HARTFORD ——When Pedro Segarra first stepped into the mayor's office, the city was reeling from the resignation of his predecessor, Eddie Perez, who was convicted last June of felony corruption charges.
Segarra moved quickly to restore trust in city government.
A year later, while most people acknowledge that Segarra is a strong advocate for the city, he's drawn criticism on some fronts for failing to take bold steps to alleviate major problems, such as rising crime and blighted buildings.
"I think the strongest thing Pedro Segarra has brought to Hartford is a sense that he is honest, trustworthy and sincere in his love of the city and his desire for it to be better," said state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford.
PHOTOS: Pedro Segarra's First Year In Office
"But it's not sufficient just to bring back confidence and trust. I'd like to see the mayor be more aggressive," he continued.
Fonfara recalled the years that followed former Gov. John G. Rowland's resignation in 2004 amid a corruption scandal. The lieutenant governor, M. Jodi Rell, took over.
"When Jodi Rell replaced John Rowland she did a really good job of bringing back confidence in government, and she got high marks for that," Fonfara said, "but in the end, I think many people felt that her interest in using the power of the governor's office was not what it needed to be.
"I'm hoping Pedro will not follow that path and that he will leverage the power of his office."
Edwin Vargas, a longtime city resident who is opposing Segarra in the upcoming mayoral election, was more blunt. He said city hall "continues to be run by the bureaucracy."
"There are a lot of problems not being addressed," said Vargas, who like Segarra is a Democrat. "It's business as usual. There's been no major overhaul at city hall."
Vargas said the mayor, though visible at events and activities around the city, should be more of a hands-on manager.
"He hasn't really taken off the jacket, rolled up his sleeves and gotten down into the nitty-gritty of running government," he said. "You need to make sure bureaucracy is serving the people paying taxes, not hoping the city will run itself as you go around doing public relations."
Segarra dismisses charges that he's merely a figurehead trying to boost morale.
During an interview at city hall Tuesday, he noted that his first budget, adopted last month, does not require layoffs yet reduces the city's tax rate.
He pointed to accomplishments that include organizing a citywide cleanup of the parks, leading a campaign to rip down two famously blighted buildings — one has been razed — and championing efforts to install an outdoor skating rink at Bushnell Park that attracted thousands to the city during the holidays.
"The first year was a lot of work in restoring trust and transparency, dealing with finances and developing a new way of doing business," Segarra said. "Now, going forward, we're looking to implement a lot of the ideas we've come up with to make the city greener, to promote employment and continue the trend of improving our education system."
Segarra was sworn in as the city's 66th mayor on June 25, the same day Perez resigned. Perez had been convicted of five corruption-related charges, including bribery and extortion, a week earlier. He was sentenced in September to three years in prison, but is free on bail pending an appeal.
Under the city's charter, Segarra, as council president, became mayor.