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Dem mayor candidates hard to pin down on issues

Update: 5:41 p.m. Monday, July 22: Candidate Harry Rilling contacted NancyOnNorwalk and promised his responses would be forthcoming, likely by Wednesday.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Norwalk Democratic Town Committee couldn’t make up its mind about who it would back to run for mayor against Republican Richard Moccia this fall, but NancyOnNorwalk tried, with mixed results, to nail down the candidates on some issue-related questions.

It wasn’t easy.

It took a month and three requests, but two of the candidates – Vinny Mangiacopra and Matt Miklave – responded. We waited until 12:30 Monday morning for Harry Rilling and Andy Garfunkel to come through. If they do respond, we will bring you their answers. But, for now, we’ll start with Mangiacopra and Miklave answering the first two questions — the first about the current budget, the second about the recent extension given to the POKO development on Wall Street.

Question 1

Looking at the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year, what would you have done differently? Are there areas you see that could have been cut? Would you have reallocated money to other departments/projects? Please be specific. We all know you think the Norwalk taxpayers are beleaguered, that property taxes are too high and city services are not good enough. But we need specifics.

Answers

“My first step would be a communications and energy efficiency audit and seek to cut utility heating, lighting, fuel and phone costs to save hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mangiacopra said. “It’s a smart, easy and efficient way for the city to save money for years to come and be more environmentally conscious.

“In addition,” he said, “there needs to be a review of the public works services to seek reductions in contractual expenses. We need to seek ways to modify and reduce overtime costs, working with the unions in consensus-building ways. Calling any union contract a budget buster is the wrong way to conduct business. I am concerned that the current administration is too reliant on one shots and fiscal gimmicks on the revenue side, such as tax collection rate estimates. The next mayor is likely to inherit those problems.”

Mangiacopra also laid out a plan to review all parts of the budget annually in a bid to eliminate inefficiencies.

“The review would consist of meeting with every department and every level of staff,” he said. “After meeting with the departments we will conduct an intensive review in which we:

• Re-evaluate how the department or program achieves its stated goal

• Specify which departments or programs are producing results but are in need of
improvement; specify which departments or programs are out of date and no
longer serving a pressing need

• Identify work that is being done by multiple departments or programs in order to
weed out duplication of work and eliminate waste

• Re-assess staffing levels based on needs and stated goals of department or
program

• Determine the quality service to city residents

• Assess status of communication between department heads and staff as well as
inter-departmental communication

He said the findings would be presented to an appointed, non-partisan citizen panel charged with recommending implementation of findings.

Miklave said the 2013-2014 operating budget could have been much worse had the city not won “a one-time favorable arbitration award under the teacher contract. We will not be able to rely on that one-time fix next year,” he said.

“We have to hold the line on further tax increases,” he said. “We have to implement the common core curriculum. We have to develop a jobs creation plan that supports local entrepreneurs and innovators. We have to invest more resources to combat violent and quality of life crime. And we have to fix our infrastructure.

“In the short term, the amount the city sets aside for future retiree health care benefits (called “OPEB”) must be included in any budget solution, among other one-time fixes.”

Question 2

POKO’s Wall Street development just got another six-month performance extension despite major grumbling by some Zoning Commission members. Given the misgivings of said members and the history of extensions, would you push to keep the project alive if nothing has happened in six months, or would you lead the charge to pull the plug and go back to square one?

Answers

“It surprises me that some developers and projects (95/7 or Waypointe) seem to receive endless extensions and subsidies while the constant focus of this administration remains the POKO development,” Miklave said. “I believe in making development a level playing field.”

While not directly addressing the POKO situation, he wrote, “To the extent that reasonable extensions of time are all that is needed to allow the developer to complete the project in a reasonable time horizon, then I would favor extending the deadlines. However, to the extent a developer is unable to present evidence that a further investment in time will result in a completed project, then I would lead the charge to consider alternatives including reopening the development process to allow other developers to compete.”

Mangiacopra met the POKO question head-on.

“A quick browse of POKO’s website reveals other ‘stalled’ projects that are moving slowly or going nowhere. It seems as if nothing outside of New York City is going forward,” he said. “POKO has had years to get this project up and running. At every turn, it has shown an inability to make it work. Moreover, its program of overbuilding condos is passé and outdated. POKO has promised and over-promised. When I’m elected I will immediately seek to modify or pull the plug on this deal and seek a new request for a proposal for a more logical and reasonably sized complex.”

See the candidates’ complete answers in the attachments below.

Vinny Mangiacopra responses

Matt Miklave responses

 

10 comments

NorwalkLifer July 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

This ought to put some of those doubters who question Vinny’s experience to rest. His answers are more thorough and direct than Matt “I have a plan” Miklave’s.

And of course Rilling didn’t answer.. what’s he running on? Haven’t heard a platform from him at any point.

Bruce Kimmel July 22, 2013 at 9:36 am

The answers to question 1 on the budget boil down to this.
.
Mangiacopra: Implement a communications and energy audit and review the workings of various departments. We do both of these already.
.
Miklave: Don’t rely on one-shot deals and make our contributions to the federally required fund for the healthcare costs of retires a budget issue. We don’t rely on one-shot deals, but when they happen, why complain. And the city already makes its annual OPEB contribution a part of the yearly budget discussion.
.
Nothing specific. But more importantly, we’re already doing what they suggest.

M Allen July 22, 2013 at 9:43 am

These are non-answers intended to make you think they have a broader plan. Its like saying balance the federal budget by ending all foreign aid. Drop in the bucket solutions that solve nothing.

Piberman July 22, 2013 at 9:46 am

Norwalk Mayoral campaigns traditionally have been weak on campaign issue and specifics but focusing on like ability and personality. No one believes any of the candidates have either the experience or moxie to restrain spending or bring in new administrative talent. The smart monies are focusing on the next election when the Republicans will be seeking to extend their decades long control over Norwalk with the heir apparent. Meanwhile those concerned with “tax and spend” are voting with their feet and putting “for sale” signs up. So while its commendable that Nancy has asked the candidates their views on the budget most of us understand the lack of specifics in their replies reflect their initial very limited experience in either business or management. Their is no prior example among large CT cities where 4 opposition candidates wrested control from a long standing hedgemony of control. Hopefully one of the candidates will be “battle tested” and ready two years hence. Again, maybe not since the Party seems destined to remain dysfunctional as far as we can see.

loveforthecity July 22, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Bruce Kimmel just got endorsed by the Republicans and of course all he has is negative comments about Dems. This guy is a joke, Bruce stay home this election. No one wants to hear your bs anymore. You are part of the Moccia Administration that has Norwalk stagnant. A Moccia soldier. Opps, I forgot Bruce thinks he is the smartest man in the room all the time, so he has to have his say. You and McCarthy love the blogs, get a life!

jlightfield July 22, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Sadly it is the collective “market wisdom” of successive common council members that have delayed, stalled and otherwise obstructed not just the POKO development on Wall Street, but 95/7 on West Ave.

Let’s have a real conversation about why Stamford, New Canaan, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield and Westport have managed to build new developments despite the recession. In the case of Stamford, zoning, parking and public works policy is aligned and on the same page. Political leadership in Stamford works to obtain funds for infrastructure projects that create utility and transportation upgrades in order for developers to build buildings that “just plug in.” Similar stories in the other towns.

Norwalk’s successive political leaders, and this goes back decades, somehow think that developers should bear all costs for infrastructure improvements like water mains, electrical grids and of course roads. Money obtained by grants is used to hire consultants to write plans that each cycle gets rejected in favor of a newer plan. It’s insanity.

Until a discussion about electrical grids, sewer, water and fibre gets a serious investment by the city, Norwalk will forever chase the surrounding towns with little to offer in incentives to develop and challenges with how to pay for existing maintenance of these services as it is.

LWitherspoon July 22, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Mark,
I applaud you asking the candidates for specifics on what they would have done differently in the most recent budget.
.
I’m extremely disappointed that neither candidate who responded answered your question with the specifics you requested. What are they hiding? Or is it simply the case that after all the talk of change, there isn’t actually anything that they would have done differently?
.
Adding insult to injury is Mr. Miklave, who professes the need to hold the line on tax increases and in the same breath proceeds to list a bunch of items on which he would like to spend money. Why won’t he tell us how he intends to pay for all that spending while at the same time holding the line on tax hikes?

NorwalkDinosaur July 22, 2013 at 11:54 pm

@Bruce Kimmel, two years caucusing with a Republican mayor and a Republican led Common Council. Stop blaming and criticizing other people. If you’re so damned smart why haven’t you influenced your majority caucus and Republican mayor to follow your “Silver Bullet” ideas that you seem to have but refuse to share.

NorwalkDinosaur July 23, 2013 at 12:00 am

@Bruce Kimmel, my taxes have gone up every year that you have been on the Common Council. Must be Mangiacopra, Rilling, Garfunkel and Brown’s fault. All those nasty D’s who have absolutely zero Legislative power in Norwalk… Oops…

NorwalkVoter July 23, 2013 at 10:31 am

@Mark
Could you please correct your spelling/language in this sentence above?
“If they do respond, we will bring you there answers.”

(Editor’s note: Thank you for calling this to our attention. The typo as been fixed.)

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

About Nancy

Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.