NEW BRITAIN – After years of sitting on the political sidelines, former long-time New Britain Democratic Town Committee Chairman and 2015 mayoral candidate John McNamara is looking to make a comeback.
McNamara, who served as town committee chairman from 1994 to 2016, hasn’t held elected office for a decade, last serving as chairperson of the city’s Board of Assessment and Appeals in 2013. He also previously served as chairperson of the New Britain Building Commission.
The 73-year-old McNamara, who has lived in New Britain for nearly four decades, hasn’t run for elected office since his failed bid to unseat Republican Mayor Erin Stewart eight years ago. He has, however, remained attuned to the happenings in city government via columns and his writings for the New Britain Progressive, a left-leaning newspaper that has covered the city for seven years. He stopped writing about politics since he announced his intentions to run for the 15-member Common Council.
McNamara, who as party chairman would recruit candidates to run for various city offices, told CT Examiner this week that two issues finally convinced him to rejoin the fray this year and run for Ward 4 councilman. That ward, the second largest in the city, is in the northwestern part of New Britain near Central Connecticut State University and has more than 2,000 registered voters.
The first issue, McNamara said, was the low voter turnout in 2021, an off-year election. In that election, just 28 percent of the city’s registered voters cast a ballot, while the statewide average was about 32 percent. McNamara said he can reach voters in a ward system [the city previously had both ward and at-large candidates that had to canvas the entire city] easier and was a way “to better connect with people.”
“You do it [campaign] in a traditional way at the ward level – you do it by shoe leather, going door to door and reaching people one-on-one, and talking to them about issues like paying more attention to neighborhoods and property assessments and increased spending that is not going for services and the neighborhoods,” he said.
It’s also cheaper and more viable to run in a specific ward, as opposed to at-large, McNamara said. He said he expects to spend about $5,000 on his council campaign; it would have cost about triple that to run for the council citywide, he said.
The second issue, McNamara said, revolved around a ballot question on the 2022 charter referendum, specifically the section that called for the appointment of a chief operations officer who would report directly to the mayor and be responsible for the daily management of certain city functions.
The measure passed last year by about 700 votes. The position, which has an annual salary of $150,000, is currently vacant.
“People simply didn’t know what they were voting on, which is a transparency issue,” McNamara claimed.
Although Stewart supported the proposal and put it on the agenda, McNamara told CT Examiner that, ultimately, it was up to the Republican-led council to explain it.
“The Common Council created a question – a vague question – that fundamentally alters the system of government without telling the voters what it was,” McNamara argued.
McNamara said the chief operations officer job is not needed and “is an example of more unnecessary spending, and the job, in a nutshell, is to perform the duties of the mayor.”
He said Stewart, who is seeking her sixth two-year term, is popular among voters and continues to win elections in the blue-collar city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one, in part, because, “People see these cranes in the air and they see a lot of state and federal money has come in, and she’s taken advantage of that.”
McNamara also said Stewart often attends and promotes “glitzy, attention-grabbing projects.”
In a Monday statement to CT Examiner, Stewart did not address McNamara’s direct concerns, but said, “There are about 50 individual candidates running for public office this election cycle, so I will say what I say to each of them: Good luck!”
McNamara said winning a seat on the council “is doable.” He said he knocks on about 120 doors a week, with the goal of knocking on every door in his ward and speaking to residents before the Nov. 7 general election.
McNamara is a former reporter in both Connecticut and his native Massachusetts, who created the NBPoliticus blog in 2006, which covers political news in New Britain. He most recently served as the institutional advancement director at Hartford-based Capital Community College. McNamara left that post in February 2022.