OP-ED | The Engineer Who Couldn’t: Segarra Runs Against ‘The Machine’
The narrative is as old as the hills. An organization is in turmoil. Everyone realizes something has to be done. Do we stick with the current top dog in the hopes that things will improve, or turn to one of the boss’ underlings for leadership? Or perhaps we clean house and bring in someone from the outside to crack a few eggs?
We know which approach the loyalists and the status-quo types prefer. And it quite often leads to disaster. Such is the case with embattled Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra.
To say that the Capital City has suffered under his five years of leadership is to put it mildly. Despite receiving about half its operating funds from the state, the Hartford’s finances continue to be in utter disarray. Moody’s has recently downgraded Hartford’s bond rating because of “the city’s weak financial position.” Unemployment is at 10 percent, almost twice the state average of 5.4 percent.
Violent crime is out of control. Over last weekend, the city recorded its 20th murder so far this year. That’s more even than the city of Boston, which is five times the size of Hartford. Segarra is so flummoxed by the violence that he has taken to showing up at murder scenes and crawling under the yellow crime-scene tape in a effort to look like a leader.
The fire department, which exists to respond to disaster, is now a disaster itself. There has been a string of arrests and suspensions of Hartford’s bravest over the last two years for reasons ranging from bullying to DUI to assault with a firearm to drug possession to on-duty drunkenness. Things got so bad that Segarra appointed a special task force to deal with the problems. Then he wound up suspending a deputy chief for insubordinate conduct at a meeting of the very same task force that was formed to address problems in the department. And the chief even saw fit to alert his firefighters via email of a scheduled DUI checkpoint.
Sadly, I’m not making this up.
Over at the Department of Public Works, a 50-page report by a consultant revealed an abject lack of leadership and oversight that allowed filthy conditions, drug and alcohol use among workers and supervisors, and even an administrative assistant regularly seen napping at his desk.
But perhaps the nail in Segarra’s coffin is that he’s said to have become aloof from some of his most loyal supporters — a cardinal sin in the cloistered world of Hartford’s back-scratching politics.
As is the case with most of Connecticut’s big cities, there is no Republican Party to speak of, so the only way for a fellow like Segarra to be toppled is through the Democratic nomination and primary process. Several capable people stepped up to the plate, but the one who emerged as the consensus choice is the anti-Segarra, if ever there was one.
Ivy Leaguer and Rhodes Scholar Luke Bronin, who grew up in Fairfield County’s Gold Coast, served as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s general counsel and is a sporadic resident of the Capital City. He exudes competence, charisma, and smarts. He has, however, never been elected to anything.
Can he win? And if so, can he turn the city around? I don’t know but Segarra feels so threatened by young Luke that he walked out of the Democratic Town Committee’s nominating convention in a huff rather than suffer the humiliation of a sitting Democratic mayor losing the party’s endorsement.
I understand the desire to have a Latino mayor. After all, Hartford has the second-highest percentage of Latino residents among cities in the northeast and the highest in New England. But the Puerto Rico-born Segarra is not the right Latino for the job and, in the absence of someone who is, voters would be crazy to re-elect him with the implicit understanding that he deserves another chance. At this rate, the city might not survive another four years without being taken over by the state.
Segarra has his work cut out for him. Since he walked out of the convention and consequently received no delegate votes, he’ll have to gather the required 1,700 signatures on a petition. According to one of his aides, Segarra will run against “the machine” that stacked the convention against him.
That means Segarra will run as an outsider — a sitting mayor who can’t control the machine or anything else in the city, for that matter. Segarra is by all accounts a nice man, but he is a very poor manager. Not only has he failed to make the trains run on time, but in some cases, he can’t make them run at all. If Hartford taxpayers have any sense, Segarra’s remaining supporters should brace themselves for a thumping.
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