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Norwalk’s ‘Councilman Francis’ deserves accolade, election

Norwalk Democrats 028-20130122

Norwalk Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) is a member of St. Thomas Parish.

By Rod Lopez-Fabrega

NORWALK, Conn. – Matt Miklave may not be papal material, but his notable accomplishments, the characteristics of modesty and decency he projects and his quiet but fierce determination bring to mind the qualities we already see in Pope Francis. Both men are the progeny of immigrants, both were shaped by humble childhoods, both are the products of liberal Catholic educations — one at Notre Dame, the other with the Jesuits of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, both struggled to rise through the ranks of their prospective professions — one to become a nationally noted lawyer with a prestigious international firm and the other as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and  both promising by their demeanor and by their accomplishments to bring an infusion of fresh air to organizations seriously in need of urgent house cleaning.

Matt may not welcome the comparison, as he does not wear his religion on his sleeve, but it was evident to the more than 50 spirited (enthusiastic, ebullient, lively) citizens attending his official announcement of a run for the office of mayor of Norwalk (Saturday, March 23) that there is an urgency among the electorate for big changes in the way Norwalk has been run and often mismanaged.

Matt’s challenge at the moment is to correct the fact that his quiet effectiveness and impressive experience in civic governance have not been front page news or the subject of endless sound bites, and his worth is relatively undiscovered by Norwalk’s sleepy registered Democrats, who far outnumber wide awake registered Republicans here in Norwalk. Active in Norwalk’s political and civic life since the mid 1990’s, Matt served on the Schools for the New Millennium Project, participating in the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute, and serving on the boards of directors of the United Way of Norwalk & Wilton and the Norwalk River Rowing Association. Matt also donates his time to the community. He serves as pro bono counsel to the Stepping Stones Museum for Children and to Glasswing International, a humanitarian non-government organization based in El Salvador.

Never seeking the spotlight — perhaps to his detriment — Matt has been directly and effectively active in Norwalk’s government, serving in Norwalk’s Common Council from 2001-2007 and as Council President from 2002-2003; and his current term on the council has been in effect since 2011. He also chaired the all important Planning Committee from 2001-2007.

Here, in his own words, are his thoughts on what this experience has taught him and what his focus would be as mayor of Norwalk, “During my time in public service, I have learned some hard lessons. One of the most difficult has been what it takes to grow jobs and stimulate economic development. I believe for too long we have focused more on the kinds of buildings we are trying to build than the kinds of jobs we are trying to create. Norwalk does not need to become the ‘Big Box Capital of America.’  ‘It is time to put shovels in the ground’ may be a good slogan, but it is a poor economic plan.”

What is more, as things stand now and it’s budget time for Norwalk, Matt points out that, “We’ll spend the entire budgeting process without considering what we’re trying to achieve for the money we’re trying to spend, or whether we’re measuring that success appropriately.”

Matt and his wife Sandra have called Norwalk their home for the last 22 years. The couple has three children, two currently attending Norwalk High School and one a sophomore in college studying criminal justice. The family belongs to St. Thomas Parish on East Avenue. Sandra is clearly biased in announcing that her husband is the “most honest man I have ever known”— unwittingly, comparing him again to that Francis we spoke about earlier. In any case, how can one not be captivated by the candor and lack of pretense of a man who admits publicly that his favorite food of all time is spaghetti pasta with catsup?

Rod Lopez-Fabrega

28 comments

LWitherspoon March 24, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Comparing Pope Francis to Matt Miklave is downright offensive, and I’m not even Catholic. “Never seeking the spotlight” – what a baldfaced lie! Anyone who reads the papers sees Miklave routinely engaging in grandstanding and political gamesmanship. Miklave is routinely the first to exploit any controversy for his political benefit, and he is ALWAYS there to extract a high political price from anyone in City government who tries to make a difficult decision in a world of limited resources. That’s not leadership, that’s gamesmanship. About a week ago I challenged any Miklave supporter to give an example of any initiative spearheaded by Mr. Miklave on Council that saved money for Norwalk taxpayers. Nobody could name a single one. Yet Miklave has the audacity to claim that he is the candidate of fiscal responsibility.
Whichever mayoral candidate you prefer, I think we can all agree that during the recent conclave, Pope Francis most certainly did not engage in the sort of partisan bloviating, transparent pandering, and preening windbaggery that we see on a regular basis from Matt Miklave.

Tim T March 24, 2013 at 10:27 pm

LWitherspoon
Why is it every time you write something about a democrats except the the ones that run as a dem and are actually a republican in disguise you accuse them of grandstanding and political gamesmanship? This is getting a bit old on your part.

KSully March 25, 2013 at 7:18 am

Tim T — It’s pretty clear Matt’s detractors don’t want a campaign based on ideas and a solid plan for Norwalk’s future. They’d like to keep things confined to a more comfortable setting…Norwalk’s back-rooms. Matt Miklave is their worst nightmare. He’s been advocating for budget reform for a decade. He’s smart. And he’s in this race for the right reasons…building a more fiscally responsible more transparent Norwalk, building better schools, making streets safer and improving our local economy. Matt’s the only candidate in this race who can bring about real change and is the only candidate who is taking about keeping taxes in check as opposed to just throwing our tax dollars at our problems.

Bruce Kimmel March 25, 2013 at 8:29 am

The interesting question for me is, How could Miklave have approved the above letter that compared him to the Pope? Also, a survey of council members would — WITHOUT DOUBT — indicate that Miklave is pretty much the opposite of the description in the letter. Thus a second question, Could the letter be little more than an attempt to counter the prevailing and accurate image of Miklave being a rather long-winded, have-it-both-ways politician?

Bruce Kimmel March 25, 2013 at 8:38 am

By the way: Yesterday the candidate called me a three-time quitter simply because I refused to deal with his nonsense and the nonsense of the local Democratic organization. Thus a third question, Would our new Pope resort to name-calling of those he disagrees with?

Irish Girl March 25, 2013 at 9:20 am

What is getting old is Tim Ts attacks on LWitherspoon.

What would be new is to see if Tim T/KScully, et al, could actually give a documentive posting supporting Miklave by responding to LW’s public challenge: to any Miklave supporter: “give an example of any initiative spearheaded by Mr. Miklave on Council that saved money for Norwalk taxpayers” instead of their hollow rah-rahs…

Now that would be interesting.

LWitherspoon March 25, 2013 at 9:37 am

I’m still waiting for any Miklave supporter to give an example of any initiative spearheaded by Mr. Miklave on Council that saved money for Norwalk taxpayers. Looks like this will be a long wait.

Don't Panic March 25, 2013 at 10:03 am

Three words–Performance Based Budgeting.

If you actually look back at Mr. Miklave’s public comments for, oh say, the last eight years, you’d see that he has been advocating for this kind of transparency in city hall the whole time.

If you are happy with the way things are, so be it, but some of us are looking for a new approach. Miklave is the only one proposing a way to use what we are already spending to improve Norwalk. Not just new ideas, but a way to implement them.

Maybe that’s why there is so much name-calling. Upsetting the status quo is always painful.

Tom March 25, 2013 at 10:38 am

Performance Based Budgeting – right out of Accounting 101 – Very difficult to implement, very costly to administer. Watch your taxes folks. Here comes the biggest tax and spend candidate of all. Unfortunately, your tax dollars will not be wisely spent. Eight years on the council and Miklave has done squat!! Period, the end!!

Tom March 25, 2013 at 10:52 am

Rod Lopez: I have never read such a ridiculous and offensive letter. Usually you write with grace and poise addressing pertinent issues. I hope you return to that instead of looking foolish as you do with this letter. PUH-LEASE

Bruce Kimmel March 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Performance Based Budget, under certain circumstances, can work and improve services. However, that type of budgeting can be expensive, time-consuming and extremely difficult to implement, especially in our state — with binding arbitration laws, state rules on outsourcing and privatization, and the awful fact that our education budgets, which are full of federal and state mandates, are funded primarily via property taxes. Check out PBB on the Internet and you’ll see how complicated it is. Focusing on this, instead of examining the operating budget in detail, is little more than an effort to avoid really tough decisions.

Kate Tepper March 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Matt Miklave has been a dedicated Common Council member for nine years and, despite a demanding job, has taken the time to support and volunteer for many other community activities. He has, by his actions, shown his long term commitment to our city. Because his ideas may upset the current status quo does not mean that those ideas should be dismissed out of hand. Matt has taken the time and trouble to study what has worked – and what has not worked – in communities like Norwalk. “Performance Based Budgeting” might be better characterized as “getting the best bang for the buck” by raising the bar on performance and setting new standards for financial accountability. I’m more than willing to explore any NEW solutions to Norwalk’s financial difficulties.

Bryan Meek March 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Does Miklave still stand by his comments that we can simply raid the pension accounts to make up for shortfalls in the budget? He suggested we take $5 million from there only a year ago to fully fund other department requests. Is this the type of creative budgeting he proposes still? I’ll take substance over form, please.

Here I think RLF has confused the meaning of the term pontificate. The definition as it applies to the councilman is “to speak in a pompous or dogmatic manner”, not to be confused with “to perform the duties of office of the pontiff”.

Victor Cavallo March 25, 2013 at 12:53 pm

I, too, find the comparison to Pope Francis offensive, and much too irrationally exuberant as political endorsements go. He’s practically imbuing Mr. Miklave with a kind of papal infallibility. But before adoringly canonizing Mr. Miklave, Mr. Lopez-Fabrega should have read some of the comments on this blog about his candidate’s past foibles.
.
I’ll quote Bruce Kimmel’s comments to an earlier article. Mr. Kimmel may have very accurately portrayed Mr. Miklave’s likely mayoral management style in a truer light. The following is in response to Mr. Miklave calling Mr. Kimmel a “three time quiter”, a gratuitous slam not exactly in the spirit of what Mr Lopez-Fabrega professes, nor what Lisa Thomson pines for in another piece on this blog today. I quote Mr. Kimmel:
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” I left the Democratic caucus in 2002 after I was told by Chris Perone that Miklave had organized a faction in the caucus that had been meeting for months at the East Side Cafe; that faction essentially made the work of the caucus a farce — decisions were being made in the faction, and Matt was busy rounding up support for himself to be the next council president, arguing that he was the only person who could stand up to Mayor Knopp, whatever that was supposed to mean.”
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Then I’ll quote another commenter in this blog, “Bryan” from March 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm, who seems to know Mr. Miklave’s budget inclinations in great detail:
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“Just last March (Matt Miklave) advocated underfunding long term pension obligations to the tune of $5 million in order to fully fund the BOEs requests. He basically stated that the actuaries and governmental accounting standards setters really don’t know what they are talking about. Don’t take my word for it, it is right in the minutes of a council meeting from last year. In the next meeting he voted to approve these minutes.
See page 17. http://www.norwalkct.org/archives/57/02%2028%2012NorwalkCommonCouncilMinutes.pdf
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Another commenter on this blog, Joe Espo, on March 15, 2013 at 11:32 am opined on Mr. Miklave’s sudden interest in fixing the budget process:
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” (Matt) Miklave didn’t explain why during his eight years on the council and eight budgets he missed the opportunity to discover the problem and protect taxpayers. Why didn’t he know? … or did he? Miklave is a quick study yet he voted on seven prior budgets without raising flags; why now on the eighth? Why didn’t he complain about the budget process when Knopp was Mayor? Why didn’t he dig deeper into the problem when the Board of Ed was 100% democrat? Could it be that he knew all about the problem but being a labor lawyer, he felt more compelled to protect the interests of Tony Ditrio’s NASA members over the interests of our taxpayers?
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I personally like Mr. Miklave, and admire his accomplishments, but people question his motivation to leave a lucrative position with a top law firm in order to run for an elected office that pays a fraction of what he gets paid as a lawyer. Seems a little too magnanimous for my comfort and his family’s comfort, as well. And one has to ask: will he run for a second or third term knowing that he can make scads more returning to his law practice?

Osgood Schlater March 25, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Why be worked up about Matt’s taking a pay cut to be mayor? Is money the only object to a job? We should be worried when salary becomes the only reason to run. It’s a real plus to have Matt give up income to serve our city.

Evaluating progress on programs and projects is a lot more straight forward than merely evaluating personnel and departments. Quantitative analysis is key to the quality of government we expect.

If you want to see complicated, time-consuming government obfuscation, the present system here in Norwalk is the perfect example.

Let’s throw some light,transparency and meaningful data on what’s going on in our government. PPB is certainly going to help make the tough decisions, instead of the current beating around the bush. Eliminating waste is the best way to save money spent at city hall.

If anything, PPB will simplify government and keep our taxes down, which is a major plank in Matt’s platform.

Mark Chapman March 25, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Admo:

“I don’t think you have to approve anything on this blog.”

First of all, a minor technical quibble. This not a “blog.” It is a news site focusing primarily on government and government-related topics. The term “blog” is short for “web log” and is usually not something based on journalistic tenets or code (think Breitbart and Drudge).

Second, we do approve all stories, whether they are opinion or not, but we do not approve based on whether we agree with the opinion. We approve opinion articles based on whether the articles live up to standards of taste and decency as well as clarity. We would never submit an article to the subject of the article for approval, nor would any ethical news organization.

First-time commentors are subject to approval, as are those who have strayed over the line according to our comment guidelines. Otherwise, we encourage a free-flowing and lively community discussion.

I hope that clears up the “approval” question.

Don't Panic March 25, 2013 at 4:33 pm

It’s amazing how many times the public has had to call for more disclosure, audits, hearings, etc to get to the root of economic hiccups in Norwalk’s governing/budgeting process. Yet when someone actually calls for it, as Miklave has, the yowls of pain begin. It’s too hard. It’s too expensive. We haven’t even tried it yet, and we already pronounce it dead on arrival. Imagine a future where the “unions” can be proud to work in a city that pays them more, and taxpayers can be proud to live in a city that taxes them less. Until and unless we get a handle on how to prioritize our money, we are going to continue to see this city stagnate.

I say bring on PBB.

BARIN March 25, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Matt won’t win District B, Harry has the best chance in all districts to unseat the incumbent.
I can understand many of you are his friends, but be realistic he cant implement PBB if he doesn’t win, how about him showing us what he can do as a council member over the next few years then try again for mayor down the road, Matt can assist in implementing PBB with Harry as mayor.
Like Harry or not, if you’re Republican in this town you don’t want your candidate to run against him.
I like Matt personally , but he won’t be able to beat the incumbent, like the commercial says; it’s that simple.

Asa H.M. March 26, 2013 at 8:02 am

I challenge everyone to get out from in front of their computer screen and actually talk to Matt personally. It is so easy to criticize what you THINK is his position, but without that one-on-one, you clearly do not know anything about him or his motivation to seek being Mayor of Norwalk. I know it is hard to believe that there are actually people that may want to do what they are passionate about despite hardships in order to make our city or their community a better place. Too much of our world today is determined by the search for riches so it is understandable that it would seem strange for someone to actually stand up for their beliefs and work to make the world a better place. Seems to me he said that he did not enter into this race lightly…Instead of sitting and criticizing, get on the phone and contact Matt, meet him to discuss the issues you care about and his ideas, challenge him to make Norwalk a better place. He’s a councilman, so you can easily look up (on your computer screen) his contact information. Go ahead. Be daring. Then you can form your opinions based on knowledge, not impressions and what others think.

Suzanne March 26, 2013 at 8:23 am

The kind of hyperbole presented in this article only detracts from the overall issues and campaign strategy to which I am sure Mr. Miklave would like to focus. He should instruct his supporters to forego the theological accolades and stick with the issues. Mr. Calvo, quoting others’ opinions about the candidates does not make them so – they are opinions like any other and have nothing to do with facts. Why Mr. Miklave’s desire to be of service to the community is somehow suspect because of a pay cut reflects more on the detractors than him – it is a strange world we live in when someone wants to apparently make a sacrifice to be of service by working at a very hard job and that is a bad thing. Again, a reflection on the deterioration of Norwalk’s political landscape.

oldtimer March 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

We can still hope one of the four announced Democratic candidates can win the town committee endorsement and avoid a destructive primary. I don’t think there are significant differences between them, and the best chance of unseating Moccia lies with a single candidate working hard for city-wide support.
That campaign, for town committee endorsement, will determine who wins in November.

LWitherspoon March 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm

@Don’t Panic
I applaud you for attempting to respond to my challenge of naming one initiative spearheaded by Mr. Miklave on Council that saved money for Norwalk taxpayers.
Unfortunately, there are zero verifiable savings attached to the implementation of Performance Based Budgeting because there are up-front costs to implement it, and the amount of money that would be saved is a big question mark. I’m open to any details that Mr. Miklave can provide to demonstrate verifiable savings that Norwalk will realize from PBB. Until Miklave provides those details, PBB seems like little more like a gimmick designed to score political points by promising all things to all people. Miklave is also encouraged to show us that he is the candidate of fiscal responsibility by performing a detailed review of the budget and telling us exactly where and how he would spend less – he has had eight years on Council to do so, yet he hasn’t. Why?
Remember when Republicans at the federal level advocated slashing taxes, with the claim that revenues would go up? It seemed too good to be true, and it was – the Republicans passed the tax cuts, but revenues didn’t go up as they promised.
I encourage everyone to look closely at Panic’s comment above (3/25, 4:33pm), where he/she states:
“Imagine a future where the ‘unions’ can be proud to work in a city that pays them more, and taxpayers can be proud to live in a city that taxes them less.”
In a nutshell, that’s all you have to read to know that the purpose of PBB in Miklave’s platform is pure political gimmickry. Anyone who thinks that we can have lower taxes for all taxpayers AND higher pay for the City’s union employees is living in a fantasy world. This sort of statement is classic Miklave – promising all things to all people, seeking to have it both ways with little in terms of specifics or difficult decisions.
If you believe that Performance Based Budgeting will bring us lower taxes AND higher wages for union workers, I’ve got a pier at Calf Pasture that I can sell you. I’ll give you a great price on it because it’s a bit of a fixer-upper. I’m glad that Democrats have several good alternatives to Mr. Miklave from which they can choose.

NorwalkVoter March 27, 2013 at 10:59 am

As a NorwalkVoter who has spoken to Matt personally, he is hell-bent on primary and is a very serious gossip. He likes to throw out slams against Democratic opponents, claiming they came from someone else. For instance: “_____ says ….” or people are saying… And then he likes to say it is going to be an ugly primary. Yes Matt you are a big gossip and a big dissappointment.

your daddy March 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I just looked and Miklave got the fewest votes of anyone elected to the council in 2011. Why would he be hell-bent on a primary?

Bryan Meek March 28, 2013 at 8:03 pm

@Asa H.M. You can go in person to a council meeting or you can watch them recorded on line. There you can watch councilman Miklave take hours upon hours to convey simple thoughts and ideas. Most inefficient council person I have ever witnessed. I think he did enough damage stalling city Development during his tenures on the council. I’d hate to think what he might do as our executive.

http://www.norwalkct.org/index.aspx?NID=1336

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