Election notes: Charter revision; Watts; voter sentiments

Mayor Harry Rilling, left, congratulates

Mayor Harry Rilling, left, congratulates State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) on his re-election Tuesday in the Norwalk Inn. Morris was unopposed.

NORWALK, Conn. —  Word has it that District B Democratic leaders were out at the polls Tuesday urging voters to vote against the charter revision measures supported by Mayor Harry Rilling, while handing out sample ballots that urged voters to vote “yes.”

District B Chairman Bruce Morris and Common Council member Travis Simms (D-District B) worked to defeat their party’s attempt to get four-year terms for Norwalk mayors, other Democrats say.

“We recognize there’s value to a four-year term for mayor, however there’s just so much going on in South Norwalk that we’re concerned, we feel there’s more accountability right now with the two-year terms,” Morris said.

Simms did not respond to a phone call. Morris said it wasn’t as if they colluded, they weren’t working together.

Morris cited the process of the charter revision, which resulted in four questions:

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

The last three are no-brainers, but there should have been more conversations, Morris said.

“The Councilmen have not been given a raise in such a long time; $50 is not representative if the duties that the Council members are put in and the obligations that they have. So all of us generally agreed that they do deserve that wage, and 2 percent is a small amount for amount of responsibility that they have,” Morris said.

Eliminating offices “wasn’t a big deal,” Morris said. “Would have been nice to have more conversations. People weren’t educated.”

There’s an argument that a mayor would get more done if he or she wouldn’t have to worry about the politics of it but South Norwalk has had a series of issues, Morris said, mentioning AMEC Carting and Zoning.

“There is concern that maybe those decisions may not work toward our interests, that our interests are better served if someone recognizes that in two years, ‘I’ve got to come back and answer to those voters,’” Morris said.

The Democratic Town Committee printed a sample ballot without consulting Democrats, Morris said. Everything on Row A was marked as well as the four ballot questions, he said.

“The way it was handled wasn’t the best way and it needs to be done differently going forward,” Morris said.

“People didn’t know what they were voting on,” Morris said. “If we have a chance to go back, do this again, do it right, make sure everyone is more informed, maybe tweak it.”
The gender neutral question, which was the only one that passed, only applied to Councilman but there are other positions in the charter, he said.

“That wasn’t fully thought out. If we wanted gender neutral, it would have been throughout the charter.

We need to go a little deeper, do a little more than what we did,” Morris said.


Non-fake Dem promotes ‘independent’ Republican

Former Councilman David Watts (D-District A) and his son, D,J, Watts, 12, Tuesday at the Kendall Elementary School poll.

Former Councilman David Watts (D-District A) and his son, D,J, Watts, 12, Tuesday at the Kendall Elementary School poll.

The poll at Kendall Elementary School was reportedly interesting, with tensions between former Council member David Watts (D-District A) and his one-time protégé, Council member Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) creating a bit of back and forth.

Watts and Melendez were on different teams at the poll. Melendez was telling voters to vote “Row A all the way,” while Watts was saying, “Ehlers all the way.”

Ehlers, a Republican, was trying unsuccessfully to unseat Democratic State Sen. Bob Duff.

You may remember that a year and a half ago Watts was accusing Melendez of being a “fake Dem.” Democrats should support other Democrats, he said.

Watts was telling voters to vote Independent in the State Senate seat, without mentioning that Ehlers was also on the Republican line.

Why Ehlers?

“First thing is my son here is a future Republican. Every team I am for, he is on the other side,” Watts said.

D.J. Watts, 12, agreed.

“He has his own mind, he wants to go in the other direction,” Watts said. “I am a Patriots fan, he likes the Steelers, obviously. I like the Celtics, he likes the Knicks. I’m a Democrat, he’s a Republican. So I introduced him to local Republicans to get him involved, and they’ve been really supportive.”

But why Ehlers?

“Bob Duff voted against paid sick leave. I am a pro-labor person and I’ve always been a pro-labor person,” Watts said.

What about that fake-Dem philosophy from last year?

“Only on the independent line. I am supporting him on the independent line,” Watts said. “The flip side is that independent candidates don’t qualify for public funds.”

Ehlers qualified for Citizen’s Election Program (CEP) financing as a Republican and received $90,000 in state money.

Multiple Democrats said Watts and Melendez argued while working the polls. Word was Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons spoke to Watts at one point.

“He was jumping out into the driveway,” Doyle Lyons said Wednesday.

Duff and Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho were respectfully at the line marking 75 feet from the polls, the closest a person can be if they want to try to persuade voters, she said.


Common Council member Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) shows off her sweatshirt Tuesday at the Kendall Elementary School poll.

Doyle Lyons said she came out of the building and could hear Watts yelling at voters. She went to speak to him.

“I said, ‘Do not block cars, do not block sidewalks,’” she said. “It’s common sense. Him in the middle of the road with cars coming down. … I said, ‘If I can hear you within that 75-foot, that’s electioneering. I don’t want to hear you yelling at voters.”

Some might point out that Doyle Lyons, the Republican registrar, was working against a Republican candidate.

“My 75-foot rule stands for everybody,” she said. “There is no party.”


Election Day observations

“For the most part, voters were very courteous, they were understanding that it was presidential, very contentious race, and that there were going to be long lines, there was going to be high turnout,” Doyle Lyons said.

There were lines at 6 a.m., with the longest wait 40 minutes, she said.

City Hall was busy, with 1,427 signing up via same day registration.

“For the most part, the electors were very patient, very calm, and then on the other hand, we had a handful of people, maybe more than a handful of people, that were rude, discourteous, obnoxious, crude,” Doyle Lyons said. “They don’t understand that these people work from 5 in the morning to the wee hours of the night so they can exercise their right to vote. It’s a long day and the only thing we give them is coffee and donuts in the morning. We pay them, but not much.”

“Not much” is $200.

“I was very honored to be the highest Republican vote getter (in Norwalk),” Doyle Lyons said, pointing out that she got 14,709 votes.

Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells got 19,574 votes. Neither was opposed for re-election.


Comments from voters

Marisol Oquendo, voting at Kendall on Tuesday, said she voted for Donald Trump.

“Honestly, I have not been following the debates,” she said. “I feel like he will have a better chance of getting America back to where it was and I think Hillary is not completely honest. You can’t trust someone to be president when they’re not honest.”

“Donald Trump is not going to do nothing,” said Unay Addison, a Democrat voting at Kendall.

“I am not happy with what is going on in the country. I am not happy with Obama,” said Emmanuel Owolo at Fox Run Elementary School. “I can tell you the reason why: Obama has been in the office for almost eight years. He never did nothing for the black kids. When he got into office as the first African American man to get into the White House as president, I thought he would go all over the place, go to all the schools and encourage black kids, Spanish kids, to go to school. The best gift you can give to any kid is education. In Chicago, blacks are killing blacks. That’s my reason why.”

Owolo would not say who he voted for in the presidential election, but volunteered that he voted for Duff.

“When my son got accepted to an Ivy League school, he took his time to write him a letter to congratulate my son,” Owolo said. “He’s a great guy.”

Duff’s mother, Joanne Duff, was standing nearby. The day was going well, she said.

“He’s the only one they would vote for,” she said. “He answers your texts, he answers your emails, he thinks about his constituents all the time. He’s very caring, which makes me proud… They just seem to love him, they really do.”

Duff beat Ehlers at nearly a two to one margin.


Assistant moderator impressed

“People who haven’t voted in years, they’re coming back out of the woodwork, it’s that kind of feel. That’s the big surprise. And people voting for the first time,” Assistant Moderator Ann Crisci said at Kendall.

She said she was shocked at how many people there were to vote just on the presidential race.

Connecticut is the number one state for people voting only for president.

As for charter revision, “People are unfamiliar with the questions,” Crisci said. “They don’t like to be surprised about it, they are just not answering necessarily. There’s a lot of that.”


Susan Wallerstein November 11, 2016 at 7:02 am

I have seen no evidence in this election that more and better education or factual information would have impacted ANY outcomes. As a retired educator I’m concerned about several important skills – critical thinking and information literacy.

piberman November 11, 2016 at 8:24 am

Is there any other City in CT with stagnant property values for nearly a decade where its Leaders suggest that extending mayoral terms would markedly improve their City’s fortunes ? The Charter votes reflect that a good 40% of City adult residents have college degrees.
Is there any City resident that runs or has a senior role in a sizable business who believes extending mayoral terms would noticeably improve Norwalk fortunes ?

EveT November 11, 2016 at 8:52 am

@Susan, I completely agree. People are voting on emotions. To a certain extent that will always be the case — see psychological research, e.g. Jonathan Haidt. Nevertheless, nationwide at the presidential level, information literacy and critical thinking seemed to be at an all-time low in this election.

EveT November 11, 2016 at 9:29 am

From Washington Post:
Only 38% of voters had a favorable opinion of Trump. Rated “honest & trustworthy,” “qualified,” “temperament to serve effectively as president,” all in the 30s.

“How can a candidate win with numbers like these? Because the desire for change was so great”

Stuart Wells November 11, 2016 at 9:46 am

38,692 people cast ballots that were read by the tabulators, at the polling places and at City Hall (Absentee and Election Day Registration ballots). Additionally, there are a handful of ballots that must be hand-counted, including 12 overseas ballots. They are not included in the above “tabulator” count.
The tabulator count included:
373 people who did not voter for President – about 1%.
2,309 people who did not vote for Senator – about 6%.
Similar numbers did not vote for Congress, or State Senator. So the percentage of voters who came just to vote for President is around 5%. Not a particularly high number, as far as I can tell, especially considering the 24-7 news coverage of the Presidential race, versus the tiny media coverage of the other races — which, in addition, were not competitive, as the incumbent won by about a 2 to 1 margin in each case.
The closest “race” by far was Charter Question 3, with the long overdue increase in Council pay losing by less than 400 votes.

Notaffiliated November 11, 2016 at 6:32 pm


Just because many folks with a high school education voted for Trump, that does not mean they lack critical thinking skills. Also, if your source of unbiased coverage is the Washington Post, my sense is that lacks critical thinking

Piberman November 12, 2016 at 5:37 pm

We ought acknowledge that without Nancy’s how would the community had the opportunity to express opinions on the Charter recommendations ? With the possible exception of the BOE discrimination claims NON posted more coverage and commentary on the Charter changes than on any other topic since its inception. If not for NON where would the community had a chance to express their views on the Charter recommendations. Certainly not in the Hearst Hour which largely ignored Charter change and in contrast to its “wealth of recommendations” peculiarly made no recommendation about Charter change. If ever there was a case for an independent newspaper NON made that example front and center with Charter change recommendations.

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