Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hartford Hispanic Mayor Eddie Perez Charges Hartford Courant With "Racism" To Divert Attention Away From State Corruption Probe Of His Administration

The three-term Latino mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, Eddie Perez (pictured at left), has teamed up with city notables to launch an attack on the Hartford Courant, claiming that it allows racist comments on their discussion forum. However, further investigation reveals the possibility that Perez is playing the race card to divert attention from the Connecticut state corruption probe of his administration, upon which the Courant has aggressively reported.

This story was first brought to my attention by Newsnet14. Here are the specific applicable media stories:

- June 17th, 2008: Hartford Mayor Slams Courant's Web Forum. Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez wants The Courant to immediately ban what he describes as racist comments and hate speech on the discussion forums on the newspaper's website. Associated Topix discussion forum HERE.

- June 18th, 2008: Newspapers Face Ugly Side Of Web Future. Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez's attack on The Courant for allowing readers to post racist and hateful speech on the paper's online comment boards raises an issue increasingly confronting newsrooms across the country... . Associated Topix discussion forum HERE.

- June 18th, 2008: Legal Bills Mounting For Mayor Perez Probe. The city of Hartford has paid roughly $95,000 to cover legal expenses incurred in connection with the state's criminal investigation into allegations of corruption in the administration of Mayor Eddie A. Perez. Associated Topix discussion forum HERE.

This flap kicked off on June 17th when the Courant reported that in an open letter dated Monday June 16th and signed by Mayor Perez and five other local politicians, Perez demanded that Courant publisher Stephen D. Carver publicly apologize for allowing to become a "platform for racist hate speech".

Perez's letter cited recent posts in which people referred to Hartford residents as "barbarians" and the city itself as "Beruit." The comments followed news stories and a video of a May 30th hit-and-run that left Hartford resident Angel Arce Torres critically injured. The letter, which was sent to various media outlets, was addressed to Carver and Sam Zell, CEO of The Courant's parent Tribune Co, and co-signed by City Council President Calixto Torres, Council Majority Leader Jo Winch, State Sen. John Fonfara, and State Reps. Kelvin Roldan, Kenneth Green and Douglas McCrory.

Carver said he will review oversight procedures for the Topix boards but at this point doesn't anticipate an apology. Despite imperfections, Carver find the discussion boards a valuable vehicle for public dialogue.

The Courant's June 18th story added very little new information, but attempted to educate the public as to the difficulties a newspaper has in effectively balancing civility and free speech. It discussed certain measures taken by other newspapers, such as the Miami Herald, which now requires anyone wanting to post a comment to register on their website. The Courant doesn't seem anxious to implement such a change.

But the Courant's June 18th story on the corruption probe revealed the mayor's true motivation in smearing the Courant. In this story, the Courant revealed that the city of Hartford has paid roughly $95,000 to cover legal expenses incurred in connection with the state's criminal investigation into allegations of corruption in the administration of Mayor Eddie A. Perez.

Records from law firms and the city provided to The Courant following a state Freedom of Information request show that the city has covered legal expenses for 22 current and former city employees. The bills provided by the city cover from early 2008 through May. Although there were no bills for Mayor Eddie A. Perez himself, who is represented by the firm Santos and Seeley, there were bills for attorneys representing his finance director, Thomas Morrison ($13,350), his chief of staff, Matt Hennessy ($10,510), and Corporation Counsel John Rose ($10,443).

The city also paid bills for other employees in its finance, human relations, public works, and development offices. Finally, it paid $2,638 for legal representation for state Rep. Kelvin Roldan, who used to work for the mayor and now works for the school system.

The grand jury probe was set in motion by a court order on October 24th, 2007, and has since been granted an extension. By statute, this second term of the grand jury can last no more than six months. State criminal investigators have been interested since at least February 2007 in a no-bid parking deal between the city and North End political figure Abraham L. Giles. But their interest in Perez has not been limited to Giles and parking lots. Last summer, state investigators served a search warrant on the mayor's house as they looked into $20,000 worth of home improvement work done for the mayor by city contractor Carlos Costa. State investigators have also asked the city for and received documents related to payments for its $1 billion school construction program. Here's a YouTube video of a local news story from April 2007 which provides some early perspective on this scandal:

Commentary: It's so transparent even Helen Keller could see it. Mayor Perez is clearly using the Hartford Courant as a foil to distract attention from his increasingly scandal-ridden administration. The Courant has focused its scrutiny on his administration, and Perez is playing the race card in order to get payback. Note how the mayor doesn't fight his own battles, but goes out and rounds himself up five sockpuppets to hide behind.

Looking at the mayor's bio, I noticed he's never served in the military. Perhaps he'd have a higher regard for the Constitution had he actually served this country under arms.

Mayor Perez doesn't have an e-mail address listed. So if you want to communicate your displeasure over the mayor's attack on free speech and freedom of the press, you'll have to send your e-mail here:

Address your e-mail directly to the mayor. Keep it reasonably civil.

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