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.
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.”
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.”
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.”