service knows that I have never placed personal financial gain before the needs of my community or my city. … I am truly sorry for any actions that may have harmed the image and reputation of our community."
Following the verdict, several city council members said they hoped that the mayor would "do the right thing" and resign.
"You wish it hadn't come to this. The city has clearly lost in this situation," Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said. "The city's reputation has been damaged."
Councilman Luis Cotto said, "It's a horrible day for the city, whether you're a detractor or a supporter [of Perez]. We have to find a way to move forward, and we're taking steps to do that."
Later in the day, the council released a formal statement signed by all nine members — including three of Perez's staunchest supporters — saying that it would "take action" early next week if Perez did not inform the panel of his plans.
Councilman Matthew Ritter said that Perez's decision to step down was "in the best interest of the city."
"I'm just happy it's over," he said. "It's been a very difficult day. Everyone's on high emotions right now."
Council Majority Leader rJo Winch, a Perez ally, expressed frustration at the results of the trial.
"This is a good person. Good people make mistakes. I don't care what people say about this man, it's always been about the people," she said. She said she signed the council's statement so that the city could move forward.
While the panel awaits the mayor's letter of resignation, city employees will continue to work as they normally would, said David Panagore, the city's chief operating officer.
"It's a sad day for the city and a tragedy for the mayor, but I want to emphasize that the work of the city staff still goes on every day," he said. "We're just going to keep operating while [Perez] makes his decisions."
Ritter emerged from Segarra's office Friday shortly after Segarra finished speaking with the mayor by phone.
"It was a brief, somber conversation with all parties admitting we have a new reality," Ritter said about the conversation.
Many of the council members expressed support Friday for Segarra, saying that his background as council president and a lawyer have helped prepare him for the role of mayor.
"I think this city will be well served by his leadership. He has the kind of acumen needed for that office," Councilman Jim Boucher said.
Segarra, who runs the Hartford-based law firm Segarra & Associates, joined the city council in 2006 and became council president in January. He previously served as corporation counsel under former mayors Mike Peters and Carrie Saxon Perry.
"I think Pedro has shown a unique ability to lead," Kennedy said. "He has a way of talking with pretty much anyone, and he's interested in people's opinions. I believe he'll make a good mayor."
Councilman Larry Deutsch said he hopes that city government will be more open under Segarra's leadership.
"What happened today is a symptom of so many things that need to change to bring vitality back to the city," he said.
Segarra said he is "at peace" with the idea that his life might be about to change and is optimistic about the city's future.
"It'll be a challenge among many other challenges I've had in my life," he said. "I didn't get involved in politics for personal [gain] or an ego situation. Hartford is a beautiful city, and I think we can make it better."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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