By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – There was no Election Day conspiracy to tie South Norwalk traffic in knots, the director of the department of public works says. In fact, the mayor did not even know the paving was going on, he said.
DPW chief Hal Alvord said he made the decision to pave North Main Street on Tuesday, Nov. 6, which led to a complaint filed with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission last week by the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee. Although the complaint alleges voter suppression by both Mayor Richard Moccia and “governmental officials in public works,” Alvord said the timing had more to do with Connecticut Restaurant Week, Superstorm Sandy and falling temperatures than the location of polls and the Democratic Town Committee (NDTC) headquarters.
“Nobody was kept from voting,” he said. “In fact, we were busting our tail the week before that making sure we could get could get roads open, and the power company got power on to all of the polls in the city. Why this is even (an issue) beats me.”
The complaint says, “(I)t is unfair that eligible voters in the District B area were hindered from free access to the polls,” by work on both North Main Street and Taylor Avenue.
“It was imprudent for the mayor and his direct reports to initiate any municipal projects on Election Day that would obstruct the major roadways in SoNo and greatly impact the accessibility and mobility of voters” said NDTC Chairwoman Amanda M. Brown in a statement.
District B Chairman Bobby Burgess agreed it was a problem and he supported the NDTC complaint. Burgess said he got complaints from voters and called U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich), who contacted Moccia.
The city wasn’t doing work on Taylor Avenue, Alvord said, adding that Yankee Gas might have been over there. North Main Street had been milled and the catch basins had been replaced, Alvord said. It couldn’t be left that way through the winter.
The SoNo paving had originally been planned for the night of Oct. 21-23, but that changed when area businesses were contacted, he said.
“We were going to try and do that at night. We wanted to avoid impact to the businesses during the day,” he said. “On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night, the movies, the restaurants, their business is way down. So we would have less impact doing it at night on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. That was the plan.
“I went to (Director of Business Development and Marketing) Tad Diesel to ask Tad to help us get information to all the businesses in SoNo what the plan was because we can do fliers, but he’s got contacts through the Chamber of Commerce and everything else with the businesses in the area. He agreed to help. He started to talk to the businesses, and the restaurants immediately said you can’t do it that week, that’s National Restaurant Week.”
There was a meeting with Diesel, Moccia and Alvord. According to Alvord, “The mayor said, ‘Let’s leave Restaurant Week alone,’ you know, ‘Let’s give the restaurants their chance, let’s plan on doing it the week of Halloween.’ Well, of course then, unfortunately on the 29th, Superstorm Sandy.”
He continued, “We couldn’t pave in the middle of a hurricane so we put it off for another week. By the time we got a lot of the roads open and everything else, then we had this monster snow squall, and the temperatures dropped below freezing. You can’t lay asphalt in freezing temperatures, so I made the decision, get it done in the daytime.’
Paving has always been done on Election Day, he said, all over the city, weather permitting.
“We had to get it done; the temperatures were dropping,” he said. “I couldn’t leave the street like that through the winter. It would have been a real disaster for our snow plows and everything else, so we paved it that week. I didn’t even know, not that they care or believe me anyway, but I had no idea there was any kind of political office on the street. Didn’t have a clue.”
The last Moccia had heard about it was the meeting in October, he said.
“The mayor didn’t even know we were paving down there that day, On Election Day he got a call, I think from Jim Himes, asking him – hey, was he aware. The mayor called me frantically in the morning, going, ‘Hey, Hal, what the hell is going on?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re paving, mayor.’ He said, ‘Well, I got this call from Jim Himes. Can you get those guys off the street?’ ‘Well, they’re laying asphalt now, I can’t stop them in the middle of it.’ ‘But, can they finish up quickly?’ I said, ‘We’ll get them as quickly as I can.’ I think they were out of there like 2:30 or so.”