NEW BRITAIN – She says she has the drive and the experience to be the next governor of Connecticut. But will she officially announce her candidacy for the state’s top job this spring? For Mayor Erin Stewart, this depends on support from her party, the residents of the state and her fundraising ability.
Stewart announced Monday she has formed an exploratory committee, joining more than 20 potential candidates who have either declared a run for governor or have formed exploratory committees for the race.
“It’s been very promising,” Stewart said of the reception of her announcement. “I have been contacted by more people than I have the time to write back to so I’m kind of trying to catch up with everyone who has reached out to give me well wishes and support.”
YOUNG AND AMBITIOUS
Stewart said she considers herself a unique candidate. She’s a 30-year-old Republican who calls herself fiscally conservative and socially liberal. But that won’t necessarily help her beat out more than a dozen GOP candidates as she makes her case to be the party’s nominee.
“I think it’s certainly attractive to the younger professionals in this state, but I also think there’s some dangers with that as well,” Stewart told The Herald. “People are skeptical as well because of it. I’ve already been told ‘I’m not Republican enough.’ This will be the most difficult part of my race, because right now I’m vying for a Republican nomination and I have to convince the hardcore Republicans that I’m the Republican candidate that can win in a general election.”
Stewart ran for a seat on the city’s Board of Education when she was 23 years old. After a few years on the board she turned her interest in the position of mayor, which she won in 2013 at the age of 26 years old and has since been reelected twice. She also has political experience working on the campaign of U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson and in Gov. Jodi Rell’s office as an intern.
Stewart said she thinks her experience stacks up well against her opponents.
“I’ve served in an elected capacity. Not all of those running have had that opportunity,” Stewart said. “Second of all I have won consistently in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans almost six to one. That shows I have the ability to reach across the aisle and appeal to different voter bases.”
Stewart said her management experience in New Britain is her most important skill asset.
“Having that real life experience in managing a difficult government is I think what means the most. I manage a $240 million budget with almost 1,000 employees on a daily basis,” Stewart said. “That’s a lot more experience than a lot of other candidates have.”
A NEW VISION FOR THE STATE
Stewart’s platform – which she will develop and add to in the coming weeks – is made up of three main pillars, the first being addressing the state’s financial situation.
“I don’t believe that there’s a magic wand that can be waved and all of our problems will be gone,” Stewart said. “I don’t think that the next governor will be the person to solve all of them. I actually don’t think it’ll be the governor after that, either. I mean you’re talking about decades worth of damage that has to be unraveled and undone.”
Stewart said it isn’t necessarily about solving the problem, but setting the state on a different course and different path. The mayor also said her experience negotiating with unions is something the next governor will need.
“I think that the next governor will not get anywhere if they do not have the ability to sit across the table from employee unions and talk. I’m not even saying come to an agreement, just talk,” Stewart said.
The second piece of Stewart’s platform is about reversing the state’s negative image and perception.
“We need to take a look in the mirror as the state of Connecticut and realize we live in a beautiful state with enormous opportunity and we need to start highlighting the good things that are happening,” Stewart said. “You’re a product of your environment, and when you constantly hear people saying ‘Connecticut is awful, it’s so expensive, everything stinks, this and that’ you’re going to believe that. You will start believing that Connecticut is this horrible place … but what about all of those great things that Connecticut has to offer that you can’t find anywhere else in the country.”
Stewart spoke about Connecticut’s higher-education institutions like Central Connecticut State University, University of Connecticut and Yale University as institutions that draw people to the state.
This is similar to Stewart’s “rebranding” New Britain over that last year-plus.
“Look at how far we’ve come in New Britain in five years. No one wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole five years ago and now all of a sudden people are looking at it and kind of tilting their heads and going ‘huh, they really got something going on there,’” Stewart said.
The third piece of Stewart’s initial platform is supporting the state’s urban areas.
“Our state is not going to be successful if our cities are not successful, and if we’re not providing tools and opportunities for our cities to thrive, we’re not going to thrive as a state,” Stewart said.
STILL THE MAYOR
If Stewart does officially throw her hat in as a candidate, she said she has no concerns about balancing campaigning with her duties in the city.
“Just like the mayors of Danbury, Shelton, Bridgeport and Hartford, I will be able to manage just fine,” Stewart said.
Stewart said she’s already been asked how serious she is about running and if this is just a way to put her name out there before a more legitimate candidacy in the future, when she gets older.
“I am a serious candidate. I am in this until the end, and it’s sad that I even have to justify that,” Stewart said.
“It’ll be an interesting ride. I’m up for the fight, though. And I think more importantly, the state is in desperate need of someone like me to bring people together to save it. It’s not one person who’s going to turn this state around, it’s not one governor … it’s about building a solid team in order to make it happen,” Stewart said.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.