Mayor Eddie A. Perez Thursday said he was wrong to hire a Hartford contractor with millions of dollars in city work to do a $20,000 kitchen and bathroom renovation in his house.Just a month before a heated Democratic mayoral primary, Perez acknowledged the mistake Thursday - two days after state criminal investigators searched his house and the office of Hartford contractor Carlos Costa.Costa, president of USA Contractors Inc., did the work on the house, Perez acknowledged. The mayor said that although he had paid for the work himself, he should have had someone else do it.
Just a month before a heated Democratic mayoral primary, Perez acknowledged the mistake Thursday - two days after state criminal investigators searched his house and the office of Hartford contractor Carlos Costa.
Costa, president of USA Contractors Inc., did the work on the house, Perez acknowledged. The mayor said that although he had paid for the work himself, he should have had someone else do it. "I want the facts to be out there for the voters," Perez said in a hastily called press conference Thursday. "It's important to me that they know that work that was done in my house was fully paid for and that my wife and I look forward to continuing to work on the election."
But, he said, "in hindsight, I shouldn't have used a city contractor. That was a mistake."
Authorities would not comment on the investigation Thursday, and the exact nature and scope of the probe are unclear. The mayor has retained the law firm of Santos & Seeley.
Perez also said Costa neglected to obtain the proper building permits but would get them retroactively.
Costa has done construction projects for the city, and his company was the low bidder for a Park Street streetscape improvement project in 2003. Investigators took boxes of documents and copies of computer hard drives from his office Tuesday.
State investigators have been asking questions and collecting documents at city hall since at least late April, when questions surfaced about two deals involving political operative and former state Rep. Abraham L. Giles.
In one deal reported by The Courant in February, Perez awarded Giles a no-bid contract in November 2006 to run a downtown, city-owned parking lot.
The Courant later reported on April 21 that Giles was on the verge of getting $100,000 from a private developer to walk away from another city-owned parking lot he operated without a contract. That deal - involving a condominium project proposed for the lot - collapsed before Giles got the fee.
Two days later, Perez sent a letter to Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane asking him to look into the matter, explaining that he was concerned that "one or more individuals may have intended to use city funds from the project to unjustly enrich one or more parties."
It is unclear whether the search of Perez's house is related to that investigation.
According to Perez's statement, Costa began the work on the mayor's house in the spring of 2005 to renovate a bathroom and install a new kitchen countertop. In June 2005, Perez's wife suffered multiple brain aneurysms. Her illness delayed Costa's work, Perez said.
Costa completed most of the work in 2006, and Perez said he looked into a mortgage to pay for the work in 2006. But it wasn't until earlier this year that Costa billed him $20,217, Perez said. This summer, Perez secured two mortgages totaling $50,000. He said he paid Costa in July.
City land records show that Perez finished paying his $142,000 mortgage on the Bloomfield Avenue home in February.
Perez said Thursday that he was cooperating with the investigation and that he had turned over records and canceled checks to state investigators.
But with the Democratic mayoral primary just a month away, Perez said he was concerned that the investigation might affect the electoral process and said he was also "concerned when allegations of this nature surface in an election year."
He also said he had erred in hiring Costa.
"Even though Mr. Costa was paid in full for the work he performed, it was a mistake on my part to retain a city contractor to perform work at my house," Perez said in a statement. "The perception in today's environment has the potential to undermine public confidence in government."
"Additionally, it was my responsibility to ensure that the proper building permits were taken out for the work performed, and the failure of the contractor to obtain the necessary permits did not relieve me of this responsibility," Perez said. "I will ensure that the proper permits are paid for."
Democratic mayoral challenger I. Charles Mathews said he felt bad for the mayor, his family and the city."
He has not been charged with any wrongdoing," Mathews said. "We have to give the mayor due process and ... see what develops before we rush to judgment."
Another Democratic challenger, state Rep. Art Feltman, was less kind. He said he was "embarrassed that there's another black eye that people around the state see and think that, in addition to all the other problems we have, that we're corrupt, as well."
Feltman said he didn't believe Perez's explanation."
It's pretty obvious he didn't intend to pay the contractor until he got caught, or was close to getting caught," Feltman said. "He started scrambling to borrow money to pay for it about two years after he contracted for the work. In the real world, people get their money to pay contractors before the work begins."
Contact Jeffrey B. Cohen at email@example.com.