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Morris turns full attention to Norwalk mayoral fray

State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) speaks to supporters Sunday in his Wall Street Norwalk mayoral campaign headquarters.

The election is Nov. 7.

NORWALK, Conn. – Bruce Morris has a retort for Mayor Harry Rilling as he gears up for what he is calling “an unconventional campaign” in his effort to become Norwalk’s next mayor, with one month to go before the election.

“You may have $150,000, I am looking for 150 volunteers,” Morris said Sunday at a hastily arranged campaign headquarters open house, with a feeling of a campaign kickoff. “…Each volunteer does a whole lot more damage than $1,000.”

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

Campaign finance filings are due by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday; Morris said he’s heard that Rilling has raised a total $150,000. Rilling declined to comment. His campaign had raised nearly $116,000 on June 30, the end of the last quarter.

Morris advertised the open house just one day earlier; about 35 people crowded into his campaign headquarters at 20 Wall St., many of them family members.

Rilling, who is seeking a third 2-year term, has three challengers: Republican Andy Conroy, a former Common Council member; and two petitioning candidates, unaffiliated Lisa Brinton Thomson, an activist, and Morris, a state representative representing District 140 for 11 years.

Brinton Thomson held an open house for her campaign headquarters last week, which NancyOnNorwalk missed.

Morris agreed Sunday that his headquarters opening was like a campaign kickoff, saying, “The challenges slowed me down.”

Morris in July announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer after deciding to run for mayor. The surgery was “100 percent effective,” but a misdiagnosed infection has knocked him out, he said.

As a state representative, he has been spending a lot of time in Hartford as the legislature tries to work out a state budget, he acknowledged Sunday. “Plus, healing,” he said, of his delay in getting going.

State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) speaks to supporters Sunday in his Wall Street Norwalk mayoral campaign headquarters.

“It’s been a journey getting here,” Morris said to his supporters, his wife sitting by his side, going on to decry Norwalk’s development as not being beneficial to Norwalk citizens.
Morris said he will be releasing a “Norwalk First” plan for smart growth economic development, a framework of business development, workforce development and quality of life.

“It’s not just about building buildings to have something adding to your grand list. It’s about having businesses that are from Norwalk partaking in those jobs. … It’s about the workforce here in Norwalk,” Morris said, explaining that young people who grew up here cannot afford to pay the high rent.

Morris said he has kept promises he made in 2006, such as helping to create programs that have lessened the prison population, and spoke of public/private partnerships to move the city forward.

The state budget is “going to continue to get harder,” Morris said. “The state has done a lot to reposition ourselves, retool ourselves, but the cities have done nothing to follow up on that.”

People have asked him to run for mayor for years he said.

“Right now is the critical time,” he said. “Why? Because I am the person who is best suited to go to Hartford and actually get something done for you, as I have done for the last 11 years. I am on the right committees, I have gotten the things done. I am the person who as mayor who doesn’t need to send a lobbyist, doesn’t need to send my deputy, I know the people there. I know the direction that the state is going. I know how to piggyback on the good initiatives that are there., and make them happen here in our city.”

Norwalk’s strength is its diversity, and “everyone needs to have a voice in civil government,” he said, promising a civil, transparent, inclusive government.

I think it’s a tragedy,” Morris said of the recent Common Council vote on contract to two architectural firms to design the two new schools that have been planned, as Republican Council members voted no, saying that they hadn’t been given sufficient backup materials on the reasons the firms had been selected.

“I don’t care what party you are in,” Morris said. “If you are an elected member of government you need to have all the information so you can make responsible decisions.”

The school decisions were made “in meetings that weren’t even public,” and the decision to build a South Norwalk magnet school on the Nathaniel Ely site was against the will of the community, he said.

The Board of Education Facilities Committee did not meet for months after a consulting firm recommended building new schools; Chairman Mike Barbis said he was researching details. Norwalk Public Schools held a series of public meetings in the summer and fall of 2016, including at least three in South Norwalk, but Morris has said these were about the facilities study, not the actual new schools.

Of Rilling’s gigantic warchest, Morris said Sunday, “I am trying to restore government back to the people. Money influences too many of the decisions that happen. I am willing to put everything on the line.”

Morris is For Us signs, pilled in the campaign HQ on Sunday.

“We have a strategic plan,” Morris told his supporters. “By the way, I know there is another candidate who is doing that. If you check the history, ever since 2006, you will see everything I have ever done is recorded, Bruce Morris has advocated for a strategic plan for the state of Connecticut, we need to have one for the city. Bruce Morris will make sure that happens.”

With four candidates running for mayor and serious issues in front of the city, “I am very confident, the issues are going to be discussed,” Morris said.

After his speech, Morris said that events like that one, reaching out with mass media and letting people know about his campaign, would make the difference as he seeks to reach voters even with his late start.

Of the likelihood of getting 150 volunteers, he said “I went to one place last week, said I needed 150 volunteers, 12 people signed up immediately,” and explained that when he first ran for state rep he had 120 volunteers, and has averaged 60-80 since then.

“This is a different kind of race,” he said. “I am telling people what we have to do is unconventional… be flexible.”

Republicans say that the recent “bipartisan budget,” which has been vetoed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, would have maintained Norwalk’s funding.

Asked about that in relation to his statement that he is “the person who is best suited to go to Hartford and actually get something done for you,” as the Democratic budget has been described to cost Norwalk money, Morris said the “Republican budget” did not maintain Norwalk’s funding.

He had asked the Office of Finance Analysis (OFA) and, “The city of Norwalk loses money,” Morris said, standing by his press release claiming that the Republican budget eliminates Priority School District funding.

“They have a budget that ignores collective bargaining,” Morris said. “…That was not a realistic budget and that’s why the governor vetoed it. If it was so real of a budget, they had a chance to override the veto, why didn’t they call it?”

Morris in May spoke of public-private partnerships.

“I talked to people in two international communities who were very interested,” Morris said Sunday. “Every city should be doing more public/private partnerships.”

A video on his Facebook page mentions international investors in connection to funding for professional development for teachers and changing the culture in the schools.

Morris is former Norwalk Public Schools human relations director; he claims discrimination in the termination of that role, and has sued the city.

When he was human relations director people regularly told him that they moved here from the wealthy towns nearby because they wanted their children to be exposed to diversity.

“That is something we need to do more, we need to market the city. In order to do that, we need to have systems in place, to really leverage that,” Morris said. “…That used to be, but is not the case.”

The crowd included Bill and Regina Krummel. Regina Krummel said Norwalk’s development hasn’t been well done, citing the proximity of the Avalon apartments to the street.

“I think we need some open space where people could meet and talk to each other. Nobody is coming” to the Wall Street area, she said, explaining that she had come to see what Morris had to say.

Subrena Shuler said she was part of Morris’ “Christian family.”

“Not only is he a politician, he is a just man,” Shuler said. “Basically, he follows by his words and I really believe, just like seeing him in the church and the way he does things in the church, that he can also fight for the community. I think he can be a good candidate for the city of Norwalk. Like he just said, to make change. It’s not only for the rich, it’s for the whole entire community.”

Education is her top priority, she said.

“If you educate people they are less likely to be in prison,” Shuler said. “I think some of the things we put money toward is irrelevant because if we educate some of these people that are in prison, and things like that, they are probably less likely to be there.”

Of the planned new school on the Ely site, she said, “More schools is better. You can build all the schools you want but you have to put the right people in the schools. So you need the right people to educate our kids.”

15 comments

Wallace October 9, 2017 at 11:08 am

His whole campaign is a big middle finger to Harry after the “fix-it-first” fiasco.

Bruce was trying desperately to keep a school from being built on the Ely site. He is still saying that the community wasn’t involved. THAT IS 100% FALSE! There were several meetings to give the community an opportunity to hear about the potential for remodeling the school… Most community members that came out were supportive!!!!

He’s a spoiler and all he’ll do is take democratic votes from Harry.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 9, 2017 at 11:09 am

I like Bruce Morris. He may have burned some bridges at the BOE, but he is genuinely passionate about the kind of development Norwalk needs to benefit the people who live here and not just the wealthy developers who want to profit here. Though I’m supporting a different candidate—Lisa Brinton—Bruce Morris has something to contribute to this campaign season. The idea of making Norwalk a place for people to prosper so they can afford to stay in Norwalk should be universal. Aside from Haouri, who keeps saying his business is minority owned, what I’ve witnessed is a loss of African American owned businesses. The mall will add jobs, but not the kinds of jobs that pay the rent. Nothing wrong with wanting all stakeholders to have a chance to thrive here.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 9, 2017 at 12:04 pm

@Wallace, Shirley Mosbay wanted a neighborhood school at the Ely site. So did Faye Bowman and Travis Simms. They all said the commuity wanted a neighborhood school. And they did not want to lose Springwood Park. Instead they got a magnate school. The reasons for the BOE’s decision to opt for a magnate school on this site are complex. State desegregation requirements played a role. Someone was going to have to be bussed somewhere regardless of whether or not Ely became a magnate school. I have a much better understanding now of Faye & Travis’s objections than I had a few months ago.

amar October 9, 2017 at 1:07 pm

The Co-Owner of Oak Hills Restaurant is an African American Women in Business at Oak Hills that invested her life savings to better her family life,she took a chance worked very hard to build her business ,So far nothing is being done to stop the Damage,
We are still waiting for a plan of action from mayor Rilling to make us whole and let us leave since ,Black business is not the welcome at Oak Hills and city officials are not doing anything about it,
Black Business Matter
Amar Haouari

Paul Lanning October 9, 2017 at 1:14 pm

He’s a spoiler. Neither he nor Mr. Conroy can win. They’ll both take votes away from Lisa Thomson, whose stated plan would benefit all Norwalk residents, and who WILL defeat Mayor Rilling if these other two lackluster candidates withdraw and give her their support.

Patrick Cooper October 9, 2017 at 2:16 pm

@Paul Lanning – agreed, but disagree who he’s taking votes from.

Only Bruce knows exactly the motivations for his candidacy, but it sure seems like this is the result of Dis-B Dems angry at Harry. So…from my bird’s nest, I see Bruce votes taking away from Harry, not Lisa Brinton Thomson. Lisa’s approach is appealing to thoughtful voters, from all sides, including the sidelines. Andy is a placeholder until the local republicans can figure out how to gain the momentum they lost after Moccia. Then again, perhaps those voters are the one’s heading out of state.

No – ideal for Harry would be Bruce dropping out – for health reasons or perhaps a back-room deal that offer’s juicy consulting and or administration positions post the election. The best thing for Lisa is for Bruce to stay in – Andy to drop out and endorse (doubtful), and for voter’s sick of the status quo to show up and vote with their brains, not their party affiliation.

No matter how it shakes out – it’s going to be Harry using his campaign treasure chest (thanks developers, quid pro quo “fo-sho”) to unleash a tsunami of misleading messages. But is anyone fooled? See the article in the hour today? Fairfield County Real Estate sales UP 4% through the first 9 months this year. Bridgeport and Danbury are UP 6%. Norwalk is DOWN –3%. That is Harry’s report card. Wonder if anyone will ask him – if Norwalk is “moving forward” thanks to all your accomplishments, why do objective outside investors indicate, no?

Cindy October 9, 2017 at 2:31 pm

@Patrick Cooper …. It was a back room deal that led to Bruce getting his no show job at the BOE. Those days are over.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 9, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Agree with Patrick Cooper. Bruce Morris running against Harry Rilling because district B democrats feel like they were thrown under the bus on the BOE’s school plan. In my neighborhood, Firetree is also on people’s minds. Votes for Morris will cannibalize Rilling’s performance at the polls in District B. The real race is between Rilling and Lisa Brinton. Thoughful voters prefer Lisa’s more direct, pragmatic approach to getting work done as transparently as possible, sausage-making and all. Harry will benefit from low voter turnout because his loyalists turn out no matter what. Harry believes—wrongly I think—that voters prefer a mayoral persona not contaminated by backroom politics—Ribbon-cutting Rilling, so to speak. The truth is Harry Rilling is both public performer and behind the scenes either getting things done or mucking things up, depending on your POV and experiences at City Hall. I have seen a good bit of mucking up.

Mike Mushak October 9, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Donna, what specific African-American owned businesses have you witnessed closing, as you stated in your comment above? I’m familiar with many SoNo businesses since I both live in and own a business in this community, and haven’t seen this happen myself. It would be helpful to know specifics so solutions might be brought up at the next CNNA meeting. Thank you!

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 9, 2017 at 6:49 pm

@Mike Mushak, I hope you will forgive an old lady her faulty memory. I don’t recall the names of the specific businesses owned by African Americans, but most were near the SoNo train station—the restaurants and barber shop, plus a club on Main Street. These establishments are still minority owned, but the current owners are Latino. I’m happy for the Latino community. But these are losses to the black community. I don’t know what kinds of solutions CNNA is empowered to effect. But since the city happily gives tax incentives to non minority owned businesses, something similar might be part of the plan—to promote locally owned businesses. And maybe create added incentives or benefits for black businesses with historic ties to Norwalk.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 9, 2017 at 7:12 pm

@Mike, at one time all the businesses near the intersection of Monroe and Main Streets by the South Norwalk train station were owned by African-Americans. Now they are almost all owned by Latinos. There were multiple restaurants and a barber shop. There was also a black-owned nightclub on Main. That is gone. Great for the Hispanic community. Sad for the black community, many of whom were born and raised here. Perhaps the POCD could suggest incentives for minority businesses owned by Norwalk natives. The city has given tax incentives to big outside investors. Small locally owned businesses need a leg up too.

Mitch Adis October 9, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Racism lives on because we continue to focus on color. What difference does it make what color the owner of a business is. Should we do something about Greek owned diners? @Donna pointing out the businesses near the train station being owned by Latinos is troublesome. What’s the point of this? Why does it matter? The opportunity is there for anyone who chooses to take it.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.