was stunned, shocked. I couldn't believe the verdict brought in by the jury in the case of Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez.
After weeks of going to court to observe everything from jury selection to the presentation of evidence, I was confident, if not certain, that no group of rational individuals could possibly agree unanimously that all the allegations against the mayor were true or at least substantiated beyond a reasonable doubt. Before the verdict I mentally reviewed several instances where it seemed to me that the prosecution had not proved intent to commit a crime or even that a crime was committed.
Did the mayor show any intent to commit bribery by soliciting a contractor to do renovations in his house? No. Did the mayor show any intent to commit larceny by extortion by forcing a contractor to pay off a parking lot operator? No. All of the purported evidence presented by the prosecutors required a sleight-of-hand re-arrangement of the facts designed to produce an appearance of guilt. Surely, one of the jurors would pierce through the smog of this distorted logic to find the mayor not guilty.
I was wrong.
Once again I must turn to the wisdom of Michelangelo who, while in his 80s, commented, "Ancora Imparo": "I am still learning." At the end of the day of the verdict, it was clear to me that I still have much to learn about the fragile and unpredictable nature of human intellect and reasoning.
I worked closely with Mayor Perez since our first election campaign in 2001. Because significant revisions to the city charter were also approved during this election, we expended great effort during the next two years in preparation for the implementation of those changes. During all this time, Mr. Perez was never involved in any underhanded, much less illegal, activity. In fact, when the new term began and he occupied the position as the so-called "strong" mayor, he continued to be the most conscientious and dedicated public official I have ever known.
Never concerned with personal or financial gain, he worked long days from early morning to late at night immersed in the daily trials and tribulations of presiding over the capital city. Having been in Hartford for 31 years, I can place Mr. Perez's accomplishments at the top of the efforts of a series of elected municipal officials over the years.
Unfortunately, the transition in the form of municipal governance almost automatically caused ripples in the infrastructure of political and governmental power that had existed for many decades. There came a time when I finally grasped the stark realization that just because you're mayor doesn't mean you're part of the mainstream. There is no question in the minds of many that the mayor's current troubles stem from some of the political conflicts generated during his tenure.
However, if there are any political opponents of the mayor now celebrating or even gloating at his downfall, they have seriously misunderstood the significance of this turn of events. Apart from the personal disgrace of the mayor's conviction, the effect on the total community, public officials and on Hartford as a viable urban center is absolutely crushing. It has always been difficult to persuade suburbia and mainstream society that urban cities have valuable assets well worth the support of the entire state. I fear that this verdict will reinforce those terrible prejudices. I fear that this frenzy to tear Mayor Perez down reflects a broader anxiety of a population that cannot adjust to a shifting cultural paradigm and therefore challenges every sign of change with a vengeance.
I will continue to support Mr. Perez even as he prepares to make a transition that none of us ever dreamed would be necessary. After appeals and other legal steps, it is possible that he may be incarcerated in the fall. If that occurs, it will be then, as it is now, the most outrageous miscarriage of justice I have ever witnessed.
Hernan LaFontaine, a Democrat, is a former superintendent of Hartford schools and a former city council president.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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