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Conn. Mayor Wins Re-election at 28

Image: Conn. Mayor Wins Re-election at 28
Erin Stewart, center (AP)

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Thursday, 05 Nov 2015 09:53 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Two years after Erin Stewart made nationwide news following her election as mayor of New Britain, Conn., at age 26, the Republican chief executive Tuesday swept to re-election by a landslide (70 percent of the vote) at age 28.

So long were Stewart’s coattails that city Republicans in the Nutmeg State’s sixth-largest city won a record 12 out of the 15 seats on the Common Council.

“If that isn’t a referendum on me, I don’t know what is!” a triumphant Stewart told me on the morning following her resounding win. The sobriquet “Miracle Mayor” that Connecticut Republicans are now bestowing on her is understandable when one considers that, in New Britain, Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters by an overwhelming 13,158 to 2,724. (Unaffiliated voters account for another 8,775 and minor parties have 347.)

Stewart believes her success at the polls is due to, in her words, “being able to close the candy shop of government at critical times and just say ‘no.’” Faced with a fearsome $30 million-plus operating deficit in fiscal year 2015, the Republican mayor eliminated 16 city positions in her first year in office and two more in her second.

“This was achieved through attrition and not firing people,” she emphasized, explaining that when city employees retired, their positions were not filled.

The mayor also scrapped her Democratic predecessor’s consolidation of city offices into seven “super-departments” and restoring autonomy to individual department and agency heads.

“And that meant they got to deal directly with me instead of going through layers of bureaucracy,” she added.

Stewart emphasized that, since she was working with a Common Council in Democratic hands by a 9-to-6 seat ratio, she had to agree to a tax increase in order to secure her vision of slimmed-down government.

“"I originally sought a tax increase that would work out to about $60 dollars a month per person," she recalled, “but 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."

With New Britain’s eight-figure deficit transformed into a $7.8 million surplus, I asked, could she now move to reduce city taxes?

“No,” Stewart replied with her signature straight-from-the-shoulder style, “We still have a $250 million debt overall, and it got to the size it did because of outlying credit and interest. Now I’ve restructured our debt payment and we’ve shrunk our total indebtedness. But obviously, we’re by no means out of the water.”

As much as the mayor would like to roll back taxes in her city, she said without hesitation that “the only way that could happen is if we build four more Costcos”— a reference to the wholesale colossus whose recently-opened New Britain outlet brought 225 jobs to the Hardware City.

Having made her city more attractive to business through reforms of government and retirement of its deficit, Stewart feels there “is very definitely” a chance of fresh private business coming to New Britain and generating new revenue. She noted that the Mohegan Indian tribe has made overtures about opening a casino in the city’s downtown.

“If they want to talk, I’m open to talking,” she told me, “I don’t have a problem with gambling and have done a little of it myself.”

Now in a commanding political situation, Stewart suggested that she might want to re-open her city’s 1960s-vintage charter and look at charter reform — especially extending the mayor’s term from two years to four years. She also hopes, like Wisconsin‘s Gov. Scott Walker, to look at the way public employee pensions and health care plans are funded for a possible alternative to the present system and its perils of liability.

Failure to consider changes, she warned, “will mean that the cost of our city’s workforce will go up 3 percent every year until eternity.”

Stewart also signaled she would like to visit some of the seven sister cities New Britain has in foreign countries, which she has not had the opportunity to do yet. Giannista, Greece is of particular interest, she said, because of the good example she feels she could provide to the Aegean national wracked by debt and financial turmoil.

“An example is to be learned not only in Greece but in the rest of the U.S., that you have to be honest with people when you are managing their tax dollars,” she said.

When I last interviewed Stewart in her office last January, she brandished a picture of herself with Jeb Bush and left little doubt that the former Florida governor was her favorite candidate for 2016.

“But he’s losing steam, as we saw in the last debate, and I’ve changed my mind,” she told me Wednesday, revealing that “My first choice now is Marco Rubio. He’s a young guy with great footing and I think he’d surround himself with smart people. But, hey, with all those candidates, I may change again.”

As to whether she will seek higher office, Stewart said: “I never expected to be mayor, and whatever life brings me in the future, I won’t expect that either. For now, I’ve got a lot of work to finish in the town my heart belongs to.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.   




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Two years after Erin Stewart made nationwide news following her election as mayor of New Britain, Conn., at age 26, the Republican chief executive Tuesday swept to re-election by a landslide (70 percent of the vote) at age 28.
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