Democratic candidates for the 2019 Hartford mayoral election debated Thursday night.
The field includes party-endorsed incumbent Mayor Luke Bronin, J. Stan McCauley, who is a Democrat endorsed by the Republican party, and two candidates that petitioned their way onto the primary ballot -- state Representative Brandon McGee and former Mayor Eddie Perez.
One theme that kept coming up was how to go about stimulating growth in the city’s neighborhoods.
Bronin set the tone when he brought up development that’s happening now, including affordable housing in Frog Hollow and renovations to Bowles Park in the Blue Hills section of the city.
Perez, who resigned his office in 2010 after a corruption scandal, pushed back.
“Hartford has a long history and we sometimes think that new folks are able to re-write our history,” Perez said. “Many of the things that you see today on the ground were things that were started by Hartford residents a long time ago.”
When the candidates discussed the rumor going around that the two tribes that currently run casinos in Connecticut could buy the XL Center in Hartford and hold casino gaming there, McGee steered the conversation back to the topic of the night.
“We’re talking about a civic center -- XL Center -- how do we now then drive the traffic into our neighborhoods?” McGee said. “I’m not certain that that conversation has been held, around any development for that matter, in our downtown area.”
McCauley shared his concerns about potential gaming expansion to Hartford, saying that he generally doesn’t support it in urban cities. Part of McCauley’s pitch to improve the quality of life in Hartford’s neighborhoods is to support the city’s neighborhood revitalization zones.
Another thing that stood out besides the talk about Hartford’s 17 neighborhoods was the tension between Bronin and Perez.
When asked about trust by a moderator, Perez touched a nerve with the current mayor in his response when he joined the others in criticizing Bronin’s exploratory run for governor last year.
“I will not run for another office during my first term,” Perez said. “I will not run for another office during my second term. I will not run for another office during my third term. I will be for Hartford.”
But Bronin said there was ample reason to doubt Perez, who left office in a corruption scandal and was eventually convicted of using his office for his personal gain. Perez pleaded guilty in 2017 to two felonies related to his time in office.
“Former Mayor Perez was not for Hartford when he let a contractor get away with doing shoddy work that you can still see when you walk down Park Street in a crumbling sidewalk,” Bronin said. “He let a contractor get away with it because the contractor was rehabbing his kitchen in his home for free.”
Bronin was alluding to a scheme where Perez took a bribe by accepting deeply discounted work on his home from a city contractor.
There was at least one compliment exchanged between the two parties. When pressed to say something positive about Bronin in a lightning round, Perez said the mayor had a nice family.
The next debate is scheduled for Tuesday September 3, which is one week before the primary.