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Penn-Williams decries Norwalk Dems’ all-white BoE candidate slate

From left, the Democratic ticket for Board of Education this fall: BoE member Heidi Keyes, Sarah Lemieux, Barbara Meyer-Mitchell and Common Council member Bruce Kimmel.

Brenda Penn-Williams. (file photo)

NORWALK, Conn. — It’s a disgrace that the Norwalk Democratic party has presented an all-white slate of Board of Education candidates, Brenda Penn-Williams said.

“They are running an all-white slate. This is a diverse town for the Board of Education. How dare you run an all-white slate? I am going to make sure the minorities in this town do not vote for that slate,” she said Tuesday.

Penn-Williams, Norwalk Branch NAACP President and former Democratic Town Committee Vice Chairwoman, castigated DTC members Monday in a speech that referenced apartheid. Jalin Sead also spoke about the lack of diversity on the ticket. NancyOnNorwalk was not there but was told by multiple DTC members that Chairman Ed Camacho responded by taking the blame for the lack of diversity on the ticket.

Norwalk Democrats endorsed incumbent BoE member Heidi Keyes, Common Council member Bruce Kimmel, Barbara Meyer-Mitchell and Sarah Lemieux, leaving incumbent African American BoE member Shirley Mosby last in the five-way competition, without the endorsement.

Mosby attempted to force a primary but fell short. She will be on the ballot as a Working Families Party candidate.

Penn-Williams provided the speech she wrote:

“I would like to address the DTC members regarding a situation that has been ongoing and not addressed in this organization. I strongly feel that there are things that have been ignored or even worse certain people think it’s business as usual.

“The definition of apartheid is a system that segregates a group of people according to race and ethnicity. Tonight, I am here to create a platform for honest and open communication among the DTC. Working with various people within the organization has opened not only my eyes but also many others who want to be a part of making Norwalk a city where we all can feel we are a part of the greater good. I would like to think that the leaders of the DTC could be open to positive change.  As President Barack Obama said we need ‘Change We Can Believe In’ Unfortunately, there have been too many cases of ‘code language’ being spoken.  We speak code so we understand what you are saying.

“In the midst of what is going on in our country, now is the time to come together.  I quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.’  It matters to those of us who are being marginalized in the DTC.  We are going to remain and keep our voices heard. So tell me why the current BOE slate doesn’t reflect the diversity that is the one thing the city likes to tout.”

 

 

“I addressed the DTC after Brenda made her statement Monday night,” Mayor Harry Rilling said Wednesday in an email. “I stressed the fact we have to have the courage to have these discussions whether they make us comfortable or not. We must address the concerns of all our members. As Democrats, it is incumbent upon us to work together to strengthen our party and to serve ALL people. We must be inclusive and transparent and embrace our diversity. No one should be made to feel they do not have a voice.”

Penn-Williams said Tuesday that Camacho’s comment taking the blame was wrong because, “No, this is how you wanted it, buddy.”

She repeated a story that NoN has heard before, about a meeting two years ago in Rilling’s office.

Camacho met with Penn-Williams, then-Council member David Watts and Rilling, and listed elected officials that he did not want to see re-elected, Penn-Williams said. The list included Mosby, then-BoE member Migdalia Rivas, then-BoE member Rosa Murray, then-Council member Sharon Stewart, Council members Travis Simms and Faye Bowman and Watts, Penn-Williams said, quoting Camacho as saying, “If they are all minorities, so be it.”

“David was sitting right there,” she said.

Asked about Penn-Williams’ comments, Camacho in an email said, “The diversity of our 55 member Democratic Town Committee speaks for itself. I’m proud of the work they did in nominating who they believed to be the best qualified candidates for municipal office. I look forward to our ongoing discussions about how best to represent all constituent communities within our system of self governance.”

“It is wrong for Norwalk to say ‘We are diverse’ and you have the nerve, the Democratic Party, the party for the people, to run an all-white slate. It is wrong,” Penn-Williams said.

“They have been marginalizing Shirley all year. She only has one vote. Why not keep her on there? You’d have your five votes anyway, why not keep her on there?” Penn-Williams said, explaining that she heard Kimmel would not run for the BoE if Mosby was on the Democratic slate.

Kimmel, in an email, said, “My primary concern, which I expressed to the Party leadership several months ago, was that the BOE slate be comprised of candidates willing to work constructively with Superintendent Adamowski, Mayor Rilling, other members of the Board, and parents throughout the city. We are in the midst of turning our school system around; my desire was to run with candidates ready to wholeheartedly support that turn-around. I believe the candidate slate put together by DTC chair Ed Camacho, and which was strongly supported by the Democratic Town Committee, will do an excellent job making our schools models of 21st Century education. Our children and their families deserve nothing less.”

Penn-Williams said she heard comments about Mosby’s track record.

“They all have a track record. What kind of track record?” she said.

That Mosby’s “track record” includes an allegation of racial discrimination on the Board of Education is well known, but some insiders also mention her tendency to abstain on important issues:

  • Mosby abstained on both the 2015-16 capital and operating budgets, declining after the Jan. 7, 2015 meeting to explain that to NoN. She was absent from the Jan. 12, 2016 BoE meeting in which both budgets were voted on. She abstained on the 2017-18 capital budget, after a battle to postpone the vote to allow more time to discuss the plan to build new schools. Also abstaining in that vote were Yvel Crevecoeur, Artie Kassimis and Sherelle Harris.
  • Mosby abstained on the 2017-18 operating budget, saying, “I am not going to vote no on it because basically we need to have the operating budget but I cannot support a 10.1 percent (increase) either.”
  • Mosby abstained on the 2016-19 Strategic Operating Plan (SOP), along with Kassimis and Crevecoeur. In March 2016, she abstained on the school calendar, the first two-year calendar, and in March 2015 she abstained on a $20,000 budget transfer to fund the long-awaited After the Bell program at the South Norwalk Community Center.
  • Mosby abstained on the Bring Your Own Device policy in October 2015, saying, “I am not going to vote no against this because I think we should definitely go with some kind of technology, but I think that I am going to abstain when we go to a vote. That way it will give us the opportunity to go back and have a conversation.”

 

Mosby did not respond to a Tuesday email from NoN, asking about this and other issues.

Sead said Wednesday that he learned while knocking on doors for Mosby that people feel if you don’t go along with the establishment you’ll be ousted.

“That’s what people feel about Shirley,” he said, disputing what he said is her reputation as a troublemaker.

“Even with the DTC, there is a feeling that it is controlled by a certain group of people, that it’s not inclusive to the community being represented,” he said.

Sead said he asked Camacho about minority candidates at a District A meeting in March. He provided the meeting’s minutes, which said:

“Ed said for the At-Large BOE, Dems should come up with 4 candidates we can all agree can speak for all of us. That is what we should be doing as Dems….We need to strategize the 4 seats opening up and get a diverse section of the city represented. We should be looking 4 to 6 years ahead and groom people. Ed said we do plan ahead and put effort and thought into it. Jalin said if that’s the case, it’s not being done transparently. After the 2/6/17 DTC meeting a DTC member wrote on social media that everything they talked about wasn’t true.

“Ed said it might be wise for the DTC to form a Nominating Committee to get a better cross-section.”

 

Asked about this, Camacho said, “We have the responsibility to nominate the best possible candidates. With that is the responsibility to recruit and cultivate the best possible people. We all share that responsibility.”

Sead said he wants to make sure that this isn’t about Mosby. He is troubled by the lack of diversity, he said.

“I know there was a big push to recruit women,” Sead said. “I think we could do a little bit better with finding some Latinos or African Americans.”

He didn’t help to recruit candidates because he was really conflicted about whether he’d run for the Council, he said.

A lack of diversity is a serious problem for the national Democratic Party and while Norwalk has been lucky to hold onto a Democratic majority in government it’s “like a canary singing in the mine, we need to listen to it,” he said.

“It’s really about all minority groups having a voice. I want to make sure we cultivate diversity so we don’t have a problem.

Norwalk Democrats have one African American at Large Common Council candidate, Greg Burnett. Penn-Williams said she is a “very good friend” of Burnett but he is a “token.”

“They wanted to make it look not that bad so they asked Greg. It’s wrong. The Common Council and the BoE should reflect the town. They should have more diverse people. Yes, Faye and Travis are running but they are trying to knock them out. C’mon stop it,” Penn-Williams said.

NancyOnNorwalk was not able to get in touch with Burnett on Wednesday. He is Board of Estimate and Taxation chairman and a former BoE member, with a long history of community service in Norwalk.

Simms and Bowman are facing a District B primary from Manny Langella and Hector Correra.

“Less than half the population of South Norwalk identifies as white and approximately 23% as African American. Half the population is Hispanic or Latino,” the 2016 South Norwalk Transit Oriented Development (TOD) plan states.

Penn-Williams said she did not attempt to recruit candidates for office.

“I hear there’s plenty,” she said. “There are a lot of people in there that they could have ran. They had their little pool that they wanted to run. They were not trying to find any.”

18 comments

angel August 24, 2017 at 7:29 am

If Penn-Williams is so concerned about diversity, then why didn’t she run? Aren’t we supposed to pick people based on qualifications and NOT on race? She wants to keep Mosby just because of her race even though she couldn’t get the signatures? That’s a poor reason to have someone in a powerful position making decisions for our district! This is just ridiculous and a poor excuse to make some unnecessary noise. I don’t even care if we are lead by purple dinosaur as long as it can do a good job. That’s what it is all about! What is best for our district and students!

Iliana Zuniga August 24, 2017 at 8:22 am

I am Mexican (and American) and Ed Camacho and current candidate,Barbara Meyers-Mitchell worked HARD to recruit me to run. Unfortunately my work related travel forbid me from accepting. They were trying really hard to have a diverse slate but people just does not step up

V August 24, 2017 at 8:53 am

Are we that sensitive now? What do you do next? Tell the white to sit out? Don’t get involved, you too white.

Pick the best people available and stop the griping.

Concerned August 24, 2017 at 9:29 am

Oh good grief, people will always find something to complain about. Our problems have nothing to do with color in this city, but lack of leadership and direction. But sure, let’s make it about race.

Donna August 24, 2017 at 10:25 am

Penn-Willams wants to promote diversity on the DTC BOE slate. But her accusatory tone is not likely to win over many voters. Also encouraging minorities not to vote for the slate serves no purpose. Why not suggest that African Americans write-in the names of suitable BOE candidates, or actively recruit African Americans to run for BOE and other elected office in Norwalk as unaffiliated candidates? The DTC, which is diverse, chose a BOE slate that is not. Perhaps concerned people of color should consider running as Independents and abandon a party that doesn’t serve their interests. Statements that begin with “how dare they” seldom hit the bullseye. And pointing fingers and shouting “unfair” or “Well, I never” isn’t going to help a single African American get elected to the BOE or anywhere else.

Louis August 24, 2017 at 11:01 am

What other minority candidates were considered for the BOE besides Shirley?

Also, I’d like to know what positive contributions Shirley has made to the BOE. From the article, it appears that she abstains from votes or votes ‘no’ more than supporting any of the initiatives presented by the board. Appears to be more of an obstructionist than anything. We need board members that proactively are involved and don’t just show up and vote.

It really should be no surprise that the DTC did not support Shirley. There were almost 1000 parents signed up on a petition requesting her resignation after her charges of racism against other board members. Evidence that she never actually brought to light to substantiate her claim. This created a huge distraction from work that the BOE should have been doing.

I voted for Shirley 4 years ago but she has lost creditability with me after her claims of racism. Put up the evidence and let’s address it but if not then it’s hard to believe her claims. Thank you for your service, time to move on.

On a side note… It’s pretty disrespectful to call Greg Burnett “token”. The guy is well-educated, well-liked and willing to serve. Exactly what Norwalk needs.

Nabil E. Valencia August 24, 2017 at 11:03 am

The lack of diversity within the BOE slate is not for a lack of trying to recruit diverse QUALIFIED candidates. I myself (A LATINA) was approached given my education and work experience to run and had it not been for personal and work conflicts I would have run. Although I must admit that Norwalk politics is off-putting to the majority of my diverse, educated, well-prepared peers. Maybe the context of Norwalk politics should change and more of my generation will be willing to partake.

Godspeed Norwalk.

Al Bore August 24, 2017 at 11:29 am

Why is it always about race? Move on and stop trying to always play the race card. Stop the negative complaining all the time and do something that can make a positive difference for everyone. Represent the BOE because your qualified and care about all the students of Norwalk, not because your black, white, or purple. Enough of the BS!

Rick August 24, 2017 at 2:26 pm

please add the police dept to almost all white force ,last night no one on the late shift spoke spanish wondering if thats by design?

be great if all the races stop voting in Duff and Perone only way they destroyed the state is with everyones help.

Camacho has a problem not with race but with South Norwalk.

Camacho may not pick people but he does pick issues,stays away from the tough ones and those back room backyard back handed meetings he has been accused of are true.

Non Partisan August 24, 2017 at 3:05 pm

I wonder if Ms Williams and the NAACP realize that insisting on diversity as being more important than excellence, due preocess, and the democratic process founded in our constitution creates more racism and is totally counter productive?

Donna August 24, 2017 at 8:42 pm

The problem appears to be difficulty recruiting willing candidates. Diversity is great if done with purposeful intent and not to satisfy an oblique expectation. The DTC didn’t want Mosby. Mosby failed to get enough signatures to force a primary. There is value to questioning the status quo. But I’m not sure that’s what Mosby did. Sounds like she did not work well with others and was not a team player, and the DTC decided she was a liability to the slate. How shocked would we all be if Penn-Williams, instead of stomping her feet in fury, admitted that maybe Mosby wasn’t an asset to the BOE. Alternatively she could be recruiting people of color to run as unaffiliated candidates. But Penn-Williams has chosen to align with the DTC. If the DTC has a problem with diversity, perhaps it’s time to leave the DTC.

Wineshine August 25, 2017 at 9:50 am

Expressions like “how dare you”, imply that there’s something underhanded going on. And then she vows to see that minorities don’t vote for this slate? That says all one needs to know about the throught process invovled here. Not a great way to win an argument.

McKeen Shanogg August 25, 2017 at 10:07 am

I don’t see any mention of the fact that an existing BOE member, Dr. Yvel Crevecoeur, is of African-American heritage by way of Haiti. He represents District A and has been doing an awesome job.
Apparently he doesn’t count? Why?

McKeen Shanogg August 25, 2017 at 10:18 am

Oh, and why go out of one’s way to insult Greg Burnett? He has provided fine service to the city on the BET and he would make a fine Common Council member.

Donna August 25, 2017 at 11:36 am

@McKeen, Penn-Williams is complaining about the DTC slate for BOE, not the existing board of 9, three of whom are African American. The DTC slate of four candidates does not include one person of color. If Norwalk demographics alone were driving the Democratic slate for BOE, one candidate would be Latino. Sounds like the DTC tried and those they attempted to recruit (see above) declined. Norwalk is about 14% African American and 25% Hispanic. If demographics were driving the composition of the BOE, you’d have to conclude that African Americans are currently over-represented. Then again, so are Greek Americans. It’s hard to expect a board of 9 qualified and willing volunteers to always fit the exact demographics of a City of 88k.

Rocky August 25, 2017 at 1:48 pm

@McKeen, Penn-Williams doesn’t consider Yvel in her discussions because he didn’t come out of her camp and he is not marching to her agenda. He is doing what is best for the taxpayers and children of Norwalk. She talks a lot about back room meetings etc but its pretty clear that she has her own agenda and her comments just show frustration at not getting her way.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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