NEW BRITAIN – Disillusioned with the two-party system in New Britain, four city residents – including three long-time politicians of major parties – are now running for alderman as Independent Party candidates.
This marks the first time in the city’s history that the Independent Party has run candidates in a municipal election.
Claiming the Democratic and Republican parties in New Britain no longer represent the people of the city, Jim Sanders Jr. and his sister, Gayle Sanders-Connolly – both Republicans who come from a family that has served the party for decades – have joined forces with long-time Democratic political leader Paul Catanzaro and Luz Ortiz Luna.
Ortiz Luna, a relative newcomer to the local political scene, was previously registered as Independent until she was elected to serve as alderman on Mayor Erin Stewart’s Republican slate in 2021. She has since returned to the Independent Party.
Sanders, Sanders-Connolly and Ortiz Luna all claim that Stewart, who has served as mayor since 2013 and is the daughter of four-term Republican Mayor Timothy Stewart, runs an administration that lacks transparency and openness.
They also claim the 36-year-old Stewart and her administration don’t tolerate resistance, disagreements or opposition well.
“They don’t want independent thinkers. They don’t want people that disagree with their agenda or even disagree with one, two or three ideas. You are either on board with them or you are not,” said 51-year-old Sanders, who has served on the Common Council, the Board of Education, as constable and as a civil service commissioner. “Erin doesn’t want resistance from anyone. They have weaponized City Hall.”
Sanders said he received strong pushback from the administration after voting on several bond restructuring projects, among other items. Sanders claims that “sitting aldermen have been told they have to go through the mayor’s office to get information from department heads, and that’s not how it is supposed to work. That is totally inappropriate. There is also zero transparency as the police don’t even report crime in the city any more.”
Sanders and other Independent Party candidates also complain that that information on local police crimes and stats must be made via a Freedom of Information Commission request.
New Britain Police Chief Matt Marino did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Stewart referred all comments to New Britain Republican Town Committee Chairman Tremell Collins who said, “The transparency of the mayor’s office is commendable, and it is essential to acknowledge that even if one may not agree with certain decisions, they are made with a long-term vision for the city’s benefit. Mayor Erin Stewart’s dedication to the city, where she lives and raises her own family, underscores her commitment. … It is inevitable that not everyone will be pleased with every decision made, but the administration’s ability to unite the city and foster economic development is commendable. Being elected for over a decade is a testament to the positive impact they have had on the city and its residents.”
Sanders-Connolly, a current Republican school board member who has also served as chair and president of the Finance, Facilities and Transportation Committee, claims that aldermen now “blindly sign petitions and resolutions based on requests from the mayor’s office. They are doing it reluctantly, for fear of retribution.”
The four candidates agree that the two major parties are not what they used to be.
“I have been disillusioned [with the two-party system in the city] for maybe a year or two,” Sanders-Connolly told CT Examiner. “I feel a little politically homeless. I don’t think I necessarily align with the Republicans or the Democrats.”
Sanders said, “People have had it with both sides, the far left and the far right.”
Ortiz Luna, 36, said she had wanted to run on Stewart’s slate again this year, but had lost all hope of nomination after, she claims, the administration learned she donated $50 to Democratic mayoral candidate Angel Segarra.
“I didn’t know he was running for mayor. He was an alderman and close friend of the family so I just thought he was running for alderman again,” said Ortiz Luna, noting she donated more to Stewart. “The mayor found about [about the donation] and they used that against me and took my endorsement back.”
The whole episode turned Ortiz Luna off to the local party.
“People are just getting tired of both parties,” she said. “I wanted to be with the Independent Party so I can vote how I want without feeling pressure.”
Collins’ did not directly address Ortiz Luna’s claim, but told CT Examiner that the RTC “was rigorous and thorough” when choosing candidates to run for city office. “We conducted interviews to assemble the best team possible. … Mayor Stewart deliberately stayed out of the process, allowing the town committee to make the final decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, Catanzaro has served as constable, an alderman and a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Tax Review. He has run on Democratic slates and as a Democrat on Stewart’s Republican slate. He also caucuses with Republicans.
Cantanzaro said he believes the “two-party system is broken” and that he’d been thinking of running as a third-party candidate for some time.
“The two-party system has become fragmented,” he said. “Years ago, you could cross the aisle to work together; today you can’t do that. The Independent Party is a middle-of-the-road party.”
The 67-year-old Catanzaro, who is retired from his 25-year career with the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, said he plans to vote for Stewart for mayor in November.
“I just want to run to give people another choice,” he said in explanation of why he is running for alderman as an Independent.
Catanzaro, who has been on the outs with the Democratic Party, said things came to a head about 12 years ago when he supported an aldermanic vacancy for someone other than the DTC’s preferred candidate.
“The next day, they [Democratic Town Committee] had social media posts saying I was one of several aldermen in a Wall of Shame,” he said. “I thought it was silly and childish, but it let me know who they really were.”
DTC Chair and mayoral nominee Chris Anderson told CT Examiner that he was not town committee chair when the Wall of Shame was posted and declined to comment.
“As a lifelong Democrat, I fully support any citizen’s right to participate in the democratic process,” Anderson said.
All four Independent candidates said they’d make transparency and ethics in government the cornerstones of their respective campaigns, They also said issues like taxes and education were high on their list of priorities.
Sanders said, if elected, he’d support a “forensic audit of the books of the city,” while Sanders-Connolly said she’d support more funding for education and teachers.
The candidates still need to gather signatures to qualify for the November ballot by Aug. 9.