Eight years after she became the youngest (age 26) big-city mayor in the U.S., Erin Stewart not only coasted to a landslide fifth two-year term in New Britain, Conn., (population: 74, 135) but led a coalition of fellow Republicans and non-Republican friends to capturing 12 out of 15 seats on the City Council.
"That’s especially impressive when you consider Democrats outnumber Republicans here by 5-to-1," Stewart told Newsmax shortly after she was sworn in for a term that will make her the longest-serving Republican mayor of Connecticut’s "Hardware City."
Now 34, married and a first-time mother, the woman dubbed "our miracle mayor" by the late State Republican Chairman Dick Foley shows no signs of slowing down. In an exclusive interview, she spelled out where she wants to take New Britain in the coming decade as well as her views on the Republican Party.
"We finished the last 3 years with surpluses," the mayor told us, "they were nothing substantial, but a lot of it was due to refinancing our debt profiles. Obviously, it would be crazy not to take advantage of the interest rates when we refinanced. We got a windfall, which we socked away for a couple of years. Then I knew I would eventually be able to lower the tax rates."
But Stewart was worried about lowering the tax rates sustainably.
In her words, "I wanted to make sure I had enough money to maintain the tax decrease for two years—until we got to our reevaluation, which is going to happen next year. We had these surpluses of $3 or 4 million for two years. So, for this July 1, 2021, we were able to decrease the mill rate [a Connecticut term meaning the amount of taxes one is charged per year on his or her assessed property]. Our 50.5 mill rate went down to 49.5."
But, she quickly added, "in order to lower the rate one mill, I had to decrease the city’s budget by $1.7 million."
In part, this decrease was made possible by shrinking the side of New Britain’s government. As Stewart explained, "[W]hen I first came in, there were over 600 municipal employees. Today, we hover at 526. …..We certainly have hired more police officers but I decreased the number of support staffs. When I first became mayor, there were 140. There are 168 sworn officers now. That’s good."
Under Mayor Stewart, violent crime is down. As it is in cities throughout the state of Connecticut, she told us, "what we’re seeing is an increase in juvenile car theft—getting into cars and taking things out."
The mayor’s overall vision of the city is one with streamlined infrastructure that attracts modern businesses. Recalling New Britain’s history as a factory town with factories closing and the work moving overseas, she said that "[W]hen factories left and our people were poorer than they were, there was a huge gap that took 40 or 50 years to piece back together. As for my vision of where to go and how to get there, I would say utilizing infrastructure is a big piece of how to get New Britain more tax revenue. From Day One, ….we had a master plan for rethinking our roads and sidewalks, making massive investments in infrastructure. We hope when we do that the property owners see that the city is making improvements, they’ll make improvements, too."
"So, we’re bringing people who are working here and living here and that’s what it’s all about. This depressed factory town is flipped into a thriving metropolis."
Had she been in Congress, the mayor would have joined with the 13 Republican U.S. Representatives who voted for President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package.
"From a small city perspective, it’s money and infrastructure that, if used correctly, can transform a community," said Stewart. "How I feel about my daughter and her kids paying for this someday is irrelevant at the moment. Even President Trump talked about it, but more as a public private partnership approach rather than simply printing money."
As for the Republican Party discussions about expelling Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming for supporting Trump’s impeachment, Stewart wants no part of it.
"We need to move past this at some point," she told us, "Instead of crucifying people who had a different opinion, we should take the Ronald Reagan approach. If you’re on the team 80 percent of the time and off 20 percent means you’re a team player."
New Britain’s mayor herself is pro-choice on the abortion issue in a party with a strong antiabortion plank. But she has no problem with that.
Preferring to discuss things that unite Republicans, Stewart feels her national party "has an opportunity to capitalize on the failures of the Biden Administration. [Republican National Chairman] Ronna McDaniel is doing a great job."
She cited "Ronna’s launching of the Republican PRIDE coalition in an effort to reach the LGBQT community. We are the party accepting all people’s opinions and values. ….The Republicans are much more open-minded than Democrats. We’re a big tent party again."
As for her party’s presidential prospects in 2024, Stewart believes Trump "was an extremely effective leader. His policies put our country on a great track. But his personality and his divisive way is what ultimately ruined him and the Republican Party is still trying to clean up from that."
Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, she feels, "might be personalizing like Trump. [Former UN Ambassador] Nikki Haley and [South Dakota Gov.] Kristi Noem get a lot of mention. Let’s wait and see."
Stewart has already ruled out seeking higher office in ’22. As for her future, she says "I don’t know how long I’ll be around as mayor. Politicians usually age like cheese and not like wine. I’ve been incredibly blessed. People have continually supported me. Every time I’ve run, I’ve surprisingly won with a greater percentage of the vote than prior. And it’s validation for me that people really liked the way things are going."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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