NB Politicus

Trash Talk From Mayor Sets Wrong Tone At Start of New Term

Posted in city politics and government by nbpoliticus on November 14, 2009

Mayor Stewart began a new term this week with an official call for an “end to political warfare” between his office and the City Council, according to Courant coverage

And there was some high-minded rhetoric from Stewart to get things going:

“Today we stand at the threshold of becoming a new and exciting city, one that will be the centerpiece of central Connecticut — at the crossroads of prosperity and the future home of new and emerging workplaces for our citizens to grow and prosper. Our city has seen days of glory and days of decline, but surely our best days lie ahead of us.”

At Thursday’s first Council meeting Stewart urged civility, according to Jim Craven’s story in the Herald under the headline “Stewart Demands Civility“.

But Stewart’s admonitions to the Democratic City Council were quickly contradicted in a series of published quotes from the Mayor in both daily newspapers: Council leaders Phil Sherwood and Mike Trueworthy are “hacks” , “carpetbaggers” and “liars” who will obstruct his agenda over the next few years.

In a story by Don Stacom in the Courant, Stewart didn’t hold anything back:

“I don’t like Michael [Trueworthy], but I can talk with him. Phil Sherwood? He’s a carpetbagger and a partisan hack. I don’t like him and I don’t respect him — never did and never will,” Stewart said last week.

Stewart and Republicans call out Democrats on the Council for going after department heads and showing disrespect to developers; a questionable charge when it is the obligation of the Council to oversee budget and policy matters and to ask pointed questions when you are committing city resources to major investments. Democrats assert that the Mayor’s office is over the top in keeping a tight lid on public information that should be available to them.

The Mayor, perhaps realizing the discord his words were sowing, backtracked late in the week and “apologized” for remarks he attributed to the heat of the campaign. His verbal shots at Sherwood, however,(“nobody I would break bread with”) continued. And in a serious blow to mayor-council cooperation at the start of a new term, Stewart shut the door on regular meetings with Council leadership to work on city business.

At this early point in the new term, relations between the administration and council are no better off than they were during last spring’s budget debate and in the run up to the municipal campaign.

At the time New Britain Democrat observed:

Some observers may say that Stewart has to be on guard and keep his cards close to his vest all the time because of the dominance of Democrats on the Council. That assumes, however, there is not an ounce of good will from Democrats and that the partisan divide will never be bridged. But voters, who’ve opted for divided government in recent elections, want and expect their elected officials to end the campaign the day after the election and govern without partisan sniping at every turn. Politically, the Mayor has benefited from a “me against them” strategy; he may feel that partisanship is the winning strategy, even if that strategy is not always a good way to govern.

Sherwood and the Democrats issued their own calls for cooperation and appeared more surprised than angry at Stewart’s post-election diatribes.

“The challenges to the city are so severe and numerous. I don’t think we have to agree on everything, but we can be less suspicious of each other,” Sherwood told the Courant. Rep. Tim O’Brien, the Democratic mayoral nominee, issued a conciliatory statement pledging to continue work on the issues he raised in the campaign.

The Mayor’s intemperate remarks, perhaps fueled by Democrats’ continued dominance onthe Council, can’t help his administration nor the city amid a difficult recession and the “challenges” everyone agrees we face.

Although shuttle diplomacy is not often raised in local politics, the prospect of a continuing City Hall stalemate left one observer wondering if there are influential individuals outside of the process who could bring the Mayor and Council leadership into a room to get down to the business of governing and set aside the campaigning for a while.

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