As mayor of a racially diverse and overwhelmingly Democratic city, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart has kept her distance from President Trump — until Wednesday. She visited the Oval Office to publicize tax incentives available to investors in struggling communities designated as Opportunity Zones.
“When the White House calls,” she said Wednesday in a Tweet, “you go.”
But Stewart, 30, whose profile has grown as a millennial exploring a run for governor or other statewide office in Connecticut this year, quickly drew criticism from the state Democratic Party — and found herself engaging with an unscripted president who delivered a zinger over General Electric moving its headquarters from Fairfield to Boston.
Stewart told the president that Opportunity Zones could “transform” communities and lives.
The president asked how she felt about GE leaving Connecticut.
She sighed loudly.
“That was not a good day,” Trump said.
Democrats, who see Trump as a galvanizing force for them in the 2018 elections, said Stewart’s presence in the Oval Office bars her from continuing to talk about her distance from the president.
“Erin Stewart has made it clear that she will show up when the White House calls and ignore glaring problems in the administration when they do,” the party said. “As President Trump works to dismantle health care, block women’s access to contraceptives, and roll back LGBT rights, Erin Stewart will stay silent.”
In an interview in November, Stewart told CT Mirror she was not worried about Democratic efforts to use Trump or his administration to energize Democrats in opposition to her re-election race, which she won handily.
“I have no ties to them, and I’ve been pretty outspoken about not supporting Trump and about not supporting or being in favor of a lot of what he’s done and his approach,” Stewart said. “If I was out there wearing ‘Go Trump’ stuff, I’m sure that they would be using that against me. But I haven’t been. I never have been.”
Stewart has developed a working relationship with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat set to leave office next January after eight years as governor and 14 as the mayor of Stamford. She is one of the few Republicans who has defended CTfastrak, the bus-rapid transit system the Malloy administration built between Hartford and New Britain.
The dedicated busway has sparked developer interest in New Britain, she said.
Stewart also shrugged off criticism from some Republicans about her enthusiasm over President Obama’s visit to New Britain in 2014 to give a speech at Central Connecticut State University promoting a higher minimum wage, an issue anathema to the state GOP.
Her working relationship with Malloy could play a role in determining whether her city can capitalize on the Opportunity Zones she helped Trump publicize Wednesday. The program is backed by the White House, but the selection of participating communities will be left to the governors.
Jason Novak, a spokesman for Malloy, said New Britain will get a close look.
“We’re going to be working with the municipalities to try to help capture these federal dollars, and New Britain will be one of the towns we’ll be working with,” Novak said. “A lot of census tracts could qualify, but we’ll be talking to New Britain.”
Nationally, about 41,000 census tract will meet the qualification for the tax incentives as Opportunity Zones, the White House says.
This story include a White House pool report.