By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — As far as Edwin Vargas is concerned, he is the people’s choice to be Hartford’s next mayor.
His rational for such a pronouncement is that, among other things, he collected 3,000 signatures to be the challenger to the endorsed Democratic candidate, Mayor Pedro Segarra.
Vargas, 61, only needed 1,600 verified signatures to be placed on Row B for Tuesday’s Democratic primary in which two Puerto Ricans will vie to be the city’s top Democrat–a historic marker in the city’s history.
“[Segarra] has the endorsement of  town committee members, and many of them are employed by the Mayor,” said Vargas, who garnered only 6 votes in July. “I have the endorsement of the rank and file Democrats.”
The city stopped counting signatures after 1,952.
Vargas has a long history in politics. He was chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and the president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers. In addition, he was a community organizer after he moved to the city almost 40 years ago from Bronx, New York, where he was born. He and his wife worked as teachers in the Hartford Public School system for 35 years. In addition, Vargas was a foot soldier in the 1960s social movements in Hartford. Now, he bills himself as “a mayor for us.”
So what does that mean?
He wants to be “a mayor for all of Hartford, not just the politically connected.”
“If you’re not politically connected, “ Vargas said. “City Hall doesn’t work for you.”
He points to the mayor himself to show just how connected Segarra has been.
Segarra took the helm when former three-term mayor, Eddie Perez, was convicted of five counts of felony in June 2010. His ascent to his current position, Vargas said, has been an impressive series of luck.
In 1991, the city council appointed Segarra as corporation council. He was appointed for three consecutive terms. Before Segarra won on the democratically endorsed slate in 2007, former mayor Perez appointed him to the council in 2006 after former councilman Heman Lafontaine resigned. Before Calixo Torres, a Perez ally, resigned in 2010, he helped finagled Segarra’s move to be council president, Vargas said. In 2010, a city charter provision appointed Segarra the mayor’s successor.
“None of the positions he has is by a vote of confidence from the people,” Vargas said. “He’s been handed everything on a silver platter.”
This is probably why “the city has been on auto-pilot” since Segarra took the helm in 2010, which now seems like a distant memory, said Jorge Cabrera, Vargas’ campaign manager.
But when asked what they expected Segarra to do as mayor in one year, Vargas fired back and said the city needs someone with “hands-on” leadership.
Segarra assumed the role as strong mayor but acted as a weak mayor, they said, because the city is now run by bureaucrats, instead of having someone with dynamic leadership involved in the solution to many of the city’s problems.
Vargas asked: “How can you solve a problem if you are saying everything is ok? Do you see those press releases he keeps sending out? You can’t solve problems if you don’t acknowledge them.”
Besides hands on leadership, Vargas said he offers real solutions to help small businesses and the youth with government accountability. It’s an interconnected strategy to the complex problems the city faces, he said.
In addition, Vargas points out that Segarra has a long history at city hall. Segarra was chairman of the city’s Office of Management and Budget since 2006 and has raised taxes.
“That’s a powerful position on the council,” Vargas said. “As OMB chair and council president, he wasn’t the mayor’s employee. Now he’s acting like he arrived 12 months ago.”
Vargas said he feels confident he’s going to win the primary because he has support from grass root organizations, especially from the black churches. Moreover, the Hartford Federation of Teachers endorsed him.
When asked about the string of endorsements Segarra has garnered, including that of Gov. Dan Malloy, Vargas pointed out that those endorsements are there because Segarra is the incumbent and those politicians have to work with him. He said he supported Malloy as a gubernatorial candidate, while Segarra supported Ned Lamont. In addition, Vargas said, he was the statewide coordinator for the “Latinos for Obama” campaign and doesn’t remember seeing Segarra as an early Obama supporter.
So, Vargas theorizes, he too would have a good relationship with state and federal politicians.
Well, on Sept 13 voters will have their say about which mayoral candidate has a better relationship with them.