NORWALK, Conn. – Harry Rilling’s years wearing a Norwalk Police uniform appeared to serve him well Monday evening as he walked about South Norwalk, looking for votes in his drive to be mayor.
Four people spontaneously greeted the former police chief warmly as he ventured into Columbus Court Condos with retired Norwalk community policing officer Carleton Giles to look for registered Democrats in an effort to get votes in the Sept. 10 primary. Another woman spotted Rilling as she was bringing pizza to her grandson, and ran around the side of a building to see him and encourage others to vote for him.
Rilling first knocked on doors nearby on Chestnut Street, without much success. Finding no one at home, he left fliers on doors.
He was treated as a returning best friend in the condo complex, at the corner of Henry and Chestnut streets.
One man stopped his car after calling out “What’s going on, chief?”
After some fast chit-chat, Rilling asked if he was a registered Democrat. The answer being yes, he said, “Got your support?”
“I’m sure you can,” the man said.
A woman in a vehicle got a similar treatment. “Got your support in the primary?”
“There you go,” she said.
“There you go!” he replied. “Love ya.”
Another woman called out from a porch, referring to Rilling’s suit. “Sharp! Sharp!” she said.
A man wearing a Department of Public Works shirt turned the tables, asking if the candidate supported him. Rilling said he did.
Not so familiar with Rilling was Beatrice Croswell, who spoke to him from her third story porch.
“Who you going to vote for?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” she said, causing laughter. “Seriously,” she said.
She recognized Giles, though, and decided to descend the staircase to greet the men. The candidate was telling her the usual stuff – primary Sept. 10, etc. – when Georgiana Scott appeared, pizza in hand.
“I was just pulling up and I seen you,” she said. “I said, ‘let me run around here, where is he?’”
She had volunteered for him and wanted to do more. On the spot, she encouraged Croswell and another resident to vote for Rilling.
“Don’t forget to vote,” she said. “I know he was a good chief of police.”
Rilling said he enjoyed that.
“It makes me feel good, you know, because how many times I hear people say that?” he said. “That at least when they called, they would get a call back. I would be accessible to all the community, not just certain areas.”
Scott said she hadn’t always been nice to Rilling.
“We were mad but you know what? He held his own. He was always respectful,” she said. “The key why I’m supporting him: he knows our needs in South Norwalk. As the chief he knows what we’ve gone through. Now he can do an overall change for us.”
Giles and Rilling moved on to another doorway, where Victor Saec was less supportive.
“We might do it,” he said, when asked if he would vote for Rilling.
After the chief left, Saec said he never knows who he will vote for before he gets in the voting booth, but he was “99.99 percent sure” it would be Rilling.
The chief, meanwhile, was dashing off to join a bike ride with other candidates, having thought to wear cyclist attire under his business suit.
At the beach after that event, another South Norwalk resident vowed support.
Dede Farnworth, a Shorefront Park resident who is upset about shootings nearby, said she has never been involved in politics before. She’s in it now because of Rilling, she said.
“The candidate that understands gangs and (has) a more nuanced approach to dealing with the lower socio-economic classes, other than arresting, is good,” she said. “People that can talk to providing opportunities for kids and having some kind of dialogue that gets gangs not fighting each other.”
She is from Greenwich, she said. Her husband is from Puerto Rico; newly energized by a campaign, they plan to go to the mayoral forum Tuesday night at the South Norwalk Community Center to see what they all have to say, she said.
But at this point she’s solidly behind Rilling.
“Harry has all these years of working,” she said. “He gets it. There’s no learning curve in terms of red tape, plus he understands crime, which is a big issue for me.”