NORWALK, Conn. – Jobs, undocumented workers and the lack of diversity on Norwalk governmental boards were among the topics fielded by three of four Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidates Tuesday in the South Norwalk Community Center.
Vinny Mangiacopra, Harry Rilling and Matt Miklave sparred just a little bit in the mayoral forum held before about 40 people in the SNCC community hall, and moderated by the Rev. Oscar Destruge. Mangiacopra drew applause when he spoke briefly in Spanish and took direct aim, as he is wont to do, at Republican incumbent Mayor Richard Moccia; Miklave repeated the central theme of his campaign – performance based budgeting and fiscal responsibility – several times; and Rilling made a few definite promises and cited examples of his sensitivity to the Latino community from his years as police chief.
It was announced that the fourth candidate, Andy Garfunkel, was not there due to a prior commitment.
The event was marked by two unscheduled questions from the audience; Doug Peeples put Mangiacopra on pause briefly when he interrupted to ask about the presence of sporting facilities that South Norwalk residents cannot use; and John Mosby made an impassioned speech that included the idea that certain things were done to turn the black and Hispanic communities against each other.
Respect for Norwalk’s diversity and working together were common themes from the candidates.
Mangiacopra told the crowd he recruited Warren Pena to run for Common Council, creating a Latino leader. But Miklave trumped that by pointing out that Mangiacopra had it wrong, Pena wasn’t the first Hispanic council member, and that Judy Rivas, who had the right to that claim, was instrumental in making him council president.
That exchange is shown above. The candidates were responding to the question, “In the existing administration there is a lack of Latino appointments on boards and commissions. Will you ensure that we have proper representation?”
Rilling said the Redevelopment Authority has no African-American or Hispanic members, although its activities have an impact on South Norwalk. Miklave said he is committed to ensuring diversity not only on boards and commissions, but in Norwalk employees. Mangiacopra said there is no shortage of the mayor’s buddies serving in municipal government.
A representative of La Voz Hispana asked about the center itself, saying that the Moccia administration was the first to discontinue the annual contribution of $12,000 aid to SNCC. She asked what would be done to restore the funding and support the center.
Mangiacopra said it was a matter of priorities, but that he is excited about the direction the center is going in. Miklave talked of the need for supporting non-profits in general, and said SNCC is an important one. Rilling said unequivocally that he would restore the funding and provide city resources to help the center research grant funds.
A representative of El Sol news asked how the candidates would make undocumented immigrants feel a part of the community.
“Can you give examples of some of the projects that you would initiate?” he asked.
No one gave examples.
Rilling said he had helped the day laborers when he was police chief by sending the department of health and a police vehicle to do health screenings.
“The undocumented residents provide revenue to the city in the form of sales taxes, in the form of paying rent, in the form of working to beautify the city, in landscaping,” he said. “They are citizens, they are residents of our city, they need to be treated as such and we need to recognize the value that they have.”
Mangiacopra said, “Washington, D.C., needs to get it’s act together on comprehensive immigration reform,” and referred to a St. Patrick’s Day event in the center, which was packed with people who wanted to learn about drivers licenses for immigrants living in this country without documentation, he said.
The center should be a hub to reach out to the community, he said.
Miklave took aim at that.
“I also support comprehensive immigration reform but I’m running for mayor of Norwalk, I’m not running for president of the United States,” he said.
As an attorney he had gone to El Salvador in 2006 to work with a non-governmental agency, he said. He would like Norwalk to partner with other countries.
“My vision would be that we reach out and form partnerships with as many communities across the world that want partnerships with us, that we become a gateway for the United States,” he said.
A Columbian immigrant, who has lived here for 30 years, said he is concerned about his 25-year-old son and other young people.
“What will your administration do on behalf of the youth and young men to address the problems of alcoholism, addictions and the lack of availability of sports?” he asked.
Miklave said his son plays soccer and he understands the frustration.
“There is simply a shortage of space in Norwalk for sports,” he said. “It is because we are a city and because we do not have enough places for our youth. I would love to promise you that as mayor I will take property by eminent domain and turn it into sporting stadiums, or I will take open spaces and turn them into playing fields, the reality is we are challenged. We don’t have the resources to that.”
Mangiacopra said he had gotten a feel for the frustration people feel during his seven months of campaigning.
“There’s people that feel that there’s favoritism because, I’ve got news for you, there probably is,” he said. “Because, again, going back to my favorite theme, the same folks have been in charge for too long. Their friends get all the favors and that’s how it works around here.”
Ryan Park and the field behind Ely School need to be taken better care of and activities held there should be better organized, he said.
“We have plenty of fields,” he said. “It’s just a matter of people having the opportunity for people to participate in them.”
Rilling said he agreed. The fields at Norwalk High and Brien McMahon can’t be in constant use, he said; they could be made available.
Several years ago members of a newly formed football league were forced to go out of town, he said. He worked with the Norwalk Housing Authority and made the field behind Colonial Village available to them.
“It wasn’t the best, but these young people made it into something they could play on,” he said.
Miklave offered a rebuttal.
“I don’t think there are plenty of fields,” he said, explaining that he had once played tag football at Taylor Farm, the dog park, because there was no other place available. “It was nasty, very nasty,” he said, undoubtedly referring to things the players stepped in.
Mangiacopra wanted to rebut that, but Peeples interrupted. The Sono Ice House and the Sono Field House are in South Norwalk, but are inaccessible to local youth, he said.
“They get a lot of tax breaks,” he said. “They get a lot of stuff that none of these guys can utilize. I’m trying to figure out why we can’t as a community get facilities for our young people.”
Mangiacopra went on to speak of his desire to get a Boys and Girls Club to Norwalk.
After the debate, Peeples said, “I don’t think I got an answer. I don’t think it’s a question they can answer at this point.”
He is an unaffiliated voter, and cannot vote in the primary two weeks from now. The debate, he said, was like any debate.
“They touch on things but they can’t really say what they’re going to do,” he said. “A debate like this is really about personality. Whoever comes across with the best personality is going to garner the most votes coming out of here.”
He wouldn’t say who that was.