After a week of uncertainty about when Mayor Eddie A. Perez would resign following his conviction on corruption charges, the transition occurred Friday in the span of a minute.
Pledging to change the way city government is run, Pedro Ernesto Segarra, the city council president, was sworn in as Hartford's 66th mayor at 5:01 p.m. Perez's resignation took effect at 5 p.m.
"This is a very difficult period of time for our city, but we need to join efforts … to overcome the difficulties we are having," Segarra told a crowd of city employees, residents and council members at city hall Friday evening. "It's important that we start to deal with all these issues quickly and effectively."
Segarra's eyes welled with tears after taking the oath of office, and he apologized to the clients of his Hartford law firm, which he has begun to close as he takes on the duties of the city's top executive. He has said he never planned to be mayor.
"I believe that God puts us at different places at different times … and I trust that my interest at this point is to stay focused, be reasoned and be reasonable," he said.
Perez's chief of staff, Susan McMullen, submitted a letter of resignation from Perez to John V. Bazzano, the town and city clerk, at 3:07 p.m. Friday. Perez, who was convicted of five felony corruption charges June 18, did not make a public appearance and was unavailable for comment.
In a written statement, he thanked voters for their confidence in him and apologized.
"Over the past nine years, it has been my honor and privilege to serve the residents of Hartford. I have done my best to improve their neighborhoods, schools and public safety," Perez said in the statement. "I am truly sorry for the mistakes I made that have harmed the reputation of the city I love. I hope to earn the forgiveness of its people, who have enriched my life in hundreds of ways."
Segarra said Friday that he has requested letters of resignation from all of the city's department heads and from Corporation Counsel John Rose. He said that he would review the letters and make prompt decisions about staffing, which will include some changes.
"There will be changes; changes must come from this," he said. "Changes will come quickly."
Segarra promised to "solve problems" and "rebuild bridges" during the more than a year left in Perez's term. He thanked residents for their patience and hope. He said that mayors of several other Connecticut cities called him Friday to offer support.
Perez was convicted of five felony charges, including bribery and extortion. He had been charged with receiving a bribe, fabricating evidence, accessory to the fabrication of evidence, conspiracy to fabricate evidence, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny by extortion and criminal attempt to commit first-degree larceny by extortion. A jury found him guilty on all counts except a charge of fabricating evidence.
Perez has said he plans to appeal.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Friday afternoon that his office is still reviewing whether Perez is eligible for a city pension and is expected to "reach a conclusion" next week.
Blumenthal has said he would move to revoke any pension for Perez under a 2008 state law passed after former Gov. John G. Rowland's conviction on corruption charges.
Under that procedure, a judge would be asked to consider several factors in deciding whether to reduce or revoke a pension, including the severity of the crime, the loss to the city, the degree of trust or authority wielded by the official and the degree of cooperation.
"We would argue strongly and vigilantly that the crime is a severe breach of the public trust by an official with authority at great loss to the state and city with very little cooperation as seen so far," Blumenthal said, referring to the Perez case.
Blumenthal said the judge could also decide to redirect a portion or all of a pension to an innocent spouse.
Councilman Larry Deutsch, a frequent Perez critic, said he was relieved that Perez's resignation took effect Friday.
"I am gratified that it didn't go into next week," he said.
Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said that Perez "took the right action."
"I think the [former] mayor did what was in the best interest of the city," he said, adding that Segarra was "more than ready" to take on the role.
The city council reached an agreement this week that Perez should not serve in office later than July 2. If he had stayed later than that date, the council would have gone forward with a removal hearing, Kennedy said.
Now that Segarra has taken over as mayor, the council will have to vote for a new president, find a replacement chairman for its operations, management and budget committee and review candidates for its now-vacant ninth seat.
A source said Friday that Councilman Jim Boucher would probably replace Segarra as council president. The new president could be voted in as soon as Monday, the council's next regularly scheduled meeting.
Courant staff writer Steven Goode contributed to this story.