By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – The disruption of election-related activity for what one Common Council member said is the second year in a row has resulted in a complaint filed by the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee (NDTC) with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Voter suppression and discrimination tactics by Mayor Richard Moccia and Department of Public Works officials is alleged in the complaint, which was filed Monday, NDTC Chairwoman Amanda Brown said in a statement.
North Main Street and Taylor Avenue were closed for paving Nov. 6 – Election Day – thereby impeding people in the largely Democratic South Norwalk district from getting to the polls, said Ward B Chairman Bobby Burgess, who supported the action taken by the NDTC.
“I got quite a few complaints,” he said. “ … I understand some of them had a hard time getting there. If you look at it, if you block off the two main arteries, you have to go through a lot of side streets to get to the poll and I think that’s unfair. Absolutely, I would believe that some people didn’t get to the poll. They were frustrated and they went home.”
Neither Moccia nor DPW Director Hal Alvord responded to an email requesting comment. Moccia is quoted in The Hour as saying that voter turnout in District B was good and “Democrats did well.”
“Just because the Democrats won most of the races in the 2012 election, it doesn’t necessarily prove that the physical impediments put into place by this administration did not hinder a single voter,” Brown said in an email. “In a democratic society, every single vote matters. It is a grand assumption that no negative consequences occurred due to the construction activity.”
Common Council Minority Leader Warren Peña compared the incident to a disruption of a 2011 press conference for Andy Garfunkel’s mayoral campaign. “As soon as we crossed the street from (Democratic headquarters) on Wall Street, (to go stand) in front of Ganga Duleep’s building, a huge white truck parked in front of us and blocked us so that traffic would not be able to see what we were doing,” he said in an email. “On top of that, they had construction people there making loud noises that we had to yell/ scream when reading our statements. As soon as we finished the press conference, the truck and construction folks left.”
Getting in and out of the Democratic headquarters on North Main Street this year was a “nightmare,” Peña said.
“I don’t know if these two incidents were pre-planned, but it is too much of a coincidence that something strange goes on in front of Democratic headquarters for two years in a row,” he said. “Most people coming in and out of headquarters this past November felt the mayor did it on purpose. The mayor has been in office for eight years now. He should have known better.”
Moccia said in The Hour that he was notified about the situation by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes. Himes spokesperson Elizabeth Kerr said Wednesday that the mayor had responded to a tweet Himes sent out.
Himes retweeted something from Peña: “Moccia n Hal Alvord – block off Dem HQs by paving the entire North Main Street f Washington to West Ave. No access #chaosVOTERSUPPRESSION”
Contacted by email on Nov. 7 about the comment, Kerr said, “I don’t think there’s a story here. It wasn’t voter suppression. It was a campaign headquarters, not a polling place.”
Brown said, “The city needs to explain why they chose to close down a heavily trafficked arterial road in SoNo on Election Day. The traffic congestion was massive and there was no recourse provided by the city to ensure that alternative routes were available to alleviate some of the congestion. Poor planning was done before, during and after the construction. This is not our fault, we did not instigate this complaint, we are just responding to it so that it does not happen again.”
“I am quite sure they could have found another day to pave the roads in South Norwalk,” Burgess said. “I don’t care what anybody says, we shouldn’t put up any kind of blocks because we are trying to make sure people exercise their right to vote. Depressing that vote disturbs me.
“I applaud the action of the Democratic party filing the complaint to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” he continued. “Whether it was designed or it was a mistake, I want to make sure people will be conscious to the sensitivity to people coming out to vote. There should be no obstruction put in the way. I think it was just a poor choice of the administration doing that on Election Day.”