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The Hartford Courant
Perez Steps Closer To Becoming Hartfords First Hispanic Mayor
By ERIC M. WEISS
September 12, 2001
(ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO)
Eddie Perez moved closer to becoming the first Hispanic mayor of Hartford on Wednesday, beating Robert Ludgin in the Democratic primary.
More than 6,000 Hartford residents issued a powerful collective statement Tuesday, choosing Eddie Perez as the Democratic Party's nominee for mayor.
Perez, 43, a community organizer making his first run for elective office, easily outdistanced attorney Robert F. Ludgin, 61, a former deputy mayor, in Tuesday's primary. In heavily Democratic Hartford, Perez will be a strong favorite to become the city's 65th mayor, and its first Hispanic mayor, in November.
With most of the votes counted, unofficial results showed Perez with 4,553 votes and Ludgin with 1,784. That means Perez captured more than 70 percent of the vote; he had won all of the 25 districts counted as of about 9 p.m. Twenty percent of Hartford Democrats turned out to vote.
Perez entered his Park Street campaign headquarters on the shoulders of campaign workers, as supporters shouted, "Eddie! Eddie!'' As he lowered himself to hug a supporter, he fell down into the crowd, which closed in with hugs, kisses and handshakes.
Flanked by the U.S. and Puerto Rican flags, Perez thanked supporters for their hard work, but also tried to temper the celebration. He announced that he had canceled the victory party because of the events in New York and Washington, D.C. His remarks were prefaced by a prayer led by the Rev. Jeremiah Torres.
"It is fitting to cancel tonight's celebration and respect our nation when it is in mourning,'' Perez said. "We have to pray for families, loved ones and, as the reverend said, to pray for our nation's leaders as they decide how to respond to the situation presented today.''
Ludgin said he will continue his campaign through the November general election. He has secured a place on the ballot through a petition drive.
"No question this was a disappointment,'' Ludgin said. "My intention was to go for November and it still is.''
The unfolding tragedies in New York and Washington overshadowed Hartford politics all day. Both candidates and campaigns scrambled to refocus their ambitious Election Day get-out-the-vote efforts so as not to seem insensitive.
Perez called a prayer vigil Tuesday afternoon; three ministers led headquarters workers in prayer. Perez also forbade the use of musical campaign jingles on megaphone trucks, and urged workers to be as sensitive as possible.
Ludgin, campaigning outside Burns Elementary School, was using his cellphone not to contact voters, but to try to reach his sister, who lives in New York City. She was later found safe.
At 2 p.m., Ludgin called his campaign manager and instructed her to suspend calls to voters.
"This is actually worse than Pearl Harbor,'' Ludgin said, shaking his head. "I'm just out here going through the motions.''
Both camps said voter turnout across the city was depressed because of the tragedy.
Some voters said they were concerned over their safety; others were too caught up in the unfolding national story to get out and vote, they told campaign workers offering rides to the polls.
"Half of my poll standers didn't show up,'' said Leni Callas-Wrobel, Ludgin's campaign manager. "Everyone is glued to their TV sets.''
Many other voters assumed the election was off because state and city offices and city schools were closed. City hall received dozens of phone calls from confused voters.
"My own son called me, asking if it was on,'' said Marie Hamilton, the city's assistant registrar of voters.
Adding to the confusion, Perez campaign officials said, at least one Spanish-language radio station reported that the Hartford primary was canceled, perhaps confusing it with New York City's mayoral primary, which was postponed.
Perez, who would be the city's first Hispanic mayor if elected, was counting on a strong turnout from the city's large Latino population. Perez quickly got on the phone to area stations underscoring that the election was still on.
Other voters expressed anger at campaign workers for even calling them about politics at such a time.
"I tell them we have to carry on as a nation and vote. What else can you say?'' said Paul Bosch, a Ludgin campaign worker making calls.
Some voters said the events in New York and Washington cast a pall over what would ordinarily be an electrifying day for city Democrats. They are picking a candidate to replace Mayor Michael P. Peters, who has been in office since 1993. Peters decided earlier this year not to run for a fifth term.
"I'm excited for Eddie's campaign, but when I look back on today, we'll remember the tragedy, not the primary,'' said Vivian Novo-MacDonald, a Monroe Street resident who voted at Kennelly School.
Others said they just couldn't focus on politics and candidates.
"I was ready to vote, I had read up on the candidates,'' said Diane Turner, a paraprofessional at Burns Elementary School who lives on Main Street. "But when I heard the announcement, well - I forgot those people, the candidates, were even out there.''