When Laura Hoydick was running for mayor of Stratford last year, she was reminded during a televised debate that town council meetings frequently erupted into shouting matches and it took less time for the state legislature and governor to agree on a budget than it took Stratford officials to sign off on their budget.
Since taking office as mayor in December, Hoydick has been eager to put Stratford’s obstreperous past behind and focus on a more positive political environment.
“It’s all about talking and building consensus and then getting things executed,” she said. “We got it right in Hartford, finally, and I’m glad we got it right in Stratford.”
Hoydick is a former commercial property manager at Station House Square LLC of Stratford and Winstanley Property Management LLC of New Haven as well as a two-time executive director of the Stratford Chamber of Commerce. She is now Stratford’s first woman mayor and only the third person to hold that title — the office of town manager was switched to a mayoral post in 2005.
A Republican, Hoydick scored an election victory with 5,738 votes, beating Democrat Stephanie Philips who received 5,126 votes and with petitioning candidate Sandra Zalik tallying 688 votes.
Hoydick succeeded John Harkins, a Republican who served two terms as mayor. She had previously succeeded Harkins in 2010 as state representative for District 120. Hoydick resigned from the legislature on Jan. 2.
“I felt that Stratford had so many great things going for it from the previous administration that the continuum needed to continue,” she said. “Our focus is economic development, job growth, tax base growth. There are some excellent projects already in the pipeline.”
And some are not in the pipeline, such as the vacant Army Engine Plant at 550 Main St., a 77-acre property along the Housatonic River that Hoydick described as the “800-pound gorilla in the room.”
Although it was closed in 1995, it is still owned by the U.S. Army and has yet to receive any cleanup funds for the contamination identified at the site. Hoydick is eager to get the property transferred from federal to town ownership, especially since it could bring in up to $12 million per year in new property taxes.
“That property was never on the tax rolls as far as real estate,” she said, adding that she envisioned a “multiuse” future for the site, which consists of three main buildings and 45 smaller structures. “It would be a great incentive for Stratford to get that project going.”
The Army Engine Plant is adjacent to Sikorsky Memorial Airport, which has an uncommon ownership; while physically located in Stratford, the airport is owned by the city of Bridgeport. The airport has been operating at a $500,000 annual deficit and recent efforts by Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim to sell the facility to the Connecticut Airport Authority came to naught. As with the Army Engine Plant, Hoydick did not have specific development plans for the airport, but instead offered the hope that the two municipalities can collaborate on improving its financial health.
“We are meeting with the mayor of Bridgeport on what his ideas and thoughts are for the airport,” she said. “It is an asset for us and, due to an agreement between Stratford and Bridgeport, any new development is tax revenue for Stratford because it is situated in Stratford.”
Hoydick praised her Bridgeport counterpart for coordinating several recent high-profile project proposals, including the MGM Bridgeport casino resort and a joint effort with New Haven to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to the Connecticut shoreline. “That’s exciting for us,” she said. “What’s more exciting for me is that we are working together, collaboratively, the two major cities and all of us in between.”
Within Stratford, Hoydick is considering the future of the former site of the Ella T. Grasso Regional Center, a state-run home for the severely developmentally disabled that closed last June after 34 years in operation and was conveyed to the town.
“There are opportunities there because it is near retail,” she said. “We could put a senior or veterans housing project there. It could be used for affordable housing because we need to increase our ratio so we are closer to the 10 percent of units needed in Stratford.”
During her campaign, Hoydick found that taxes were the major concern among Stratford residents. But she said there was no clear consensus among residents on whether the tax situation was too onerous or not a problem.
“There are some that feel that our taxes are not high and we need to raise our taxes and invest more in certain segments, specifically education,” she said. “And there are those within the senior population — about 20 percent of our population are seniors on a fixed income — who think our taxes are too high. I don’t know what chief elected officer is going to say that their taxes are perfect.”
Hoydick has also been the subject of increased attention from a parade of Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for governor. While she acknowledged having conversations with a number of candidates, she said it was far too early for her to give an endorsement. As for returning to Hartford some day to occupy the governor’s office, Hoydick laughed and swatted away the idea.
“Governor?” she exclaimed. “Me? No. Stratford is good.”