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.
“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.”
“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.”