State Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-New Britain, is challenging four-term incumbent Erin Stewart for mayor of New Britain this November. Sanchez has chaired the General Assembly’s Education Committee, and previously served on the New Britain Board of Education.
Stewart won reelection handily, with 6,013 votes compared to Democrat Chris Porcher’s 3,592, and Independent Devione Tanksley’s 187.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Sanchez about why he’s running, and what his priorities would be if elected.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What inspired you to run for mayor?
I was born and raised in New Britain, and for four years, people have been asking me to run for mayor. I felt like I still needed some more time at the Capitol to accomplish things like making sure cities like New Britain were getting additional ECS funds. We were able to get an additional $9 million in ECS funds for New Britain in 2017, and in this last biennial budget, we were able to get an additional $8 million. There are also a number of school construction projects that we were able to get funding for, and each project is worth about $50 million, and the state will cover 95 percent of the cost, which was huge, and I worked hard and advocated for that.
Why did you feel like now was the time to run?
I felt like now was the time because the current administration was not being transparent with the people or even with their council members, especially the Democrats on the council. I didn’t see transparency there. The mayor talks a lot about bipartisanship, but when you look at council meetings and talk to council members on the Democratic side, they say there’s no transparency, we get left out of discussions, and the bipartisanship is all for show. That can’t happen. People have seen the work I’ve done as chair of education for the last two years, and the even ranking members will tell you that I listen to them. We all decide together what bills come out of committee, and that’s why over 98 percent of the bills out of education come out on consent with almost 100 percent backing on both sides. I want to bring that inclusiveness and transparency to New Britain.
What role can local government play in improving the education system in New Britain?
The education system in New Britain has been flat funded on the city side. I understand that money is not everything, and we also have to look at policies, but she does not have a good relationship with the current Board of Education and superintendent, and that’s not good for the health of our city. They’re not working together, and I think that comes from the top.
Would you raise taxes in New Britain to increase education funding?
The first thing would be to take a clear look at every line item in the budget. I’m sure that we’re going to find things that are not necessary when we look through it line by line. I think we can find some savings using money that’s already allocated. Most importantly, I would sit down with the superintendent, board of education, and unions, and discuss what needs to be done in New Britain. There are 169 towns, and we’re at the bottom. That’s unacceptable. If stakeholders want more students in the classroom, and we need to hire more teachers, we need to know what that will cost, and see where we can find the money to hire them. I don’t like the tax rate now. I pay property taxes now, and to me, they’re too high, so no, I wouldn’t raise taxes to fund education.
Juvenile justice has also been a major topic of discussion in the city. How would you address it?
Mayor Stewart went up to the Capitol to point fingers at us and say we’re not doing our job when it comes to the juvenile justice system, and used a man’s death to score political points, which is terrible. My question is, what policies can we put in place so that when a juvenile commits a crime, from the very beginning, we set them up with social services? Juvenile crime was going down before the pandemic, but then, kids were no longer going to school in person, and some did not even have access to the internet or Chromebooks at home.
When I was growing up in New Britain going to Jefferson Elementary, I remember that if I didn’t want to go home at 3:30, I could stay and play in the gym, or go to the music room, do arts and crafts, and or get tutoring. The school was open until 7 or 8 PM, and people took advantage of that. That was 50 years ago, and people say it went away because of the unions, but to me, that’s a poor excuse. If it’s a union issue, let’s sit down with the unions and find out how we can bring this back. If we can offer that to these kids, they will stay out of trouble.