Norwalk political notes – odd, happy, serious and sad

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s what we have for you in political notes this Monday:

  • Internet abuzz with the news of Tanya McDowell’s arrest
  • Manresa Association hits goal
  • Rilling raises eyebrows with attempt to raise money to support charter revision
  • Duff honored by Norwalk Land Trust
  • GGP’s Hawaii mall cited after fatal accident


Homeless mom arrested in Norwalk – did you hear?

There’s no such thing as bad publicity, some say.

If that’s the case, then you may be pleased to hear that the Tanya McDowell story is floating around the Internet as if it were news. As a result, Norwalk is now honored with an entry on Snopes.com.

CountercurrentNews, in a post dated Sept. 4, states, “The 34-year-old, who was homeless when she was charged last year, said she wanted the best education possible for her son.”

“Homeless Mother Who Sent Six-Year-Old Son To Better School In The Wrong Town Sent To Prison For Five Years,” the headline screams.

Snopes, viewed as propaganda in some quarters, has it right.

“McDowell’s arrest and sentencing did not occur in 2016, she was not sent to jail for enrolling her son in a Connecticut school, and she was subsequently arrested for more serious offenses involving drugs and prostitution,” Snopes reports.

Casey Smith, in a comment on NancyOnNorwalk, said:

“First of all, the reason that Ms. McDowell came to the attention of the Norwalk District is because her child was listed as living at an address belonging to a friend in Norwalk that happened to be in a Norwalk Housing Authority public housing project. It was not because the child was from Bridgeport. The child was not related to that resident in any way. It was a violation of the HUD lease agreements and the resident had to move elsewhere, I was told. Several people also said that if Ms. McDowell had simply registered at the local Norwalk Homeless Shelter, her child would have attended the exact same school without a problem.

“Secondly, it was the Norwalk Housing Authority that discovered the problem and brought it to the attention of the law enforcement, not the BOE. The case went downhill from there. Finally it wound up with the mother being convicted on other charges and the child being placed with other relatives.”

These are the facts as known by NancyOnNorwalk.

Perhaps the comments section below can now feature some thoughts about the death of journalism?


Manresa gets halfway to goal

The Manresa Association, a community organization seeking a resolution of the use of the dormant NRG power plant that looms over Norwalk Harbor, is halfway to its goal of raising $75,000 to get the city to back an Economic Impact Analysis of the property, a press release said.

The city would fund the other half of the $150,000 cost of the analysis, if the Association comes up with its $75,000.

“The metrics provided by the Economic Impact Analysis will be used to apprise the public and city officials of the financial, social and economic implications of the various possible uses for this landmark property,” Mayor Rilling said in a press release.

The fund-raising effort received an early and positive response from a group of Wilson Avenue businesses known as The Curve, Manresa Association President Charley Taney said in a press release. The group consists of LaJoie’s, LeBlanc’s, FGB Construction, Baywater Properties, Seaman Construction, Grasso Construction, FGB Construction and F&G Construction. Collectively, The Curve contributed over $13,500 to the campaign.

“We felt it was important for the South Norwalk business community to show its support for the Manresa Association, which is has only one objective: to ensure a future for the huge NRG property that is environmentally safe and contributes to the quality of life in Norwalk,” the release quotes Jim Murphy, leader of The Curve and LaJoie’s general manager, as saying.

“The Economic Impact Analysis is a critical first step in determining the future of the 125 acre Manresa property, that sits directly on Long Island Sound. This study will provide an objective analysis that will enable Norwalk leaders to make an informed decision on a range of potential options for the property,” Taney is quoted as saying.

There are more than 900 households represented on the Manresa Association. Taney said he is optimistic that area residents will contribute the balance needed to reach the $75,000 goal before the end of the year, so the study can begin in early 2017.


Yes 4 Norwalk Or, no, no, no

It’s a scandal – Mayor Harry Rilling sent out a letter trying to raise funds to convince the public to extend mayoral terms, which he will possibly benefit from.

So goes the thinking among some Norwalk circles.

Rilling, in a letter dated Oct. 5, sought to get people to attend an Oct. 13 fundraiser for Yes 4 Norwalk, a committee formed to support the charter revision questions submitted by a Charter Revision Committee and approved by the Common Council.

“Donations raised will help fund a public education campaign so voters are informed on Election Day. Your contribution helps to pay for direct mail, lawn signs, voter contact, and other important activities. So please join me in supporting our Charter Revision and Yes 4 Norwalk,” Rilling wrote.

The questions are:

  • Shall the term of the Mayor and Town Clerk be changed from 2 to 4 years?
  • Shall the offices of City Treasurer, City Sheriff, and Selectman be eliminated?
  • Shall the annual salary of each Common Council member be set at two percent (2%) of the base salary of the Mayor?
  • Shall all Charter references to members of the Common Council be gender-neutral?

The Council authorized these questions in July on a 9-3-1 vote, with Democrats John Igneri, Eloisa Melendez, Nick Sacchinelli, Michael Corsello, Travis Simms, Bruce Kimmel, John Kydes, Thomas Livingston and Faye Bowman voting yes, Republicans Doug Hempstead, Rich Bonenfant and Shannon O’Toole Giandurco voting no, and Democrat Steve Serasis abstaining.

Rilling did not send the letter on official City of Norwalk stationary.

“As Mayor and a resident of Norwalk, I fully support this measure because I truly believe this will enhance the great gains we have made in our city,” Rilling wrote. “But in order to assure victory we need your help. This is why I am asking you to support Yes 4 Norwalk’s efforts to pass these important questions by making a contribution now to the Yes 4 Norwalk fund.”

Rilling has been in support of a 4-year term for mayor since running the first time in 2013. In 2014, he said that he hoped charter revision could be on the 2015 ballot, which would have also had him running for re-election.

Former Mayor Richard Moccia supported 4-year terms, although he said in 2011 that he recognized that the support could be perceived as self-serving. “Let’s put it on the ballot and let the people of Norwalk decide,” Moccia said in a debate.

The Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce supports the charter revision.

The letter states that Yes 4 Norwalk has Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon as its treasurer.

Yes 4 Norwalk has competition coming – there’s a “No” group set to make an announcement.


Norwalk Land Trust honors Duff

The Norwalk Land Trust has recognized State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) for his role “ushering through the Senate important legislation safeguarding Connecticut’s open space, air and water,” presenting him with a citation in a ceremony held at Fodor Farm, a press release said.

The Norwalk

From left, D. Seeley Hubbard, past President of the Norwalk Land Trust; (NLT) NLT board member Vickie Bennett; State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk); NLT President John Moeling. (Contributed photo)

“Bob has been an Advisory Board Member of the Norwalk Land Trust for over 10 years,” said NLT President John Moeling in the release. “He has helped us acquire and protect the White Barn Nature Preserve, the Farm Creek Nature Preserve and others, and is working with us now to complete a Wildlife Sanctuary on our Hoyt Island property in Long Island Sound. Bob knows we need natural open space in the midst of our lives and our work and deserves the recognition the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters has accorded him.”

That was a reference to Duff being named a “2016 Legislative Champion” by the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.

In 2015, as a developer sought approval for a conservation development on the White Barn Theater property, Duff led passage of legislation that prevented taxpayer-purchased open space from being used to fulfill the open space percentage allocation required for cluster developments. Duff has been recognized as a “Clean Energy Champion” by the New England Clean Energy Council for his leadership on clean energy policy.

“The Norwalk Land Trust has done a phenomenal job of protecting open space in Norwalk,” said Duff in the release. “Protecting 90 acres of open space in a geographically small, dense city helps preserve Norwalk’s character, and their work on behalf of our environment will be felt for generations. I am proud to have been recognized by this exceptional organization.”


General Growth Partners cited after man falls to death

The City of Honolulu has issued GGP Ala Moana, an affiliate of General Growth Properties, a notice of violation after two men fell four stories on Oct. 9, killing one and critically injuring the other, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports.

A railing collapsed, causing the fall, the paper reports. Inspectors subsequently found rust in the railing.

GGP is the company looking to build a mall, The SoNo Collection, in South Norwalk.


Piberman October 17, 2016 at 10:17 am

Extending Mayoral terms to 4 years would make sense if our Mayors had business and management skills appropriate to the job. But hiring Dept Heads from only small towns without professional search clearly suggests lack of even the most basic business skills. Norwalk remains the only CT City where its mayors are never considered “appropriate” for the Governor’s position. Maintaining 2 year terms allows us to have “hope” for electing candidates with skills appropriate to the job. Most cities Norwalk’s size across America have Professional Managers not politicians managing their City. But it Norwalk voters are happy with a decade of stagnant property values, punitive property taxes and Exodus of long time homeowners then vote for extending the terms of our “political mayors”. You will be rewarded !

Piberman October 17, 2016 at 10:26 am

Extending mayoral terms makes sense if our “political mayors” had business management skills appropriate to the job. But “dumbing down City Hall” by hiring Dept Heads from small towns suggests otherwise. As does the Exodus of long time home owners fearing a decade of stagnant housing values, punitive property taxes.

Most cities the size of Norwalk have professional managers For the obvious reasons. But Norwalk – the County’s “first in first out” City has always been “different”.

Piberman October 17, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Mayor Rilling raising monies to support extending the Mayor’s term reminds us that Norwalk is the only City in Connecticut’s long history that has ever elected a former Police Chief to serve as its Mayor. Those of us who were both chagrined and deeply disappointed that Mayor Rilling led the Democrat Party to defeat the re-election of Mike Lyons – our most competent BOE Chairs in decades – now have a another piece of “apple pie” to taste. But the real story here is that Democrats have pulled out all the stops to extend the Mayoral term in a City they control. So why be surprised that the. Mayor is soliciting funds. After all other Democrats are raising funds to support the term extension Mayor Rilling is just demonstrating that he is a Democrat first, Mayor second.

EveT October 17, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Hats off to Manresa Assn. for their tireless work to understand how the site can best be put to use. This is a shining example of citizens getting engaged to tackle a problem that has no simple solutions.

Not affiliated October 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm

As an independent voter, I always wonder why we should even have party affiliation for mayor. Any valid reason??

Rusty Guardrail October 17, 2016 at 3:49 pm

McDowell wasn’t homeless at all–she was a Bridgeport resident who attempted to place her young son in a school close to her place of business (the sidewalk in front of Jefferson School, where she peddled narcotics).
At the very same time that the NAACP was smearing Norwalk in her defense, she was recorded 1)offering prostitutes to an undercover cop in Marshalls’ parking lot and 2)selling dope in front of her Bridgeport apartment DURING HER SON’S BIRTHDAY PARTY.

Peter Torrano October 17, 2016 at 6:58 pm

While mayor Moccia may have been in favor of putting the four year term before the voters, he never would have campaigned for it and he most definitely never would have solicited money from people to push it through. The change as propose sets up a bad situation no matter who is in office, where off year elections will be dominated by the party in power, no matter which it is. All should oppose this change as it stands now. When I headed up the Norwalk RTC I was approached by the Chamber of Commerce to see if Republicans would consider supporting the new term. We would only if the council had their terms changed to match the mayor’s term. Without that condition the changing of the term of office for just the mayor is problematic and over simplified. It will cause problems in the very near future.

Bob Welsh October 18, 2016 at 8:06 am


A level playing field is certainly important for a healthy democracy. Would you be willing to explain how the charter revision makes it easier for the party in power to dominate off-year elections?

David T McCarthy October 18, 2016 at 9:40 am

@Bob Welsh In a non-mayoral municipal election year, the mayor, who will likely be the only known candidate, can fund-raise and campaign to get his side elected. It’s like the president campaigning for congresspeople. Considering that 2 years is a short time to get people mad, that mayor will likely be popular, and the result will be lopsided 11-4 councils, like now and in 2009. That is 2 examples…one D, one R. Seems like we have bipartisan support for the No Campaign with good reason.

Notice, that just like Bruce Kimmel said 2 years ago, not one citizen is asking for these changes. The chamber (and I respect them and their leaders) is asking, but their reasons are actually at odds with citizens desires for accountable government.

Piberman October 18, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Norwalk seems the only moderate income smaller City in America that has had stagnant property values for a decade. Amidst an unprecedented national housing boom Why would anyone think that term of office has anything to do with such failed governance. Or that Norwalk’s mayors or Councilmen are responsible for stagnant property values ? Wy not make 4 year terms for all elected officials ? After all they are all true “public servants” and elections are just distractions.

EveT October 18, 2016 at 3:53 pm

To those seeking Vote No lawn signs: I hope voters will enact the gender-neutral language ballot question. The others, I can see both sides of the argument. But in the 21st century there’s no excuse for “councilmanic districts” when we can simply call’em council districts.

Debora October 18, 2016 at 4:48 pm


Agreed. Implementing gender neutral language and removal of defunct offices (which waste resources at election time for registrars) are not objectionable in and of themselves.

The problem is the process. This process is used perhaps once every ten years or so, and is resource intensive. It should have been used to deal with substantial issues causing dysfunction in our city.

Peter Torrano October 18, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Bob Welsh, sorry but I just checked back in. I see David McCarthy has responded, and in my opinion, accurately. The best and only way, as I and others see the four year term working is to have the council run at the same time as the mayor, once every four years. I’m not opposed to eliminating outdated offices, and changing the terminology of the council to gender neutral is fine. But I have some real reservations about just the mayor having the four year term, regardless of the party in power.

Tish Gibbs October 18, 2016 at 5:58 pm

I’m a citizen who supports and plans to vote YES on the charter revisions. A two year mayoral term is an obstacle to progress in Norwalk.

Isabelle Hargrove October 18, 2016 at 10:58 pm

@Tish – Since the council remains 2 years and they hold the balance of power, the obstacle to progress was not removed. All that was accomplished is to give the mayor a free pass half way through their term so they can campaign for their party. It will help foster a one party rule which we all know is good for politicians and very bad for taxpayers…
But most importantly, voting NO is paramount to send city hall the message that Norwalkers want meaningful charter reform that will lead to better city planning and management.

David T McCarthy October 19, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Ms. Gibbs, you are certainly a citizen, but it bears mentioning that you are also the wife of former mayor Bill Collins, who is one of our current mayor’s top friends and supporters.

I am glad to see that this is not partisan, as 80% are against it, but it is seemingly just a small crony circle around Harry that are for it. I feel terrible to be somewhat negative, but i am calling it as I see it.

Bob Welsh October 20, 2016 at 11:48 am

Dave McCarthy and Pete Torrano:

Thanks for your replies. If the Mayoral term aligns with council terms as you seem to favor, how is Mayoral influence on Council elections reduced? Pardon if I am missing something; I am not as politically experienced as each of you.

Isabelle Hargrove October 20, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Mr. Welsh, I will answer your question as a voter.
If this revision passes, I can guarantee you that the first thing we will hear from the sitting mayor during the 2019 council election is “I need a strong team on the council to work with me during the next 2 years of my term, so please vote for my party’s slate so together we can work for the city”. This is an unfair advantage that will always give the major’s party an edge during non-mayoral election cycles. Why do you think Mayor Rilling has been campaigning so hard for this? He hopes to be reelected in 2017 for 4 years and protect the Democratic super majority on the council for the next 5 years. Other cycles, the Republicans will be in control, and so on. Who looses? The voters and independent-minded folks who want to promote accountability and a nimble local government.

Lisa Thomson October 20, 2016 at 2:10 pm

It is rare that Mr. McCarthy and I agree on anything – so the earth should move upon my post of agreement with his ‘cronyism’ comment.

This charter revision originated in small political party circles (supported by $20K from the Chamber.) If the Moccia administration had pushed for this, I’d have opposed it as well because it didn’t originate from a burning desire by residents.

There are more pressing governance issues, like land use that this mayor is all too familiar with, having started his political career in P&Z. Four years later, taxpayers are likely to acquire yet another house, this one on Quintard Avenue because governance issues remain unresolved. I find it ironic that Mr. Mussante and his chamber are funding this from a ‘city planning’ perspective given the state of the business district on Wall Street. We haven’t heard from them on that, not to mention the Walk Bridge and its impact on SONO businesses.

This proposal is political cronyism, dressed up with some placating language for women and a no-brainer riddance of outdated political offices. In an election year, where the public is pretty frustrated with what the two major parties offered us for POTUS, this was a pretty tone deaf move by City Hall.

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