Tuesday, January 6, 2009

R.I.P.: Mayor Mike

Those of you who don't live in Connecticut will have no idea who I'm talking about when you initially read the heading. Once you finish, however, you will know.

Mayor Mike was Mike Peters, who was mayor of Hartford, our capital city, from 1993 until 2001. He was an extremely popular mayor, truly a man of the people. He wasn't one of those stuffy, fuddy-duddy, serious politicians. He was approachable, and always took time to listen to anyone who wanted to talk to him. Mayor Mike had a real casual, yet affective, way of approaching city politics. Here was a man who, as many media outlets have said in the days following his death, was more comfortable talking politics on a barstool than in a boardroom.

I remember a CBS News reporter once called Hartford "the forgotten city between New York and Boston." How right he was about that! This is a city that has long been overshadowed by our bigger siblings to the south and north, a city that many think is unremarkable, a city that becomes a ghost town Monday through Friday at 5 PM, when all of the commuters go to their home in the suburbs.

Mayor Mike, however, believed in his city. I mean, really believed in it. He loved Hartford. He wanted to see it become, as the advertising slogan says, "New England's Rising Star." He tore down drug-riddled housing projects and rebuilt them, so they would be safer. He helped build up after school programs. He tried to get the Patriots to move down here, and they were seriously considering it!

Many hockey fans, however, will remember Mayor Mike because, under his term, the Whalers moved down south in 1997, where they eventually became the Carolina Hurricanes. (NOTE: as you'll see in this Wikipedia article, it wasn't Mayor Mike's fault that the Whalers left!) Their Stanley Cup win several years back was a very bitter pill for many Whaler fans to swallow.

Mayor Mike opened up a restaurant in Hartford in 2004 and named it--what else?--Mayor Mike's. He wasn't involved in politics, but he still frequented his establishment to talk to the people.

He had been in declining health for several years, having disclosed several months back that he had cirrosis of the liver. He received a liver transplant, and was feeling better, even contemplating running for Hartford mayor again in 2011. However, he developed kidney problems as a result of the transplant, and his health declined very quickly after that. He was 60 when he died; far, far, far too young.

I saw Mayor Mike on TV not long ago, and he looked awful. He was really gaunt, with thinning hair and a higher voice. He still had his upbeat enthusiasm and stamina, though; that could never be dimmed.

Mayor Mike was not into corrupt politics or scandal. He was a man who wanted to help his city, his people, his state. He didn't care about party lines; Democrats were none too thrilled that he endorsed Governor Rowland in the 2002 gubernatorial election (but remember what happened there).

Voters responded; he won by landslide victories in 1995, 1997, and 1999.

Ironically, though, even though he was much beloved, he wasn't very powerful as a mayor. Under the Hartford city charter at the time, the City Council held more powers than the mayor did. You'll find out more about it in the link I'm about to give you in a minute. This inbalance of power helped contribute to Mayor Mike's decision not to run again for mayor in 2001.

Read more about Mayor Mike Peters and his accomplishments here. The Courant did a great job on this one.

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