Stewart faces two incumbents
"If people elect me to the board, this town will change," he said in an interview Friday. "I'd never allow the town to be held back by a quiet few that run it."
Stewart is one of three candidates vying for two three-year seats in next week's election. He faces two incumbents: Acting vice chairman Donald Campbell, who's seeking a second term, and Jim Carroll, who seeks a third.
A native of Northville in New York state's Fulton County, he's a carpenter by trade, he's been with the Carpenters Local #291 in Albany, N.Y. for 30 years. He also has run a building inspection business.
Stewart said he came to Bennington some 13 years ago while working for a contractor involved in the construction of the Hampton Inn on Northside Drive. It's here he would meet his future wife, Jacqueline Boucher.
"I fell in love with her, sold my rental properties [in New York state] and moved here," he said.
"I liked the place, I fell in love with the town," Stewart said. "It was a fun place to be. But it had a lot of things that aren't here anymore.
Stewart lamented that businesses have since moved out of town. The relocation of Plasan North America to Michigan a few years ago, he said, was "the straw that broke the camel's back."
Today, Stewart says he needs to travel to the Capital Region for work. He's said he's spoken to people who "have never had to do that."
Stewart said he wants greater transparency in town government. He criticized town staff, in part Town Manager Stuart Hurd. He pointed to the issue of the salt shed.
"I'm a people person. I talk to everyone," Stewart said, adding that he's a "straight shooter." He continued: "People are sick and tired of the way the town is running. And everyone's afraid to say something."
Stewart, a Bradford Street resident, has vocally opposed the drawing of spring water from Morgan Spring. The town is under contract to sell water from the artesian spring near his residence and sells it to a bottling company. He's complained about idling trucks and traffic on the street and said the operation has led to his home losing thousands of dollars in value.
Stewart has been a vocal proponent of the town adopting a mayoral form of government. Voters on Tuesday will be asked to support that switch by ballot measure.
"We need a mayor, someone who will be held accountable for his actions," he said.
Select Board members are discussing proposed changes to the charter. A committee on that recommended the town manager be appointed for three-year terms and undergo a performance review annually.
Stewart said he supported that, but questioned why those policies weren't in place before. "All of a sudden it's a grand idea?"
Citing spending as a key issue, he said the town "needs to find ways to stop spending money" and to limit its debt.
And something more needs to be done to help local youth, he said.
"These kids have had enough of nothing," he said.
Regarding Tuesday's vote on the mayor question, he said: "I think the silent majority will rear its ugly head and show the town it needs a different direction."
The floor meeting will be held Monday at 7 p.m. in the River Street fire facility. Voting for local offices will take place Tuesday. Voting will take place at the firehouse. Residents of North Bennington vote at the village trustees' office on Depot Street. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Ed Damon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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