Last Saturday Candidates running for Common Council and Mayor had the chance to let the public know exactly where they stood on the issues as the League of Women Voters held their Annual Debate at Trinity on Main.
Many candidates sparred on issues including the controversial Tilcon plan, finances and education.
Republican Mayor Erin Stewart, challengers Merrill Gay and Independent Alfred Mayo took the stage for the highlight of the event.
The first question dealt with the development of the City structurally and financially.
Mayor Stewart said revenue and funding is the top issue.
“Lack of funding to provide for the diverse citizens that we serve,” said Stewart. “We can’t take services away from those who need it, but we need to know how to balance it. And balancing it is an important thing to do when combining our finances.”
Gay said the biggest challenge is to figure out a new economic driver to replace the factory jobs that left 50 years ago.
“We are poor community with an average household of $40,000,” said Gay. “That has implications for everything from property values to the city budget. That is our biggest single challenge.”
Mayo said taxes are high.
“The people of New Britain don’t want another two years of that,” Mayo said. “This does not affect more people to come to New Britain.”
Stewart replied that the economic driver is in aerospace manufacturing on John Downey Drive.
“It doesn’t take four years to fix a 40 or 50 year problem,” Stewart said. “We are making a darn good effort. You need to be very creative.”
Gay said there is a lot of vacant space particularly downtown.
“There were big announcements, but nothing has happened,” said Gay.
Mayo said downtown is a ghost town.
“I don’t know if you have visited downtown lately, but it’s hopping,” replied Stewart.
The next question was based on the future debt for the City.
“The Mayor has made her campaign about fixing City finances,” said Gay. “We are refinancing our debt to bring down the payments last year to show a re-election year surplus. Our debt service will spike at $40 million three years from now.”
“You cannot be mayor without balancing the budget,” said Mayo. “For four years the Mayor has not balanced the budget.”
“We were in Hartford’s situation four years ago. When I took office we were in a $30 million budget deficit,” said Stewart. “You can’t solve that by waving a magic wand. We rolled our sleeves up and got to work. People whispered in my ear that bankruptcy was the easiest thing to do. Absolutely not. We would be the laughing stock of the State of Connecticut.”
The third question was based on supporting education.
“I support good education for the kids,” said Mayo. “It takes a day to talk about this. It is still a problem.”
Stewart said it is important to partner with manufacturers such as those from aerospace to help students get new jobs. She said she has a great working relationship with Superintendent Nancy Sarra.
Gay, who serves on the board of education, said a problem can’t be fixed until you acknowledge you have a problem.
“There are lots of great teachers that work at our schools, but we have to acknowledge that we have issues with the graduation rate and much earlier than that,” said Gay.
Stewart said the City relies on those who work on the board of education to take care of those issues.
“Those are the people who are responsible for that,” said Stewart.
The last question was about economic development.
Stewart said a transit oriented development plan has been made for economic development around the City.
“It will set a plan for the future to insure the City’s success,” said Stewart. “We are having events downtown and we made incredible strides. It takes many years with the right leadership in place.”
Gay said it is important to take advantage of the busway and not make the same mistakes West Hartford made where transit oriented development is across from a gas station.
“You have to be intentional about this,” said Gay. “I am most interested in producing jobs for New Britain residents.”
Mayo said there is the same businesses as four years ago.
“We need to encourage businesses that we are business friendly,” Mayo said. “A lot businesses are not happy.”
The candidates then were able to give closing arguments.
“You must start with a good local government to push for more funds,” said Mayo. “You must sit down together and balance the budget like intelligent people. We have good people. We can turn things around.”
“My mission for New Britain is a place that is thriving, where there are good paying jobs, where we celebrate the diversity of the community and we understand that diversity is a big selling point for this City,” said Gay. “We need to know the economic development in this community, increase the property values so we can bring the mill rate down.”
“We’ve been open and responsive and opened our doors time and time again to residents,” said Mayor Stewart. “Our work is not done. We have been nationally recognized. It happens with good judgment, good leadership and strong management. It doesn’t happen by putting in a political party. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about who is good for the City of New Britain.”