NEW BRITAIN - Mayor Erin Stewart rallied with her supporters Wednesday night outside New Britain High School as nine of her opponents in the gubernatorial race faced off in a debate she was excluded from.
“Do you guys think I should be on stage?” Stewart asked the crowd rallying on her behalf.
Stewart was not on the debate stage, which was held in her hometown, because she has not yet raised the $175,000 in funding necessary to qualify. On Tuesday, Stewart’s campaign said it has raised more than $105,000 for the race. She declared her candidacy March 19.
Stewart’s supporters argued the mayor should have been on Wednesday’s stage. Alderman Willie Pabon said fundraising shouldn’t be a qualifier to debate. “Half these guys are millionaires anyways,” Pabon said of the other candidates.
John Board, founder of the city’s LGBT group New Britain pride, said Stewart has done enough in the city to warrant his support. “I’m here to support, quite frankly, the next governor of the state of Connecticut,” Board told The Press.
“She can appeal to Republicans, Democrats or independents,” said Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, pointing out the biparisan group of supporters in front of NBHS.
Stewart told reporters she doesn’t think her absence in the debate is a detriment to her campaign, but said she wanted to make her voice heard.
“Are you ready to bring a new message to the state of Connecticut? Are you ready for change? Are you ready for something different than what we’ve seen on that stage every single debate so far?” Stewart asked, followed by a series of “We want Erin” cheers.
Candidates participating in the debate were Mark Boughton, Mike Handler, David Stemerman, Mark Lauretti, Prasad Srinivasan, Tim Herbst, Peter Lumaj, Steve Obsitnik and Dave Walker.
Following a moment of silence in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. and opening statements, the debate began.
On the issue of criminal justice, Boughton said jailing those for drug and addiction-related crimes is not the best use of taxpayer dollars. The Danbury mayor also said he was disturbed with proposed legislation to lessen sentences for violent crimes.
Walker said some type of legislative reform is needed adding “We send too many people to prison for nonviolent crimes.”
Herbst said he agrees there is bipartisan support for second chances in the criminal justice system. But, Herbst said, the funding for police has been decimated by the current administration.
All of the candidates except Srinivasan and Handler support the death penalty at least in some circumstances.
When the candidates were questioned about the state’s economy and what they would do to improve it, Handler said “We don’t have a revenue problem in the state, we have a spending problem in the state.” Handler said he doesn’t support higher taxes or adding tolls to the state’s highways.
Walker also said no to tolls and tax increases. The candidate said a $15 minimum wage would stifle business.
Obsitnik said the state’s government continues to grow while its economy shrinks. “Let’s just get back to growing the economy,” Obsitnik said.
Srinivasan also said the state has a spending problem that must be curbed. He added there are many inefficiencies in the state that should be addressed.
Lumaj said the income tax and other state taxes should all be lowered. The candidate also pointed to the welfare system as something in need of reform.
Boughton said the state income tax should be repealed within 10 years.
The debate did not conclude before press time.
There is one more debate before next month’s GOP convention on Wednesday, April 18. The debate will begin at 6 p.m. at Saxe Middle School, 468 South Ave., New Canaan.
The Republican convention, at which more than 1,000 delegates will vote to endorse a candidate, is Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12. Any candidate who gets 15 percent of those votes will have the opportunity to force a primary, which would be held on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Candidates can also petition their way onto the ballot by collecting signatures from 2 percent of the state’s registered Republicans.
The filing deadline for candidates is June 12.
The election is on Nov. 6.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.