By John Gizzi
More than a year ago Erin Stewart took office as mayor of New Britain, Connecticut, at age 26. Ten months before she faces the voters again, the Republican is on target in rescuing her city from the $19 million budget deficit she inherited for Fiscal Year 2014 and the $33 million deficit that had been projected for Fiscal Year 2015.
“We’ve cut more and we have more savings,” Stewart told Newsmax recently. “So the deficit is going down. And it turned out we didn’t have to raise taxes as much as I thought. So yes, we’re on the right path.”
All told, the $216 million budget for Fiscal Year 2015 approved by New Britain city officials last summer helped close the $19 million deficit from FY 2014. And thanks to the mayor’s budget that cut $16 million in spending and included a property tax increase, it also closed the $33 million deficit for FY 2015.
Considerable state and national press attention is focused on Stewart, whose upset win at age 26 over Democratic Mayor Tim O’Brien in 2013 made her an overnight Republican superstar in the Nutmeg State.
At a time when pollsters say Republicans fare poorly among young single women, freshman Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, 30, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, state Rep. Saira Blair of West Virginia, 18, is America’s youngest state legislator, and Stewart, now 27, is the country’s youngest serving mayor.
All three are Republicans and single women.
Surrounded in her City Hall office by signs with legends such as “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History” and “Stressed is Desserts Spelled Backwards,” Stewart told Newsmax why she feels New Britain is turning around.
“I originally sought a tax increase that would work out to about $60 dollars a month per person,” said the mayor, reminding us that she had to work with the city’s Common Council with a 9-to-6 seat Democratic majority, in a city where the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) trade union is powerful.
But, she quickly added, “Because we took some big steps to roll back spending and make city government smaller today, that increase only came to between $45 to $50 dollars per month.”
Among the “big steps” Stewart took was keeping a promise to “closely monitor requests for anything from city department heads, and deny and deny.” Moreover, Stewart dismantled the previous mayor’s reorganization of city government that consolidated city offices and divisions into seven departments.
“This so-called ‘reorganization’ just meant an increase of government, and it doesn’t work because everyone who is a skilled manager has a layer of bureaucracy to work under,” said the mayor. She cited as an example her restoring Building and Health Director Sergio Lupio from serving as a subdivision head in the Community Services “Super-Department” to a full department head.
She quickly added that as the “super-departments” were being dismantled, “some people working there saw the handwriting on the wall and left on his or her own.”
In terms of dealing with the pension liability the city must deal with, Stewart is “not too far off from Wisconsin,” where fellow Republican and Gov. Scott Walker made news nationwide in 2011-12 by overseeing reforms that required some public employees to pay a portion of their pension funds and health insurance.
“I don’t want to penalize current employees,” she said, “but we’ve got to change the way we move forward.”
The mayor said she is negotiating on four union contracts and “it might be a good idea to consider Health Savings Accounts as a means of providing greater choice in healthcare. Again, this is for new employees down the road.”
Mayor Stewart has also guided New Britain’s long-sought acquisition of a Costco store. Begun four years ago under her father, former Republican Mayor Tim Stewart, the eventual arrival of the megastore could provide the city with as many as 225 new and well-paying jobs and add fresh tax revenue to New Britain. Costco construction has already begun and the giant warehouse store is expected to open this fall.
In July, the mayor got an unexpected political boost when Democrat Michael Trueworthy, president pro tempore of the Common Council, suddenly broke into her office and began berating her with insults. Trueworthy, who stopped by a bar later that day, later admitted he was drunk and apologized to the mayor. In what the New Britain Herald dubbed “one of the top stories of the half-year,” Trueworthy resigned as president pro tem but would not relinquish his Council seat.
Incredibly, Trueworthy is now considered the front-running Democrat to face Stewart for re-election.
Self-styled “fiscal conservative and social moderate” Erin Stewart is seeking re-election this year in a city with about 26,000 registered voters and where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of 6-to-1.
Any talk of her seeking higher office is quickly cut off by the mayor. As for a favorite candidate for 2016, she promptly brandishes a photograph of herself with Jeb Bush at the Republican Party’s annual Prescott Bush Dinner — named for Bush’s grandfather, a former Connecticut U.S. senator — at which the former Florida governor was the guest speaker and Stewart was honored for her leadership.
“He’s a quality guy,” the mayor said of Bush, “and it wouldn’t be bad if he had a woman as a running mate. Let me add that this woman should not be chosen just because she’s a pretty ex-governor — God bless Sarah Palin — but because she has quality and could lead our country as well.”
This article originally appeared in NEWSMAX