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Mangiacopra: Zoning changes needed, along with new eyes on budget

Norwalk Democratic mayoral debate 061713 045

Democratic District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra said current zoning regulations make it likely that Norwalk’s latest big box store application will be approved.

NORWALK, Conn. – Democratic mayoral hopeful Vinny Mangiacopra says he doesn’t want more big box development in Norwalk, but it’s not just a matter of saying “no.” He says “new eyes” are needed on the budget to give Norwalk the most bang for its buck, and that Norwalk’s “divisive” culture needs to be changed.

The 31-year-old Democratic Party candidate for mayor made the statements while responding to a series of questions from NancyOnNorwalk.com during a trip to the Greek Festival over the weekend. The same questions were put to the other three Democratic candidates – Andy Garfunkel, Matt Miklave and Harry Rilling. Garfunkel’s responses can be found here.

The big box store question has gotten a lot of attention recently because of the controversial plan to build a BJ’s Wholesale Club on North Main Avenue. The plan has drawn fire in some quarters because of the size of the building, the size of the lot and fears of increased traffic congestion. In addition, several people have spoken out against continued big box development citing their lack of value to the grand list.

None of that matters as things are currently constructed, Mangiacopra said.

“I really wish we could go out there and actively pursue better projects around town,” he said. “Unfortunately, we get put in the predicament here where we have to settle for what’s presented to us. There’s no aggressive outreach from the leadership of this city to get out there and bring business to town. … We have to have this turf battle – do we want Lowe’s, do we want BJ’s?”

Mangiacopra said he would like to see a more diversified tax base, but the city is locked in by its current zoning regulations, which allow big box stores.

“We can’t discriminate on it. If you want to fundamentally change the vision of the city or complexion of the city, then you’ve got to do the hard work, and the hard work is changing the regulations,” he said. “That’s one of the two things I want to do right away – adjust the regulations, because I feel that it’s hindering us from going forward. And that’s not just me talking – it’s business people, developers. We’re meeting with stakeholders every day and they tell us that it’s a problem.”

Another story that gained traction recently regarded committee and commission appointments. Some argue that citizens appointed to certain boards should bring some expertise to the table, while others say citizens with no special qualifications are perfectly capable of understanding complex issues and making important decisions.

“I think you need a combination of both” types of members, Mangiacopra said. “You need qualified people for certain things, but by no means do we want to discourage people from being active and wanting to serve. We need more people no matter what to get involved with government no matter what their backgrounds are.” Mangiacopra said his trying to reach out and get more people engaged and involved. He said he wants to “have an environment where we can attract professionals” in addition to average citizens to serve Norwalk.

When it comes to the budget, some NancyOnNorwalk readers have complained that none of the candidates have given specific items they would have cut in the 2013-14 budget to hold down the tax rate. But Mangiacopra said it isn’t that easy. He said the problem is the same people have been looking at things the same way for too long.

“No matter who’s elected mayor, you have to get new eyes looking at the budget,” he said. “We want to make sure we have news eyes, new priorities set. We have a pot of money. We have a handful of guys who are crafting the vision and the path year in and year out. The mayor, the president of the Common Council, who’s a Republican, Fred Wilms, whoever’s on the Board of Ed – however it is they work it – and Tom Hamilton. We have a handful of guys that decide the direction and the course of the budget. They tell the mayor which direction to go. They direct the mayor’s course on the budget.”

The candidate weighed in on a recent report that the Norwalk Housing Authority is making a play to take over Norwalk’s Head Start program from embattled Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON).

“NEON needs to get their fiscal house in order, to make sure they’re abiding by all the regulations that they are contractually obligated to” set by the state and federal governments, he said. But “no matter how it shakes out, I’m all for whoever can provide those services … whether it’s the housing authority, whether it’s a new direction over at NEON. I’m going to support whichever entity winds up” running the program. I met with housing authority. They have a plan, a good collection of people. I’m sure NEON does as well.”

Mangiacopra said he has some extra insight into the importance of the early childhood education program.

“My wife’s a kindergarten teacher,” he said. “You can tell the difference between a kid who’s prepared and one that’s not prepared. Studies have shown that you can start from behind in kindergarten. We set our kids up to be at an extreme disadvantage when we’re not taking advantage of these opportunities to give them a head start like it’s purposed for.”

NEON’s outgoing interim president and CEO Patricia Wilson Pheanious recently said she thinks Mayor Richard Moccia is out to destroy the agency, but Mangiacopra said he does not believe that is the case.

“I don’t think mayor wants to destroy NEON,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the mayor’s intent. … I think he’s frustrated by the activity that’s been going on there for a long time, and I think that it’s a frustration that a lot of people share across party lines. When you’re frustrated you say and you do things that give people the impression that you’re against them.”

Mangiacopra was referring to a series of audits that have turned up financial irregularities in NEON’s books, including misused federal grants that must be paid back. The problems helped lead to the ouster of former president and CEO Joe Mann.

“People want that organization to succeed. I want those neighborhoods in South Norwalk to be successful,” Mangiacopra said. “I want those kids who come out of there, and come out of the Head Start program, to go on and not only be good citizens and get a good education, but value that they’re from Norwalk and have a sense of pride about and want to come back here and want to give back to our community.”

There have been some complaints about negative campaigning, and how it could affect the eventual candidate in the November election. There were anonymous complaints to NancyOnNorwalk that Mangiacopra’s campaign had used a “push poll,” a phone poll with questions designed to plant negative messages about the competition. The question brought a sharp response.

“I think that’s a farce. That wasn’t a push poll. And Harry (Rilling) just did one. He did the same thing. You should ask him the same questions (we did; his responses will come later this week).”

Mangiacopra said the polls are necessary to make sure a candidate’s message is getting through, and to see what might need a boost. But he also indicated that pointing out what he sees as weaknesses in his Democratic competition is not off the table.

“I’m happy to talk about my record,” he said. Mangiacopra’s record includes making a documentary for former state Sen. Ernie Newton’s campaign after Newton served four years in a federal prison on corruption charges. Newton was trying to regain the seat e had held for 18 years when Mangiacopra made the film about his rehabilitation. Newton was later charged again.

“Some candidates haven’t had that exposure,” he said. The voters “need to be reminded about people’s records. … I don’t consider those negative. Don’t think that will hurt” the (Sept. 10 Democratic) primary winner against Moccia in November.

Mangiacopra said he wants to find a way out of the negativity surrounding Norwalk politics.

I’m trying to get out of that in this campaign,” he said. “It’s a divisive culture, pits one entity against another and what happens is we still get stuck in the mud. Positive – that’s kind of mayor I want to be.”

16 comments

EveT August 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I see two reasons for concern. 1. Vinny laments the divisive culture, yet his answers to these questions and many of the messages of his campaign are divisive. 2. It was only a year ago that Vinny was hooked up with Ernie Newton, touting the message of “redemption” to Bridgeport voters. Sure, everybody makes mistakes, but what kind of judgment does it show to take a job with the campaign of a politician who just got out of prison after being convicted of financial improprieties?

I do not see in Vinny the kind of personality or the kind of career experience that Norwalk needs for its next mayor.

Dennis DeManis August 27, 2013 at 12:26 pm

The Chief can’t beat Moccia because voters will choose the geezer they know over the geezer they don’t know.

Kid Vinny, however, might prevail if nominated. He needs to clear the air regarding Newton.

NorwalkLifer August 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Wow, my favorite thing about Vinny is that he talks like a normal person and is straightforward but clearly has the understanding on politics and city issues.
..
@rburnett can you be specifc? if i’m correct you’re supporting harry – the guy who supported Moccia in 2011? give me a break.

Unbiased August 27, 2013 at 1:29 pm

@D(ysfunctional)TC It just sounds to be like he’s letting the BPT accent out. That is where he’s from isn’t it?

Bill Wrenn August 27, 2013 at 1:53 pm

How about some more specific answers, like what changes in the zoning regulations need to be implemented to discourage more big boxes? And what possible difference will “new eyes on the budget” make to already overburdened taxpayers? Most of the answers given sound like platitudes.

Dennis DeManis August 27, 2013 at 2:09 pm

So is there a candidate who is competent and not a sleazeball?
Those who should be governing have no interest in doing so.

D(ysfunctional)TC August 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

@DD. So far Garfunkel is the only one who has demonstrated an ability to get the votes needed. If he didn’t publicly admit to using paid city sick time to campaign last time around, he might even be Mayor today.

Rilling is unproven on the electoral level, but seems to be his own man. I think if you spend as much time in this city as he has in positions of power and you end up with as many enemies as friends. But he has shown to be an effective administrator and would seem to care about the city even if you don’t agree with his proposals.

Miklave is full of hot air and is part of the problems in the city. He has directly interfered with development when capital markets were flush with investment dollars and now pretends to have solutions to the problems he helped to create all these years. There is no one in city government that can speak longer and say less at the same time.

Vinny should find another city to dupe into thinking he is even qualified to be dog catcher. A total joke.

LWitherspoon August 27, 2013 at 3:34 pm

@DysTC
That video is cringeworthy, regardless of who you support for Mayor.
.
It’s disappointing that Mangiacopra failed to answer the question of what cuts he would make to the budget to keep taxes low while paying for the new programs he desired. The call for “new eyes” is just a platitude. Mr. Mangiacopra allegedly has the vaunted “new eyes”, having never served on any Norwalk commission or held any elected office. So what would he cut?

Dose of Reality August 27, 2013 at 10:18 pm

First of all I will start by saying ALL the candidates are nice guys, I do not begrudge them for wanting to be mayor because they all care about Norwalk.

So Andy pilfered sick time, then a staff member, during his tenure as town clerk, may have misappropriated funds.
This could be due to lack of leadership in his own decision making , as well as not keeping an eye on staff very well.

Throw in that he doesn’t seem to be very gung-ho on the campaign trail, does he really want it bad enough?
Are you sure he is the right choice for mayor, just because he came close last time?

Miklave has had ample opportunity as a long time council member to at least attempt to implement some of his recent suggestions on the campaign trail, he has not gotten it done (check the record), so what are the chances that if elected he can get things done, 50-50?

Simpler logic is he is not as well known in the ENTIRE community as Harry, which could give the incumbent an edge head to head.

Vinny is doing pretty good on the campaign trail and is a pleasure to meet, he is hungry to help his adopted city thrive from the big seat.

I say not yet, in a few years I would vote for him, heck I would vote for him if Harry wasn’t running.
It would also be wise for him to do something other than DTC chair, say common council, he would win hands down.

Incumbent is way too quiet of late, me thinks due to recent zoning issues surfacing (kudos NON/Blank/Mushak) classic example of, it is too hot in this kitchen, if I don’t say anything it will go away.

Truth is, there is so much more going on that will come out during a run at Harry and he can’t defend many of his administrations bizarre appointments, zoning decisions etc. logically.

Harry has my vote, and a good portion of Norwalk supports him, native Norwalker done good is the icing on the cake.

Let’s put it another way, Harry is the ONLY Dem that can beat Moccia in November, unless you want to take a chance, I am NOT willing to chance two more Moccia years my friends.

Tim T August 28, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Dose of Reality
You mention about Andys time as town Clerk in regards to a staff member, that may have misappropriated funds.. However you fail to mention the many cops of the NPD that were arrest or violated major department policies when Rilling was chief.

RU4REEL August 30, 2013 at 11:24 am

I didn’t fail to mention it tim , I knew you would!
We all have failed to mention the arrest of DPW workers at the transfer station, firefighters arrested in Sono and Weston and the currently silent disciplinary actions going on at the Board of ED in facilities management (behind closed doors of course)
Just heard that in the personnel department there is one well paid employee that spends time sleeping during the work day.
Tim don’t just focus on one department, get after them all.

Piberman August 30, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Experience, demonstrated managerial abilities, a proven track and clarity of expression are widely admired if not required qualities for climbing the or pirate ladder of success. How much easier is Norwalk politics. Just raise some monies, collect signatures and declare yourself ready to lead a city of 80,000 with a budget of $300 million. No wonder Norwalk’s elected leaders are admired throughout the state because of their “vision” and “accomplishments”. What a shame Norwalk Democrats didn’t select such a capable and well experienced candidate to lead their valiant Party to victory and Norwalk’s rebirth. Indeed, the gods would be rejoicing.

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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.

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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.