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Norwalk’s mayoral Dems square off for first time

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From left, Steve Serrasis and Common Councilman Matt Miklave listen to Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Harry Rilling explain his reasons for running for mayor.

NORWALK, Conn. – Development (or the lack thereof), sensible budgeting and the need for fresh ideas were on the docket Monday night as three of four Norwalk Democratic mayoral hopefuls stumped against each other in person for the first time.

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District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra says he has the qualities Norwalk’s next leader needs.

District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra talked of fresh ideas; Common Councilman Matt Miklave (District A) spoke passionately about “wonky” stuff, even if he knew he shouldn’t; former Norwalk Police Chief (now Zoning Commissioner) Harry Rilling took a hard swing at Republican Mayor Richard Moccia, saying 95/7 developers will likely sell their property rather than build on it.

All four candidates had been invited to the monthly meeting for District A, chaired by Councilman David Watts, who said, “The road to being mayor has to go through District A.” Former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel didn’t make it to face the small gathering due to a work commitment, Watts said.

Rilling went first. Moccia had been quoted in Saturday’s edition of The Hour as saying, “zoning officials should stick to zoning and not campaigning” in a story about Spinnaker Development’s attempt to get another extension for the long-stalled 95/7 project on West Avenue.

“I’m tired of seeing the holes in the ground,” Rilling said. “I know that in 2011 I attended four groundbreakings at the invitation of the developers. The only thing that’s happened since then is demolition of buildings, leaving gaping holes, and actually quite frankly, throwing some people out of town.”

He was referring to “virtually no taxes” coming from the wasteland at the intersection of I-95 and West Avenue, saying, “Maritime Motors, they could still be there, based on what’s happening.”

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Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling talks about development, saying, “We need to put all the stakeholders at the table, get the developers, the financial institutions together, the complete support of the mayor’s office and say what can we do to jump-start these programs?”

Rilling said the Hour’s story created a false impression. “I put the developer on the spot and said, ‘Tell me, what are you going to do in the next year? What are your plans for the next year?’ I know what his plans are. His plans are nothing. Quite frankly, folks, that development project is so far in the red that they’re never going to recover. They’re going to flip the property and they’re probably going to – I don’t even want to go there.”

Mangiacopra said he was inspired to run by the way things are done in Norwalk, which he has witnessed while “fighting on the front lines” for the last five years with the Norwalk Democratic party.

“What we are seeing out there isn’t a good representation of the kind of city we want to have. It gets uglier and uglier as the days go by, unfortunately,” he said.

Mangiacopra named four reasons he is the guy to take down Moccia: urgency, communication, leadership and advocacy.

He will bring the most urgency, he said, and work to communicate the positive things about Norwalk, not leave a negative impression in the minds of potential residents, as he said Moccia does. He can build a consensus, he said, and advocate for things like the Connectivity Plan. “We have the tools and we have the plans to go out there and be successful in this city,” he said.

He promised to be relentless. “I don’t want the job to cut the ribbons, I don’t want the job to go out there and be in the parades. I don’t feel I’m owed this job at all, but I tell you this, I want this job,” he said. “I feel I can be the best consensus builder, the best team builder, and make Norwalk’s future now.”

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Norwalk Common Councilman Matt Miklave talks about Performance Based Budgeting Monday night at City Hall.

Miklave said he got involved in Norwalk politics after deciding “it was up to us to take control of the future of this community,” after working to help formulate an education plan while Frank Esposito was mayor.

He said, “Good government is hard work. It’s not easy. It takes persistence, dedication and homework.”

Then came another swipe at Moccia.

“The other side, they’re not against education,” he said. “They’re not against economic development. They’re not against the things that we claim we’re in favor of, they just don’t know how to do them. They don’t have a plan to do them. That’s the shocking result of this administration.”

Budgeting “the old fashioned way” just doesn’t work, he said, promoting again an idea he “stole from very smart people,” Performance Based Budgeting.

“I know it’s wonky – I’ve been told I shouldn’t be talking about it because it’s too wonky – but it’s hard,” he said. “We can’t just tax ourselves into prosperity. We can’t raise property taxes to do the things we have to do. We have to put government on a track that’s going to generate the savings we need to make in order to fund our priorities.’

Again, he said, it won’t be easy.

“It’s hard work,” he said. “There isn’t one magic bullet. There are 350 million bullets we have to go through.”

12 comments

LWitherspoon March 19, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Interesting slip-up by Miklave:
“They’re not against the things that we CLAIM we’re in favor of…”
Does Miklave truly favor these things, or does he just claim to be in favor of them? If the former, why did he qualify the statement?

Bryan Meek March 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm

12 months ago, Miklave was in favor of cutting $5 million in post retirement benefits to fully fund the education’s request. He claims to know something the actuaries and GASB do not. A Mayor Miklave would lead the city into financial ruin. Besides his demonstrable fiscal irresponsibility, has anyone ever seen someone take 15 minutes to make simple points? That isn’t the kind of efficiency we need in the mayor’s office.

John March 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm

1. Harlem Shake is not the positve impression our mayor should leaving anywhere.

2. The Chief was all too “happy” on St. Paddy’s Day at the local watering hole

3. I support unions, but work as a lawyer to undercut them ….

Tim T March 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Andy
If you really want to be mayor you should have been at the event. I understand about work commitments however if you want your job to be mayor that excuse doesn’t fly. Truly the only one that should be mayor is Miklave as he has the education and experience. He is also not afraid to take on the big issues. .
We can see why we don’t want Rilling and that is called the failed NPD. We can see why we don’t want Moccia as that is called the disaster that is Norwalk, and Mangiacopra is just a kid.

Harold March 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Tim I again challenge you to find something other than age against Vinny. I know he is the youngest out of the group but I truly feel he has the drive and determination to lead us into the future. I recently spoke with a friend of mine that lives in Prospect Ct. I know the size of Prospect doesn’t compare to here but their first selectman was elected when he was 25 and they love the guy.

Anthony March 19, 2013 at 8:40 pm

The issue of age is a non issue. The mayor of the most economically prominent city in America, Pittsburgh, is 32 years old. Mangiacopra is good for this city, he’s a much needed breath of fresh air and he has the tools to be an effective leader if this city. Harry Riling will not bring solutions to this city because if he could, he would’ve already. He’s not an innovator but Mr. Mangiacopra seems to be someone on the pulse of Norwalk and is cutting edge. I love how he is giving the citizens an inside look at all his events and really personalizing his campaign.

Tim T March 19, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Harold/Anthony

We are in complete agreement that Moccia and Rilling are not the answer.

Also Harold the only issue that I have is his age and what I see as lack of any real experience. I just don’t see that he has had the life or professional experence at his age to be mayor . Yes other towns cities and Moccia urban centers have young mayors
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_youngest_mayors_in_the_United_States
However this is the exception and not the rule as you can see by the above link about 25 in total out of the tens of thousands of mayors in this country.
Also please tell me what great accomplishments Mangiacopra has had that justify putting his age and lack of experience aside.
When I say accomplishments I don’t mean what he says he is going to do or his twitter or facebook page, but what he has done in other positions that should sweep me or others off our feet.

oldtimer March 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm

No matter who gets elected, an awful lot of our business will be done by Moccia hires or appointees. It is hard to imagine Alvord, for example, changing how he does business under a new administration.

Don't Panic March 24, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Alvord and others will have to provide real accountability if subjected to Mr. Miklave’s performance based budgeting.

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