Posted on Monday, March 9 2009 by Heather Brandon
5:36 pm Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez will offer a state of the city address starting at any time now. I’ll be liveblogging the event via the city’s government cable channel. Currently the city is broadcasting a blue screen announcing the speech, accompanied by some smooth jazz with the lyrics “I’m searching for my soul” and “how many times will my conscience be divided? How many times will a fork be in the road?” The speech was supposed to get started at 5:30 pm.
5:40 The speech is finally getting started, with Council President Calixto Torres announcing the mayor. Mayor Perez steps up to the podium in Council Chambers, a room packed with people. He gets a standing ovation. The City Council is seated at the semicircular table behind a podium on the raised dais.
5:41 Perez opens by talking about the economic crisis and how Hartford is feeling the pain. He says he has been fighting “this economic storm” and cites the city’s deficit. “We’re fighting to keep our urban economy afloat. All of Connecticut’s big cities are facing the same challenge.” Perez notes his alliance with other Connecticut mayors.
5:43 Perez thanks Rell for her leadership and compassion, and gets applause. He expresses gratitude for mercy toward the city on the state level. Perez says he will be presenting his “toughest budget ever” soon, a “bare minimum budget.” It also means “more pain and more personal sacrifice” from employees, businesses, visitors and taxpayers. “We need to put politics and personal agendas aside,” he says.
5:45 Perez calls for people to come together to meet the city’s goals. “Hartford has a clear choice,” he says. “We can stand still, put our heads in the sand, and be devastated” by the economy. “Or we can choose to move forward and steer Hartford in the right direction.” Applause.
5:46 Perez says Hartford is moving in the right direction already: better schools; 16 schools showing significant improvement in achievement, three high schools recognized nationally. He asks the principals of those three high schools to stand up. Several more people stand up, and then everyone stands up so we can’t see who they are anyway.
5:47 Perez is now recognizing the law and government academy at Hartford Public High. He has students in the audience. They stand, then everyone stands again, applauding. Bodies are blocking the camera’s view of the young students. Perez asks them to remain standing, then says there could be a future president standing there.
5:48 Perez says serious crime was down percent last year, and the lowest it’s been in 43 years. He credits Chief Roberts for getting guns off the streets, bringing back the mounted police as promised, and other successes. More applause. Perez recognizes the support Roberts gets: the Juvenile Review Board, he asks them to stand. Next is Crime Stoppers and the anonymous tip line; he asks someone to stand for them; more applause. Next is recognizing Hartford Cares, and there’s more applause.
5:50 Perez asserts there will be another police class in next year’s budget.
5:51 Perez says it’s “our time to be bold” with the stimulus package. He gets loud applause for mentioning the new construction projects that will follow. “In the next 90 days, over $175 million in construction projects will continue to flow to our city’s neighborhoods,” he says, putting residents to work at good wages and with good health care benefits. Again, he gets whistles and enthusiastic applause. It’s like a party in council chambers.
5:53 Perez is announcing a “Hartford stimulus project.” He mentions the Artists Collective, Real Art Ways and other arts organizations that attract thousands of visitors and $189 million into the city’s economy. He announces a $1.7 million increase in grants to Hartford organizations. He gives a big ups to a councilman off-camera. Perez calls this a 100 percent increase in current spending to create new works, new performance, and expanded facilities in the arts community.
5:55 Perez says the arts stimulus effort will be used to create new jobs.
5:55 In the upcoming budget, based on a proposed “temporary half-mill tax,” Perez offers $1.5 million in new funding to prevent families facing foreclosure from losing their homes. He says the funding will also provide emergency assistance to families who lose their homes through no fault of their own. Applause, slightly less enthusiastic.
5:57 Perez asserts the city’s core services will remain a strong priority, despite 190 recent layoffs: public safety, emphasis on academics, and clean neighborhoods. He says he wants to “create new hope, and new opportunity,” which comes from facing obstacles as a community and being inclusive. “Hartford needs to show the world—and sometimes we need to show ourselves—that we are a family that has many jewels, in all our neighborhoods, in our parks, our museums, in our entertainment venues—but also in the hearts of our residents.”
5:59 Perez speaks fondly of the late former Mayor Mike Peters. He announces that on April 16, Engine 15 will be renamed Mayor Michael P. Peters Memorial Firehouse. Much applause.
6:01 Perez briefly mentions the new Connecticut Science Center, which has “already transformed the Hartford skyline.”
6:02 Perez emphasizes unity and the current situation being “a time of great challenge.” He underlines a need to focus on what is best for the city. He asks everyone listening for their support, participation and looking for the opportunities to come together. He also asks for prayers. Then he quotes Abraham Lincoln. “Today, President Obama shares that vision that Lincoln once shared with us, by saying, ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones that we have been waiting for.’ Hartford, let’s wait no more.” And with that he concludes his speech.
6:04 Torres announces a five-minute recess followed by a public comment session preceding the City Council meeting scheduled for 7:00 pm.