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Opinion: Will the Dem mayoral candidates make life easier for Moccia?

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Democratic Party has had a difficult summer. First came the Brawl at City Hall. Then came the Republicans’ “in-your-face” move of nominating registered Democrat Bruce Kimmel for re-election to the Common Council. Kimmel, elected in 2011 as a Democrat, told his party caucus to take a hike and jumped to the Republican caucus, citing the Dems’ behavior as getting in the way of governing the city.

Now we have an allegation from a registered Democrat that one of the mayoral candidates is using a “push poll” to plant negatives thoughts about his opponents – especially former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling.

A push poll is defined as “a seemingly unbiased telephone survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular candidate and disseminates negative information about an opponent.”

According to the source, who requested anonymity, “This poll is automated and going out over one or two days to most likely Democratic voters. That’s how it works.”

The source, who received one of the calls, said, “After the routine ‘who would you vote for,’ the questions being asked are skewed toward negatives — clearly an effort to find which negatives resonate in preparation for his mailing pieces. This points to a continuation of his negative campaign.”

The source gave some examples of questions:

• How would it affect your vote if a candidate were friendly with the mayor?

• Would you vote for a candidate who changed his political party?

• How would it affect your vote if a candidate signed a pledge to uphold the principles of the Democratic Party ?

• Do you support the old leadership or favor new leadership in Norwalk?

But is this really a push poll?

A story by Rachel Weiner in The Washington Post points out that, sometimes, such questions are not meant as propaganda or negative messaging. Weiner was writing about a poll conducted in Kentucky by then-prospective Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was considering a challenge to incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Many legitimate polls — including some of those done by the candidate’s own campaigns — test negative messages within the context of divining the proper strategy and messaging to adopt in a race,” she wrote, citing a passage from the American Association for Public Opinion Research website.

“Negative or disturbing information about a candidate does not automatically make a survey a push poll,” AAPOR President Nancy Mathiowetz said in a 2007 statement. “Message testing, when campaigns test the effectiveness of possible messages about opponents and even themselves, is very different; and it is a legitimate form of surveying.”

With only 26 days left before the primary election, Rilling and Vinny Mangiacopra are considered the frontrunners. They have raised more money than Matt Miklave and Andy Garfunkel – a lot more. They were the first to gain enough signatures to get on the ballot. Miklave and Garfunkel have a lot of ground to make up.

The Norwalk source pointed the finger at Mangiacopra for the poll, claiming he has been running a negative campaign and is gearing up to continue because, “He doesn’t have a record of his own to run on.”

“We are definitely not doing a push poll,” Mangiacopra campaign worker Will Sharry said Tuesday. But he would not comment on whether the campaign was doing a poll or if, indeed, the questions cited were part of any such poll.

“We don’t discuss strategies with reporters,” he said.

Democratic Town Party Chairwoman Amanda Brown said she could not comment.

“I am not aware of any polls being done, ‘push’ or otherwise,” she said.

This is the kind of sniping and infighting that Brown – who, ironically, was at the center of the Brawl at City Hall – was hoping to avoid as the Dems try for the fifth time to defeat Republican Richard Moccia.

At an event May 5, Brown told the candidates and an assembled crowd, “Unified we win. Divided, Dick Moccia wins.”

By June 17, she seemed to accept that there would be some battling, but said that would all be in the past after the primary.

“We are going to have a contentious primary,” she said. “I already see it coming, and if you don’t see it coming you should really take off the rose-colored glasses. We know it’s going to be hard and we know it’s going to be heated.”

The question is, will feelings be ruffled so much that the candidates – or, worse, their supporters – will walk away from the eventual nominee? Will the “undecideds” be turned off by yet more of what they see is the Democrats’ inability to get their act together?

The last thing the eventual Democratic candidate needs is to have to rehab his own reputation with Democratic and independent voters while trying to unseat a four-term incumbent with a reputation for smelling blood in the water.

(Mark Chapman is the editor of NancyOnNorwalk.com)

15 comments

EveT August 14, 2013 at 8:47 am

The poll in question distorts the truth, if not outright lying. It is clearly designed to “push” voters toward Mangiacopra and away from Rilling. Rilling is by far the best qualified of the four candidates, and Mangiacopra is the least qualified.

Mangiacopra has managed to become a “front runner” with money from Bridgeport and elsewhere. The personality and M.O. he has displayed during the campaign are not what I want to see in our next mayor.

rburnett August 14, 2013 at 8:50 am

Here we go – I knew it was just a matter of time before the DTC begins to implode. No one likes “nasty” and young Vinny better learn that quickly. How about showing why you should be Mayor and acting like an adult. You don’t do that by attacking others. Ask “Senator” Linda McMahon about the effectiveness of mud-slinging campaigns.

And Mark, the answers to your questions are a resounding YES. People are turned off by these kinds of tactics and they will walk away from the democrat who uses them.

M Allen August 14, 2013 at 10:05 am

The answer is Yes, the entire process of a primary is detrimental to the chances of the eventual nominee. That’s just the name of the game. Look at what the Republicans did in the lead up to the last presidential election. They spent more than a year destroying each other that by the end Obama was left with little he could say that hadn’t already been said by other Republicans. Primaries are great for allowing the voters to choose their candidate rather than the party “leaders”. But when allowed to go on to long, the result is they harm the party’s chance against a sitting incumbent. So enjoy the next 26 days. Push polls are the least of your concerns.

D(ysfunctional)TC August 14, 2013 at 1:02 pm

New Push Poll questions .

If your octogenarian spouse with hip replacements is Pushed to the ground by an able bodied 30 something, do you slap her?

If the machine of Bridgeport/New Haven/Hartford Pushes someone with limited experience and no track record of helping Norwalk as your mayor, do you follow?

Do you think the DTC is Pushing its most respected, valued contributors to caucus with the GOP is strategic?

When Push comes to shove, do you think the current Dem council is representative of Norwalk Democrats in general?

LWitherspoon August 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm

A poll typically surveys a representative sample of some group of voters, because calling every single voter would be expensive. I would think that if they’re calling ALL likely voters, it’s not a poll or message testing – it’s a push poll.
.
Do the calls attach each of the negative messages listed above to one of the candidates by name, or simply ask the question generically?

(Editor’s note: The questions, as printed in the story, are generic but highlight specific details that may apply or may make insinuations to reinforce rumors about one candidate. It is not known how many people are getting the calls.)

Jerry Mitchell August 14, 2013 at 6:51 pm

The only thing this poll shows is Mangiacopra is threatened by Rilling. Mangiacopra is showing his true colors. He was the Political Strategist for a Disgraced Politician in Ernie Newton! What else needs to be said? It’s so obvious Mangiacopra has a lot to learn about politics and needs to stop being so shady like his old boss.

Rilling is the best candidate and the only one that can beat Moccia! Rilling has an excellent reputation throughout Norwalk and some young, envious Norwalk Transplant will not change that, especially with some weak, transparent Push Poll! Absolutely Low and sickening on Mangiacopra’s part.

Bill August 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm

“We don’t discuss strategies with reporters,” he said….i.e. it’s us

Mangiacopra was taught what he knows by Ernie Newton, he will change Norwalk to become more like Bridgeport, if that happens, I’m moving.

oldtimer August 14, 2013 at 10:29 pm

If any of the primary candidates start attacking each other instead of the incumbent, they will almost guarantee an incumbent re-election. Don’t put it past Bill Dunne to have designed this poll as a favor for Moccia.

oldtimer August 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm

“divide and conquer”
Moccia benefits while Mangiacopra gets blamed. Mangiacopra probably has the skills to identify whoever is really behind this polling, if it isn’t him. Tracing it back to the Moccia campaign might be useful.

LWitherspoon August 14, 2013 at 11:23 pm

@oldtimer
Bill Dunne conceived this push poll at Moccia’s behest and purposely included questions such as “do you support the old leadership in Norwalk”?
.
Sometimes, without meaning to be, you are very funny.

Piberman August 15, 2013 at 12:23 am

Here we are almost half way into the primary period and so far not much in the way of platforms. Where are the fresh new ideas ? How do we make our selection? Just one mailer received so far. With all that money raised by now we should see some action !

oldtimer August 15, 2013 at 9:20 pm

LWitherspoon
Read the post again. I didn’t say Bill Dunne did anything. I did say “don’t put it past” him or, don’t rule out that possibility. I don’t know, but it seems to me, anything that could make it look like one Dem wannabe was attacking another could only help Moccia and Dunne is smart enough to dream up something like this. I am just hoping somebody is able to discover who is paying for the calls.

M Allen August 16, 2013 at 8:28 am

Why make more out of this poll, push or otherwise, than it really is? None of them are talking about specific solutions. They are just saying “I’m not Moccia”. Who really cares if one or all of them are using push polls or any other typical tactic? Whats even funnier is the people discussing this, myself included, are just part of the small, insulated minority who reads these local sites. The VAST majority of people couldn’t care less about this poll or what nefarious, hidden agenda it was meant to implant into their minds. Too many people overthink these things.

Piberman August 22, 2013 at 11:09 pm

So far only a mild campaign with few signs, 4 mailings from Miklave and one from Rilling. Over the decades qualifications and platforms haven’t mattered much. Once had a musician running against Mayor Esposito on the Democratic ticket. Most mayors didn’t have college degrees. Job didn’t pay much. Only former Mayor attorney Zullo had a post mayoral career becoming a preeminent attorney. So we shouldn’t get too excited about qualifications. None of Norwalk’s mayors were qualified executives so talk about mayor as the City’s CEO is plain silly. Our most popular mayors – Esposito and Moccia – were real people persons who worked 24/7. And developed strong followings. What’s really strange is having 4 candidates seeking to be mayor and believing they know how to solve Norwalk’s long standing problems. That they never discuss stagnant housing values, stagnant Grand List or punitive property taxes makes me wonder if they actually live here. It goes without saying they would keep the same department heads and commissions. All in all the primaries are pretty boring. What made both mayors Esposito and Moccia long term mayors was their effective party organizations. Given the dysfunctional Democrat Party in Norwalk even a highly well qualified Democrat mayor would come up short. Politics is always a team sport. If Democrats really want a stake in Norwalk governance they first need put together a real ball club. That’s the sad party of the primary activities – would be home run hitters without supporting teams suited up to play ball. Norwalk captiva.

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