Many important stories have been covered by the New Britain Progressive in 2017. It may be difficult to name only a few articles as the top stories of the year, but there are a few the New Britain Progressive would like to share as our Top Ten. Other Top Ten stories can be found at “Top Ten Stories of 2017.”
Republican Former Mayor Timothy Stewart’s comment, “Unfortunately the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,” in an online discussion regarding the city’s North Oak neighborhood, a neighborhood that has a large Latino and African American population (“Timothy Stewart Faces Charges of Racism and Calls for His Ouster from Chamber of Commerce Presidency“), draw fierce condemnation and accusations of racism from city residents. The NAACP New Britain Branch added weight to growing calls for Timothy Stewart to resign or be removed from his prominent, powerful positions in the community as President of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce and city commissions (“NAACP Calls on Timothy Stewart to Resign from Chamber Presidency and City Commissions“). Stewart’s attempt at apology as the scandal grew were widely seen as evasive, as he said that his comments were not, “meant to be derogatory in any way,” and, “poor word choice.”
While current Republican Mayor Erin Stewart, daughter of Timothy Stewart, sought to distance herself from the scandal by saying that the Chamber, “is not an entity of the city,” the New Britain Progressive broke the news that the chair of the Chamber works for Erin Stewart (“Chair of Chamber Board Employing Timothy Stewart Works for Erin Stewart“). In fact, it was that very individual, employed by the younger Stewart, who delivered the message that the Chamber did not intend to dismiss the elder Stewart. This raised unflattering questions for Erin Stewart about just how much distance there is between City Hall under her administration and the Chamber of Commerce, which hired her father as its president shortly after the younger Stewart was elected mayor. From his position in the Chamber, Timothy Stewart is reputed to exercise great influence in the affairs of the community.
Calls continued for Timothy Stewart’s resignation or removal from his positions of power in the community (“Residents Speak Out at Council Meeting Against Timothy Stewart “Inmates” Comment and for Action on Blight“).
New Britain is a city whose population is a majority people of color, and Timothy Stewart’s, “inmates” comment shatters confidence that the power and influence he has will be used for the good of the whole community. This is not likely, as both Stewart mayors apparently hope, to simply go away in 2018. But the community holding Stewart accountable makes this the #1 story on the New Britain Progressive’s Top 10 of 2017.
Timothy Stewart Faces Charges of Racism and Calls for His Ouster from Chamber of Commerce Presidency
November 29, 2017
Former Republican Mayor Timothy Stewart is facing charges of racism from city residents and calls from members of the public for his resignation or removal from his position leading the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, State Representative Bobby Sanchez (D-New Britain) held a press conference critical of Stewart’s comments that, “the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,” in a discussion about the city’s North Oak neighborhood.
At issue were comments that Stewart apparently made on Facebook in response to criticism by a resident of the North Oak neighborhood that the city has not done enough for that neighborhood.
A screen image posted by the resident shows Stewart referring to the criticism as, “B.S.”, and then juxtaposing a list of city services in the North-Oak neighborhood with a comment that, “Unfortunately the inmates continue to run the neighborhood.”
The, “inmates continue to run the neighborhood,” comment sparked fierce outrage online, with comments accusing Stewart of racism and saying that he is unfit to continue serving in his leadership role in the community as President of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce. The North Oak neighborhood has a large Latino and African American population.
Rep. Sanchez organized a press conference that was also attended by State Senator Terry Gerratana (D-New Britain), Ald. Richard Reyes (D-AL) and Ald. Manny Sanchez (D-AL) to highlight concerns about Stewart’s comments. Residents at the press conference are said to have called for Stewart’s resignation from leadership at the Chamber of Commerce.
In comments in a November 29, 2017 New Britain Herald article before the press conference, Stewart only apologized, “to anyone who thinks my comments were meant to be derogatory in any way.” Saying, “they absolutely were not”, Stewart said his comments were meant to defend city policies in the neighborhood. In a later Herald article, he apologized for his, “poor word choice.”
Timothy Stewart resumed great stature in the affairs of the city when, in 2013, his daughter, Erin Stewart, was elected to his former position as mayor. With that new influence behind him, the elder Stewart, shortly after his daughter’s election as mayor, was selected, himself, as the President of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce. Between his own position in the Chamber of Commerce and his daughter’s as mayor, Timothy Stewart is reputed to exercise great influence in the affairs of the community.
Editor’s note (11/30/2017): This article was updated with additional words of apology from Stewart.
NAACP Calls on Timothy Stewart to Resign from Chamber Presidency and City Commissions
December 1, 2017
By the NAACP New Britain Branch #2006
Yesterday, the New Britain Branch of the NAACP #2006 Officers and Executive Board met. We call for the removal of Mr. Timothy Stewart as President of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce. Stewart must resign from his position for the derogatory remarks made on Facebook towards a minority community in New Britain. The remarks made, that, “the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,” are culturally insensitive to a community that is approximately 80% Hispanic and African-American. Such remarks have no place in our community. Leaders of our community are measured by higher standards and are expected to lead with an emphasis on inclusion for all, regardless of race, creed, color, gender or sexual orientation. The people of New Britain do not approve of statements that reveal the white supremacist bias that is perpetuated on a national level by President Donald Trump.
The statement made by the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce President and former Mayor, Timothy Stewart, was essentially the same statement as made by the Houston Texan’s football team owner a few weeks ago in retaliation for players exercising their First Amendment rights. There was a national response from the people of the US against such a remark. No one has the right to put down anyone, regardless of the zip code one lives in, economic or educational status or leadership in the community. The people of the North-Oak NRZ are homeowners, taxpayers and employees who are due the same respect as any other person in the community.
The Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce must react to Timothy Stewart’s insensitivity quickly. If he does not resign from his current position as president, we are demanding that the governing body of the Chamber terminate his services immediately. We are also requesting Mayor Erin Stewart, Mayor of the City of New Britain, immediately terminate his services from the two commissions and boards to which he has been appointed, because of the statements made on Facebook toward the North-Oak NRZ community. His lack of empathy shows he cannot represent or lead a diverse community like New Britain.
We further demand the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce and the city of New Britain show acts of good faith to the North-Oak community, by securing monies to open, maintain, and assist small, minority businesses in the area. This will help in sustaining these businesses and move the neighborhood toward positive economic development that would include employment of residents within the community.
We further demand the City of New Britain follow up with the complaints noted by its residents regarding the deplorable conditions that have a negative impact on their quality of life. We consider it a high priority that these conditions be attended to and fixed immediately.
If our concerns are not addressed expeditiously we will galvanize residents for further action.
Chair of Chamber Board Employing Timothy Stewart Works for Erin Stewart
December 4, 2017
Just how much distance is there between City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce? This question has begun to come under scrutiny, as accusations of racism and calls to remove Timothy Stewart from the Chamber Presidency rise in the wake of public outrage created by the former Republican Mayor. The intense public outrage followed a comment by Timothy Stewart that, “the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,” in a Facebook conversation about the North Oak neighborhood that has a large Latino and African American population.
Timothy Stewart’s daughter, the current Republican Mayor of New Britain, Erin Stewart, has sought to distance herself from the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce, which employs her father for a salary that was $68,972 as of 2016.
In a statement quoted in a November 29, 2017 New Britain Herald article, Erin Stewart said, “The Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce is not an entity of the city. It has its own board of directors and oversight.”
But the Chair of the Board of the Chamber of Commerce, employing Timothy Stewart, is attorney Gennaro Bizzarro. Bizzarro is, himself, employed by Mayor Erin Stewart as the city’s Corporation Counsel.
Bizzarro is listed in the city budget as receiving a $31,885 salary from his employment as the city’s Corporation Counsel – a position that is appointed by Erin Stewart, as the mayor.
Yet, Bizzarro was quoted as speaking for the Chamber of Commerce’s Board, as its Chair, when, as the Herald reported on November 30, 2017 and the Hartford Courant reported on December 1, 2017, he asserted that Stewart would remain as President, despite the public outrage.
The Corporation Counsel is in charge of all city attorneys, but its $31,885 salary is only for a part-time position. The person in the position of Corporation Counsel is selected by the mayor. Corporation counsels serve during the term of the mayor appointing them and the person holding the position typically changes when a new mayor is elected.
Bizzarro has actually served as Corporation Counsel under both Stewart mayors, having previously served in the position under Mayor Timothy Stewart.
Active in Republican politics, Bizzarro was the 2014 Republican candidate for the 24th Assembly District seat representing New Britain and Newington.
As outrage and calls for Timothy Stewart’s removal continue, questions continue to rise about the role of the current Mayor Stewart in the continuing employment of her father, the former mayor, in a position of significant influence at the Chamber of Commerce.
Residents Speak Out at Council Meeting Against Timothy Stewart “Inmates” Comment and for Action on Blight
December 14, 2017
Public outrage continues as residents spoke in front of the City Council about blighted conditions and against a comment by former Republican Mayor Timothy Stewart that, “the inmates continue to run the neighborhood.” Stewart’s comment was made in a Facebook conversation about the North Oak neighborhood that has a large Latino and African American population.
Accusations of racism have been leveled at the former mayor and calls have risen for him to resign or be removed from his current powerful position as the President of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce, as well as from city commissions.
The scandal enveloping Timothy Stewart and Republican Mayor Erin Stewart’s third term, in only its first weeks, began when Timothy Stewart made a comment that, “Unfortunately the inmates continue to run the neighborhood,” as part of his response to criticism by neighborhood resident Annette Velez that the city is not doing enough about problems in that neighborhood.
Velez was one of the residents who spoke at the Council meeting. “I take offense to being called an ‘inmate’ by the father of the standing mayor,” said Velez. She discussed the long-standing need for city services, such as paving of Oak Street and the need address dilapidated buildings in the neighborhood. “Nobody is holding the building owners responsible,” she said.
“I am not an inmate, but a resident,” said neighborhood resident Pablo Rodriguez. “Because we spoke out, we had retaliation and we were called names, like ‘inmates’ and other things that I can’t express, here.” He expressed frustration about neighborhood concerns residents have brought up. “Where are the building inspectors? Where are the board of health? Where is the Fire Marshal? We never heard anything from them.” A number of other residents echoed his concerns about blight, while some residents discussed actions that the city has been taking.
Ronald P. Davis, President of the NAACP New Britain Branch addressed the Council about Timothy Stewart’s comments. The NAACP Branch has called on Stewart to resign or be removed from the Chamber of Commerce presidency. “I come this evening also seeking the removal of Mr. Timothy Stewart as a member of the Mattabassett District Commission, as appointed by the Common Council, and the School Building Committee, as appointed by the Mayor,” said Davis. “The Mayor and Common Council must react to Timothy Stewart’s insensitivity quickly. If he does not resign from his current positions, we ask you to terminate his services immediately because of the statement made on Facebook. His lack of empathy shows he cannot represent or lead a diverse community like New Britain.”
Residents have been organizing to make their voices heard about Stewart’s comments. An organizing flyer that circulated around the internet headlined, “I’m a New Britain resident, not a New Britain inmate,” encouraged people to attend the December 13, 2017 Council meeting.
Stewart’s words of apology, after his ‘inmates’ comment sparked fierce public outrage, are widely seen as evasive. In comments in a November 29, 2017 New Britain Herald article, Stewart only apologized, “to anyone who thinks my comments were meant to be derogatory in any way,” adding, “they absolutely were not.” In a later Herald article, he also said that he apologized for his, “poor word choice.”
The scandal has also shed an unflattering light on Mayor Erin Stewart, and the role she has in the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce, which employs her father for a salary that was $68,972 as of 2016.
While the younger Stewart has sought to distance herself from the Chamber of Commerce, the New Britain Progressive recently exposed the fact that the Chair of the Board of the Chamber of Commerce, employing Timothy Stewart is, himself, employed by Erin Stewart as the city’s Corporation Counsel. The connection became especially relevant as Gennaro Bizzarro, the city Corporation Counsel appointed by Erin Stewart, was the one speaking for the Chamber of Commerce when it announced that the Chamber’s Board had no plans to remove Stewart as its president.
Meanwhile, the North Oak neighborhood’s community association, the North Oak Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ), and City Council members in the newly elected Council, recently toured the neighborhood to begin to formulate a plan to address blighted buildings and other neighborhood concerns that residents say have been in need of attention for a long time. Three Democratic Council members, Ald. Eva Magnuszewski (D-AL), Ald. Emmanuel Sanchez (D-AL) and Ald. Iris Sanchez (D-3) introduced 114 petitions at the Council meeting that require city departments to investigate concerns about blight and sidewalks in the neighborhood.
Marie Bachand, President of the North Oak NRZ, spoke at the Council meeting, and discussed the neighborhood survey of blighted properties assembled by NRZ volunteers. “We are all volunteers, working with no money or staff, which makes it challenging to make the neighborhood better.” She said that she looked forward to the city addressing these problem properties.
Bachand discussed strong action that can be taken to address blighted buildings. “As an NRZ, we have the right to ask the city to request that the Superior Court to set up rent receiverships if landlords do not correct blight.” She added, “I would like to make that request now, officially, tonight.” She also discussed that the North-Oak neighborhood did not receive an allocation of federal Housing and Urban Development funding to support its work, as the NRZ had requested, despite the city allocating funding for NRZ capacity building.
Democratic Board of Education member Merrill Gay discussed having attended the North Oak neighborhood walk through, and praised Council members for introducing the petitions on blight concerns. “It is about time that the city got serious about the blight in our neighborhoods,” Gay said. “The city needs to be on the side of its residents, as opposed to absentee landlords.”
Valez commented that Erin Stewart had not attended the walk-through. “We took a walk of the neighboorhood a couple of weeks ago, that the mayor did not attend because she was at a ribbon cutting ceremony. I took offense to that,” she said, “because she didn’t show face for us residents there after her father spoke in the manner that he did by calling us ‘inmates’.”