Mayor Eddie Perez's Conviction Yet Another Chance To Learn From Scandal

And so it ends, at least for now.

After a two year investigation, a month-long trial and endless defiant vows of innocence, convicted Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez announced Friday in a bizarrely vague press release that he would "relinquish his duties."

"Today's verdict was a tremendous disappointment to me and my family. Anyone who has followed my forty year career of public service knows that I have never placed personal financial gain before the needs of my community or my city."

A jury disagreed. And moments after he was found guilty of five felony charges, including bribery and extortion, an emotional Perez chief of staff Susan McMullen paused at a courtroom bench filled with reporters.

"You realize this is a tragedy," McMullen tearfully said. "A personal tragedy for the mayor and a tragedy for the city."

She was right, on both counts.

Whatever people may think of the mayor now, Perez was a homegrown leader with a lot of potential and seemingly endless support. People rushed to rally around "el alcalde," the city's first Latino mayor, its first strong mayor.

Finally, Hartford had a leader with the power to actually cut through red tape and get things done. And for a while, Perez did. At the same time, the state was pouring money into the city for a new Science Center, a new convention center. Private developers followed suit, developing high end apartment buildings.

With all the pieces in place, Hartford stood at the edge of a true revitalization.

And then the man in whom so many had put their hopes squandered it all, delivering another undeserved black eye to a city with way too many bruises already.

And like everything that happens in Hartford, the effect ripples way past city limits.

Perez's convictions for taking a bribe in the form of free home remodeling work and trying to extort a payoff on behalf of a political ally aren't just a blow to the capital city. It's another hit to public trust in a state with an embarrassingly rich history of disgraced politicians.

In case you've lost count, Perez is just the latest in a string of convicted big city mayors. And that, of course, isn't counting the fall of former Gov. John Rowland, who in 2005 was sentenced to federal prison for selling his office for personal gain, including that infamous hot tub and home repairs to his lakeside cottage.

You'd think Perez and others would have learned from so many previous downfalls. But the first whispered allegations against Perez barely registered, and for a long time many just shrugged off mounting evidence of corruption.

Eh, what's a few home repairs? Bleh, politics as usual. Scandal fatigued residents and even a few journalists who should have known better asked if considering our past, did El Jefe's actions even rank? Did anyone care?

Unfortunately, the answer, for too long, was a resounding no. Think about it. In August 2007, we knew Perez had a city contractor come into his house to do home improvements. Putting aside everything we learned later, why did we think it was OK for a public official to have a city contractor doing personal work for him?

But clearly a majority of Hartford voters did, because just a few months later Perez was elected mayor again.

Now Perez is expected to resign, and Hartford council president Pedro Segarra will assume the position for the remainder of Perez's term.

"We all need to learn from this experience,'' Segarra said.

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