by Robert Storace
NEW BRITAIN — Saying it’s her job to be the city’s “number one promoter,” Republican Mayor Erin Stewart said New Britain has seen a transformation during her two-year tenure in office.
From economic development to an $8 million surplus, transparency in government and bringing a new baseball team to the city, the 28-year-old city native said the Hardware City is on the move.
Stewart — who is being challenged by Democrat John McNamara and petitioning candidate Alfred Mayo in next Tuesday’s municipal election — said her proudest accomplishment is tied to the city’s finances.
Throughout her time in office, Stewart has repeatedly touted what she sees as her ability to work well with the city’s financial team to turn the city’s fiscal woes around. She points to a recent upgrade in the city’s bond ratings and said “When I took office, we had a $30 million operating deficit, which we were able to turn into an $8 million surplus in two years. We analyzed the problem and took the necessary measures to fix it, all while communicating to our residents every step of the way.”
Stewart continued, “We cut $16 million from our city’s budget the first year by restructuring City Hall; by organizing our debt; and rescinding projects that weren’t needed and working with the unions to negotiate contracts that would end up in savings for us.” The city’s police and fire union — along with Local 1186, the city’s largest union — all recently endorsed Stewart for another term.
While Stewart has previously said she had no choice but to raise taxes by 11 percent in her first year, she said from City Hall, “I won’t stoop to the blame game because I was elected to fix a problem and I did just that. It was either raise taxes or start cutting essential services like police, fire and garbage pick-ups and that wasn’t an option.”
Stewart declined to criticize either of her opponents in the interview, rather focusing on what she sees as a city with a lot of improvements in the past 24 months.
On the economic front, Stewart said, “The growth in out Grand List is proof that we are seeing renewed interest in the city.” She cited the groundbreaking under her watch of Frisbie’s on Farmington Avenue. “For a property that was once vacant, having it come to life again is a great way to say welcome to a city on the rise.” The site is home to an ice cream parlor and will be home to a gas station; drive through Dunkin Donuts; a restaurant; and facility for the elderly.
Costco, the mayor said, “took four years to do and they will become one of our biggest taxpayers overnight.” The mega-chain opened earlier this month and will employ 225 people, most from New Britain.
“Many mom and pop shops have opened all over town,” Stewart said. She cited ‘Puppy Cuts’ on Arch Street and ‘Europlate,’ a Polish deli, on Broad Street as examples.
Stewart said she has kept her campaign promise on bipartisanship and transparency in government. “The Democrats have control of the Common Council, so every major initiative I put forward I needed their support and I got it,” she said. “I’ve also had open office hours every month since December 2013, I’ve taped a monthly television show to discuss city issues and I’ve held Town Hall meetings. I’m always accessible on social media, which this city has never seen in a mayor before.”
While McNamara has been critical of the mayor’s handling of the city’s homeless population, Stewart said, “We rolled up our sleeves and got to work and rewrote an entire plan for putting our homeless into homes. We’ve opened the doors for access to supportive housing for the homeless population and we’ve built relationships with community providers to have more resources available.”
Stewart, who was heavily involved in the negotiations to bring an Atlantic League team to New Britain, said, “There was no way I’d ever let baseball leave.”
This article originally appeared in the New Britain Herald.