NEW BRITAIN - Mayor Erin Stewart announced Monday that she has formed an exploratory committee for a run for governor.
“I’m proud to announce to all of you today, here on Facebook Live, that I have officially decided to explore a run for governor of the great state of Connecticut,” Stewart said, speaking from her living room, shortly after 11 a.m.
Stewart has been on the sidelines for months while rumors swirled about her potential run for statewide office. Stewart now joins more than a dozen Republicans also exploring a candidacy.
In December, Stewart told The Herald that she had been talking with state Republican leaders, gauging their opinions on the party’s slate of statewide candidates. It appears she liked what she heard.
“It’s become clear that we can’t afford to waste yet another opportunity to take back our state and set it on a new and better path,” said the 30-year-old Stewart. “If you are looking for a candidate that is going to fit in nicely with a certain ideology, that’s not me.”
In a brief rundown of some of her political stances, Stewart laid out what she says differentiates her from others.
She called herself a fiscally conservative Republican who is pro-abortion rights, supports responsible gun ownership and supports the civil rights of all people.
Stewart also said she is passionate about the success of Connecticut’s cities.
“I’m a different kind of Republican. I’m not going to be put in a box by a party or one person in Washington,” Stewart said.
Stewart has often touted her bipartisan approach and her success in New Britain, where registered Democrats greatly outnumber registered Republicans.
Stewart, the city’s 40th mayor, became the youngest female mayor in the country when she defeated Democratic incumbent Tim O’Brien in 2013 at the age of 26. She was re-elected in 2015, beating Democrat John McNamara and petitioning candidate Al Mayo. In November Stewart secured a third mayoral term, beating Democrat Merrill Gay and Mayo.
“I win elections because Democrats and independents feel comfortable casting a ballot for me,” Stewart said.
Gay, a member of New Britain’s Board of Education and Stewart’s Democratic opponent in 2017’s mayoral election, wasn’t surprised by Monday’s announcement.
“It was what I expected,” Gay told The Herald. He said his campaign had emphasized the possibility that his opponent would be looking to run for state office.
Gay questioned her ‘fiscal conservative’ label, citing the mayor’s previous debt restructurings and the ongoing discussion about how to deal with the city’s debt.
The Common Council is considering several plans to refinance up to $115 million in debt - which supporters say is necessary to offset upcoming balloon payments and which critics have metaphorically called ‘kicking the can down the road.’
“I had to chuckle when she called herself a fiscal conservative,” Gay said. “She solved our debt problem by borrowing a lot of money.”
J.R. Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, commended Stewart’s work in the city.
“Erin has a tremendous track record in New Britain,” Romano told The Herald.
Romano compared Stewart’s financial decision-making to that of Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who said in September his city could go bankrupt without increased help from the state. Bronin has since backed off bankruptcy talk, but he and Stewart have gone about managing their cities’ debt in very different ways.
“Erin rolled up her sleeves and solved the problem,” Romano said.
With the GOP’s convention in May, Romano said he’s honored to have so many capable GOP candidates.
“It’s so inspiring to see so many well qualified candidates in the Republican ranks,” the GOP chairman said.
Stewart’s official campaign website, www.erinforct.com , is already up and running. Valerie R. Martino is the exploratory committee’s treasurer. The mayor’s chief of staff, Jodi Latina, said there is no timeline for Stewart’s official decision.
“Our state has a lot of problems right now, there’s no doubt about that,” Stewart said. “It’s time to look in the mirror, it’s time to own up to who we are, stop blaming everything on everyone else, roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.