Short Mayoral Debate Held at TOM Saturday

By Robin Vinci at October 4, 2013 | 8:15 am

A 23 minute debate took place Saturday at Trinity on Main between Incumbent Tim O’Brien and Republican Challenger Erin Stewart.

Only 6 questions were asked along with an introduction and a closing. Both candidates received applause after each answer from a packed house.

Stewart focused her answers on the raising of taxes in New Britain while O’Brien claimed taxes did not rise because he was fiscally responsible.

In opening statements O’Brien claimed he turned things around in New Britain by creating jobs, revitalizing the economy and investing in education.

“All the while balancing the budget,” said O’Brien. “New Britain has and deserves a bright future.”

Stewart said she fights for New Britain’s future every day and is different because she is not a politician.

“I’m sick of seeing our City leaders mismanage our future. I’m sick of watching tax hikes, wasteful spending, secrecy and division,” said Stewart. “With tax hikes it is getting too expensive to live here.”

The first question was “what regional cooperative efforts could help ease the economic situation?”

Stewart said partnering with surrounding towns is essential to the entire Central Connecticut area as a whole.

O’Brien said he has worked with trash refuse issues with other towns.

“What are your priorities for revitalizing New Britain?” was the next question.

O’Brien said he has gotten new jobs for the City and is investing in downtown.

“We need to have a strong, good plan,” O’Brien said. “The economy is not going to advance unless we invest in education.”

O’Brien said that is what he is doing.

Stewart responded that first you need to restore fiscal sanity to the City of New Britain.

“We saw a tax mill rate increase from 33 to 44 mills this year and the annual budget has increased this year. We have more annual debt then our annual budget. That is a problem,” said Stewart. “Create a business friendly community by incentivizing business rather then penalizing them.”

Stewart said New Britain’s government needs to work for New Britain again.

The third question was from the audience, “What is one thing you as Mayor can do to change the image of the City?”

“It starts with setting a great example for the youth in your community,” said Stewart as she named off various organizations in New Britain in which she has played a role.

O’Brien said New Britain is a great City already and other people need to see that as well.

He said it involved things like making sure parks are fixed and people do not drive through potholes.

The fourth questions was “What would you do help ex-offenders that are released from prison to help them get reengaged in the community?”

O’Brien said there needs to be work to get the economy moving. He wants employers to hire New Britain people.

“Our investments in streets, parks and buildings actually produce jobs for the people of the City for the people of New Britain,” said O’Brien. “Taking the opportunity we have, leveraging the problems for a brighter tomorrow for our City.”

Stewart said it starts by realizing ex-offenders are not bad people. She encouraged partnering with churches and business to give them resources.

“I’m more concerned about talking about the future of New Britain and I think the future in New Britain is going to be a bright one,” said Stewart.

The fifth question was “How can New Britain best capitalize on cultural and educational institutions in the City?”

“New Britain is a melting pot. Growing up here I would not have had it any other way,” said Stewart. “Bringing cultures to other parts of town may be a good concept.”

She said it would be wise to bring people from Arch St. to Broad St. and vice versa.

O’Brien said he thinks this is the asset New Britain has.

“We have a world class arts museum and that is just the start of our arts,” said O’Brien.

He said the one thing about New Britain is it is ‘authentic’.

The sixth question was how to convince a new family to buy a house in New Britain?

“I will tell young people besides all the advantages we have, that City Hall believes in their future by investing in our schools,” said O’Brien. “I will tell them the City’s economy is on the move. This is the right time to be investing in New Britain.”

Stewart said as a member of the Board of Education she would start with the school system and the changes that recently have been made.

“The reality is they are not coming here because of the taxes. You cannot bring a family here when they can move to Berlin and pay 50 percent less taxes,” said Stewart as she held up her taxes showing her car taxes rising. “We have to make substantial changes to our philosophy in City government to get them here.”

Each then had the opportunity for a closing speech.

O’Brien said he has turned the City around and held the line on spending.

“There are so many possibilities New Britain has for a better tomorrow,” said O’Brien. “We have such great opportunities to build again for the future.”

Stewart told residents the future could be bright again.

“I want to leave you all with a message and that is that the government we have now and its leadership are creating an unsustainable system with taxes, spending and irresponsible debt growth that will collapse under its own bureaucratic weight,” said Stewart. “It’s time to make a commitment to make the disappointments and frustrations of the last two years a detour. It doesn’t have to be our destiny.”

The debate was sponsored by The League of Women Voters and The Herald.

This article was originally published in the New Britain City Journal.