Erin Stewart, 26, Ousts New Britain Mayor Tim O’Brien

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NEW BRITAIN — Republican Erin Stewart swept to victory in the mayoral race Tuesday, signalling big changes ahead for city government after two years under the direction of Democrat Tim O’Brien.

Stewart’s victory likely means a return to split government; Stewart, a fiscal conservative, will be working with what appears to be a Democratic council, which her party has criticized as too liberal and free-spending.

The campaign was a bruising one, and had been building since O’Brien took office two years ago.

Right-wing bloggers in the 2011 campaign painted O’Brien as irresponsible and free-spending, and warned that he was sure to raise taxes. Instead, he held the tax rate stable in 2012 – and the bloggers’ rhetoric against him escalated. O’Brien imposed a series of new fees, however, including a landlord-licensing charge that infuriated dozens of rental property owners.

This year, O’Brien campaigned on a theme that the city is on the rise after years of poor leadership under Stewart’s father, former Mayor Timothy Stewart. O’Brien emphasized that he kept property taxes steady for two years while pumping long-needed money into the school system, and contended that he was fostering economic development and quality-of-life improvements.

Stewart argued that O’Brien has damaged the city with reckless spending and excessive borrowing. She accused his administration of secrecy and arrogance, and said residents should pay attention to their car taxes — which rose during the revaluation. Stewart pledged that if elected, she’s run a more transparent administration.

Democrats said Erin Stewart, 26, was too inexperienced and short on solid ideas.

By Don Stacom, Hartford Courant

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