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?