NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed Mayor Harry Rilling for reelection Thursday, challenger Bruce Morris’s only non-District B support marked by abstentions.
The vote tally was 41-9-5, with all the votes for Morris, State Representative for District 140, coming from District B.
“I can stand here today and say I feel very confident that we are doing a great job in the city of Norwalk,” Rilling said, accepting the nomination. “Things are moving forward. There will be people that will complain and say things aren’t happening, naysayers and so forth, but you know what? Things are happening in Norwalk. We are doing a great job.
Morris was not allowed to speak, as DTC Chairman Ed Camacho said that only the prevailing candidate could make a speech.
Rilling was nominated by former Mayor Alex Knopp.
“I think the city of Norwalk has never been in stronger hands,” Knopp said, citing construction of developments that were long stalled, increased parking for the Norwalk Public Library and funding for new schools.
“I think we have to realize that cities like Norwalk may be facing difficult times,” Knopp said. “Our needs probably exceed the resources the state can share with us and the federal government is quickly abdicating any responsibility for helping to grow and nurture America’s urban areas. As a result, we need somebody in the driver’s seat at City Hall who both has a vision of driving Norwalk in the future but can do it while building consensus. To me that’s the hallmark of Harry’s very successful terms as mayor.”
Martha Dumas nominated Morris.
“I think Mayor Rilling has tried to work with everyone in the city of Norwalk and has tried to do what he could. However, I would like to nominate Bruce Morris for the position of mayor. I think he politically has more to offer the entire city of Norwalk, and the people of Norwalk,” Dumas said.
Multiple Democrats seconded Rilling.
“He has kept our taxes low,” former Common Council member Warren Peña said. “He has fully funded the board of education. He’s got infrastructure projects throughout the city. He’s done a lot of work down in South Norwalk.”
Council member Travis Simms (D-District B) seconded Morris.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job up the state,” Simms said. “He’s worked hard with trying to bring ECS funding back to the city of Norwalk. …I think the city needs to go in a different direction, have a new vision.”
Rilling bestowed kudos on all the hard-working volunteers that serve on Norwalk’s Boards and Commissions, as well as the elected officials that help make the city run. The great job they are doing shows in multiple ways, including strengthened communications with citizens, he said.
“We have fostered business retention,” Rilling said, citing “Xerox, CPTV, GGP and “GE jobs that were going to leave Connecticut but came to Norwalk.”
There will be a ground breaking on The SoNo Collection in August and Washington Village will help many people, Rilling said.
The grand list has grown 1.5 percent in each of the last two years, the city has maintained its Triple A bond rating, the crime rate is down and people are talking about Norwalk, he said.
The city will save millions of dollars because the Norwalk Federation of Teachers agreed to the state health insurance plan, which has the added benefit of protecting the city from a catastrophic claim, he said.
Rilling said he had reviewed the list of goals he set out when he announced his reelection bid in January,
“I kind of got a chuckle in that the things I said we want to do next term, a lot of them we have already accomplished, from the time of January to now,” Rilling said, citing investments in schools, the health plan, the library parking and a city-wide parking study.
“Probably within the next week and a half to two weeks, we are going to be releasing our recommendations for the housing study that we just had,” Rilling said, referring to a study focused on people who earn between $35,000 and $65,000 a year. “…We don’t want them to leave. We want to be able to have people stay in Norwalk, we don’t want to have people forced out of Norwalk, we want them to stay in our community.”
The city will be forming a blue-ribbon panel on African American and Latino affairs, he said, adding that the city reached out Thursday to the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to see if there is money available for businesses affected by the construction of the Walk Bridge.
“I look forward to a strong, strong campaign where we can continue to elect the people who have worked so hard for the city of Norwalk,” Rilling said.
Afterwards, Morris told NancyOnNorwalk that he is moving ahead with getting signatures to challenge Rilling in a primary.
“I did not expect to win tonight,” Morris said.
Asked about the lack of support from outside District B, Morris said he had expected the people who abstained to vote for him.
Among the five abstentions was NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams.
“We call each other all the time, we talk… she has been a wonderful, wonderful collaborator,” Rilling said as part of his speech.
Rilling faces a challenge from independent Lisa Brinton Thomson, as well as from the Republican Party: the Republican Town Committee meets Monday to endorse a mayoral candidate. RTC Chairman Andy Conroy is set to take Rilling on, should his party endorse his candidacy.