When former state Rep. Terry Gerratana and New Britain Mayor Tim Stewart met to debate Saturday at Trinity on Main in New Britain, the two 6th District state senate candidates fielded questions from the audience on a range of issues including health care, air quality, education and and Stewart’s number one priority – “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Outside about a dozen Gerratana supporters cheered and waved signs, urging drivers to honk as they passed by. Inside about 150 people, many of them New Britain Democrats and including Farmington Republicans and Democratic former state Rep. Demetrios Giannaros, gathered to submit questions and hear the candidates’ answers.
The first question asked about a proposal Gerratana was unfamiliar with to cut the percent funding for the arts. She answered saying the percent funding to include the arts is important and should be preserved. Stewart explained the bill and the important role of the arts in New Britain but agreed a temporary moratorium would be beneficial to help scale back the state budget deficit.
To address the deficit, Stewart said the state must scale back government, put a moratorium on bonding projects, demand concessions and scrutinize benefits and create a more business friendly environment in Connecticut.
Gerratana agreed. “All options must be on the table to come up with a solution to this deficit. We need to not just look at the spending side where we’re spending but also the tax side to make it a little fairer, a little more equitable.” Then, she said the state could go on to creating jobs.
“The first issue is to get on that sound fiscal footing,” she said.
Stewart responded, saying the state’s immediate need is to bring in jobs.
“We need to create a business-friendly environment in Connecticut. We’re the second-worst in job growth to Michigan. That’s pretty sad for what was once the richest state in the union,” Stewart said.
The mayor said he would consolidate economic development agencies to create one point of entry for businesses looking to move into the state.
Gerratana said she had helped bring New Britain into the business enterprise zone, which lured companies like Celebration Foods, the Carvel giant Stewart is known for capturing.
Stewart responded, saying the Celebration Foods owner told him ‘Connecticut is the most unfriendly business state and I can go anywhere I want.’
“We were able to overcome that by putting together a team that could offer incentives to make that work,” Stewart said. “Sticking your hands in their pockets is not the way to make it more friendly.”
Asked about the Mattabassett District Regional Sewer Treatment Plant’s proposed project, Gerratana said while it’s important to protect the environment, she isn’t familiar with the project specifics.
“What the proposal includes, I would have to look at, just like any other legislator. We hear the proposal, hear the discussion and of course, we take appropriate measures,” Gerratana said.
“This $100 million project is another state mandate placed on the residents of New Britain, Berlin and Cromwell,” Stewart said. “A hundred million dollars for denitrification and improvements is a little much at this particular time… the impact will be felt by every resident within the district that sewer treatment plant serves. The residents of Berlin stand to see an almost doubling of their sewer rates.”
The debate closed with Gerratana openly accusing Stewart of awarding bids to “cronies and aldermanic people on the council.” New Britain Democrats had made the accusation earlier in the week.
Stewart called it the “most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard,” and said “they keep trying to manufacture the issue.”
Gerratana brought it up answering a question about municipal ethics codes, which New Britain aldermen authored in Stewart’s first term as mayor. But it opened the door for Gerratana to take a shot at Stewart and agitated, he fired back, saying her husband had been getting no-bid workman’s compensation work until he became mayor.
Moderator Mark Russak quickly moved to closing statements, which Gerratana used to quote President John F. Kennedy and take a final shot at Stewart saying she would “protect our neighbors, friends and those most vulnerable” as “a fulltime state senator.”
Stewart touted his record and leadership skills in bringing jobs to New Britain, saying the state needs the same. Instead, he said, the state has slapped towns “in the face with less funding, more regulations and unfunded mandates.” To counter Gerratana’s jab about keeping his job as city mayor if elected, Stewart said, “I will work 24/7 to make Farmington, New Britain and Berlin great places to live and work.”
The debate will be broadcast on Nutmeg TV and AT&T U-Verse on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 20 at 9 p.m.