By DON STACOM, email@example.com
NEW BRITAIN — Erin Stewart spent eight years watching her father run the city, and now gets to try her own hand at the job.
Stewart, 26, was sworn in as New Britain’s 40th mayor late Tuesday morning and promised residents a fresh municipal government where nobody will be unwelcome.
“Your voice will be heard. You will have a seat at my table. You will all be involved in the conversation,” she told an audience of several hundred in the New Britain High School auditorium.
Assuming leadership of a city known for its bruising partisan battles, Stewart, a Republican, called for unity.
“That means creating a mutual understanding that there are no ‘Democrat ideas’ or ‘Republican ideas’ — I don’t believe those labels move us forward as a city,” she said.
But the same election that made Stewart mayor also has created the first political controversy during her administration: two vacant seats on the common council.
Republicans are pursuing a lawsuit to contest the outcome in Ward 5, arguing that a balloting error requires an all-new election for the ward’s two council seats. Superior Court Judge David Sheridan’s temporary injunction blocked the two apparent winners — both Democrats — from being seated Tuesday. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Wednesday.
That means when Stewart convenes the first council meeting of her administration on Wednesday night, it will be just a 13-member board — with five Republicans and eight Democrats — instead of 15 members.
The choices of 17 voters in Ward 5 were discarded because poll workers mistakenly gave them Ward 2 ballots, listing entirely different council candidates. According to a recount Friday, Democratic incumbent Carlo Carlozzi finished ahead by more than 100 votes. Democratic incumbent Roy Centeno was second, but Republicans Lou Salvio and Iwona Rutkowski were each within fewer than 17 votes of him.
Republicans want a complete do-over in the district — for both seats. Even though Carlozzi was far ahead of the contested 17-vote margin, the whole election should be redone in fairness to all candidates, said attorney Michael Goldfarb, who represents Salvio and Rutkowski. A runoff between Centeno, Salvio and Rutkowski for one seat would be unfair because it could split Republican votes in a way that wouldn’t have happened on Election Day, when voters got to choose two of the four candidates.
“It should be a new election for both positions to recreate as best you can the conditions of the original election,” Goldfarb said.
He cited a 2005 balloting error in Middletown that led to a court-ordered new election in April of 2006.
“Only a new citywide election will approximate the application of energy and resources that went into the first, flawed election,” state Supreme Court Justice David M. Borden wrote in the Middletown case.
It’s unclear how long the Ward 5 seats will remain vacant. Meanwhile, Stewart will run the city with a 13-member council.
She said Tuesday that she’s committed to following through on campaign promises for “restoring fiscal sanity, rebuilding our infrastructure, giving our children schools to be proud of and making New Britain’s government work for New Britain again.”
She predicted “belt tightening and tough choices for city departments,” but said that’s what voters elected her to do.
Former Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham, a Republican who was first elected at age 22, told the audience that Stewart will make a good leader.
“You made a wise choice. You will not regret it,” he said.
Turning to Stewart, he said “There’s no school to become a good mayor. There will be good days and there will be bad days. But if you can say, ‘I did what was best for my community above all else,’ then you’re on the right track.”
Stewart was given the oath of office by her father, Timothy Stewart, who served as mayor for eight years.
This article originally appeared in the Hartford Courant.