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Opinion: My vision for Norwalk

Mayor Harry Rilling.

Mayor Harry Rilling, former Norwalk Police chief and the Democratic-endorsed candidate, was first elected in 2013. 

 

I’d like to thank the voters of Norwalk for all your support and to ask for your vote for a third term.  Over my first two terms we saw many successes and we continue to move Norwalk forward despite the obstacles that our state currently faces.  During this time, we need a Mayor with the strength and conviction to do what is right regardless of public or political pressure, I believe my track record speaks for itself.  I owe so much to this city for what it has given to me.  Serving as your Mayor is the most rewarding job I have ever had. I am proud of what we have accomplished – but there is still much to do.  We need to continue to focus on financial stability, education, smart economic development and maintaining Norwalk’s culture, charm and identity.  I would like to detail some of the priorities and vision for my third term.

 

First, financial stability.  As we all know, the State budget is in crisis.  While other Connecticut cities and towns are on the verge of bankruptcy, close to losing their bond ratings and contemplating supplemental tax bills, we are standing strong.  Standard & Poor’s recently released a report on Connecticut and cited Norwalk as one of the only towns in the state with the ability to make it through the budget crisis unscathed.  This is no accident – it is a result of prudent spending, the ability to prioritize needs and make smart investments.  We have and will continue to sustain our AAA bond rating despite the rest of the state struggling to get by.  Protecting Norwalk taxpayers will always remain one of my top priorities. During my tenure, we have had the lowest mill rate increases in the past 15 years.

 

Next, education.  I believe that every Norwalk student deserves a world class education. And Norwalk students deserve the best teachers and the classroom tools they need to succeed.   It is my desire for people to want to move to Norwalk because of our schools and education system.  In order to achieve this, during my last term, I recommended the largest investment in both the Board of Education operating and capital budgets in the history of Norwalk.   I also led the charge to create a Special Education fund and I want to maintain and bolster that program.  We have had great results in improving the achievement gap in Norwalk, but there is so much more that we can and will do with your continued support.

 

I will continue to stand with our local education institutions including Norwalk Community College. Our students need access to higher education and our city and our state need a 21st century workforce.  I have forged a strong partnership with the Board of Education – we are united and working together on everything from the district’s strategic plan to improve our performance, to more efficient and timely snow removal.   We need a Mayor who can continue this partnership – a Mayor who has relationships and knows how to bring people together to find solutions that raise us all.

 

Third, smart economic development.  Creating more economic development while maintaining our way of life is important to me and our taxpayers.  I take pride in the fact that while the rest of our state is losing population at an alarming rate, Norwalk is attracting people. We are also attracting developers who want to invest in our City. Why? Because they share my vision of what Norwalk is and what we can be.

 

We are a thriving community with an exciting and vibrant urban core and beautiful neighborhoods, each with its individual character.  We need to continue to grow, but with an emphasis on smart growth.  Apartments and offices will continue to grow in our urban core – with easy access to public transportation, biking and walkability. The ability to achieve this is dependent on a Mayor who is accessible, responsive and has relationships with our neighboring communities.

 

Finally, and most importantly, my job is to stand up for Norwalk.  This is complex and sometimes leaves me open to criticism. But I am proud of the decisions I make because I know they are always based on what is in the best interest of our City, not on political pressure. I am standing up for Norwalk to ensure that the State compensates our residents and business for disruptions caused by the Walk Bridge Project.  I will continue to hold the DOT and the Governor accountable.  I will also stand up to developers who threaten to disrupt our neighborhoods and affect access to our public institutions.

 

I believe Norwalk is the greatest city in Connecticut. We are within 50 miles of the largest metropolis in the country, we have a neighborhood for every citizen – from the shore, to the woods to a vibrant urban center filled with entertainment, arts and dining, we have a diverse citizenry encompassing hundreds of ethnicities, and a range of incomes and interests.  I am proud to be your Mayor and I hope I can count on your continued support.

11 comments

David McCarthy October 18, 2017 at 7:29 am

Is this intended as a joke? It sure reads that way.

This is the first thing the mayor has put out that articulates any plans since before he was elected….and it doesn’t even do that! The mayor pats himself on the back for successes, but doesn’t list any…curious, but not surprising, as his hallmark is not doing anything.

He says that we need a mayor “with the strength and conviction to do what is right regardless of public or political pressure” That is literally anyone but him. From standing with the Teacher’s Union (pandering) urging the veto of the bipartisan state budget (political cronyism) to getting on board with the ill-advised and unresearched “Fix it First” plan (political cronyism, again) the last few months alone have demonstrated this. Throw in that he has laid down in front of the state as they have wiped their feet on him in making plans to destroy central Norwalk with the Walk Bridge and it gets ridiculous. I can’t think of anything that demonstrates in any way that the mayor made a decision of any kind that wasn’t due to political pressure.

Financial stability…he has existed during the last few years, yes. His current plans will end this stability. He has raised spending to the largest degree of any mayor in the last 15 years…the fact that the economy has been doing well has allowed him to make a nonsense claim here. Anyone feel like they are paying low taxes?

Education…for the mayor to make any claims with regard to education is ludicrous. He fought against making the appropriate investment in schools (remember him standing with Bob Duff…political crony) and then caved when he realized parents were pressuring for it to be done right (pandering). Now he takes credit. He seems to also be taking credit for NCC, which literally has nothing to do with the mayor’s job in any way.

A strong partnership with the BOE? He did so by not attending any meetings whatsoever or having any input to the process other than allowing Mike Lyons to implement his vision. His strongest accomplishment may be that he left Chairman Lyons alone. Ah…but he didn’t…he almost succeeded in having him removed during the last election, when Lyons only won by 73 votes. He also never intervened when Lyons (et al) was attacked by the nattering nabobs of negativism on the board with ridiculous politically motivated attacks.

Our mayor reminds me of the governor…the governor from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” played by Charles Durning. “Ooooooh! I love to dance a little side-step… Now you see me – now you don’t…” Like Charles Durning’s character, he’s associated with nothing, does nothing, but claims success for everything.

Apologies for being Mushakian.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

Mayor Rilling, as strictly ceremonial mayors go, does an excellent job. And I admire his passion and his dedication to Norwalk. However, regarding some of the signature features of his tenure, the mayor seems to have omitted a few important details. For one, as the BOE was in the midst of their capital plan for improving schools throughout Norwalk, Mayor Rilling stood with Bob Duff and Bruce Morris touting “Fix it First”. I don’t know whether Mayor Rilling was railroaded into the Fix It First endorsement or was poorly informed. But it is inaccurate to say that the approved budget for capital improvements for the NPS received his unflagging support from day one,

Norwalk is attracting people. Some of those people live in illegal apartments. And we have an enforcement problem. The influx of non-English speaking children entering Norwalk schools is not budget neutral. The BOE has had to fund for unanticipated increases in enrollment. Funding for SPED and ELL have also gone up. Children deserve a first class education. But the tax base in Norwalk cannot sustain costs associated with this influx under the current ECS.

Higher education is important to growing a capable workforce. But the mayor protested proposed cuts to one of Hartford’s FOUR commuity colleges by participating with Bob Duff in a forum at NCC, in which claims were made regarding defunding of programs at that school. The claims were not entirely accurate, nor were similar claims made about a “secret teacher tax”.

Under Rilling’s tenure, the Charter Revision Commission requested that they be allowed to continue their work or that a new CRC be impaneled by the Common Council. I know the mayor asked the CC to do this. The CC chose not to. I would like to know how Mayor Riling feels about Charter Revision, and what steps he might take to encourage the CC to impanel a new CRC when they have been previously—on a couple occasions according to Igneri—refused to do so.

Norwalk needs to focus on sustainable, virtuous growth based on a Master Plan that the various Norwalk land use commissions adhere to. In the absence of a plan with real teeth, we can look forward to more big box stores, and more lawsuits. My personal pet peeve relates to 17 Quintard and the preliminary notifications that the Mayor, the police chief and the CC president received in 2014, BEFORE Pivot/Tony Kiniry sold the property to Firetree. I’ve heard various explanations for why these letters were overlooked, none of them satisfactory.

Finally, stories of dysfunction at City Hall continue to flourish, from homeowners having to jump through multiple hoops in order to perform ordinary work, to others seemingly allowed to do whatever they want without regard to regulations or codes, to some very heavy handed and unprecedented enforcement of sign ordinances by the DPW. Do I hold Mayor Rilling responsible for all of these things? Of course not. Do I and many others believe a budget neutral City Manager could help? Yes. And I wish the Mayor were on board with this idea.

Patrick Cooper October 18, 2017 at 11:43 am

Mayor Rilling, you are correct – you stand on your record. Taken directly from the Norwalk website provided 2017-2018 budget:

2013 – 2014 Grand List: $12,805,517,547. For 2017-2018 Grand List: $12,220,457,278 (-4.8%)

To be fair, in 14/15 there was an adjustment of valuation, resulting in a -7.7% hit to the GL. But still, in 15/16 (.7%), in 16/17 (1.5%), and in 17/18 (1.1%). In short – for the years you have been mayor, our grand list is down.

Our mill rate? In 2013/2014 – 22.19, and in 2017/2018 – 25.75 – an increase of 12.2%. Put into context, inflation (CPI) over the same period is 5.1%. From my perspective – the financial report-card for Norwalk home owner/ taxpayers under your leadership: Property values down, taxes up. Services? I wouldn’t know – in Cranbury we pay for private garbage collection, have no access to city sewers, and are among the last streets in the city to be plowed / paved.

Attracting developers? Your campaign coffers sure do. Yes, you have worked your appointment magic with the land use boards, and as a result we are a retail, apartment, fast food & liquor store heaven. Flip flop on the Mall? BJ’s? Interesting once the contributions come, the LDA agreements are like silly-putty. By the way – can you answer this: how many apartment units are there in Norwalk? Total “bedrooms? What percentage of the city’s population lives in apartments? What percentage of our property taxes do apartment “owners” pay? Explain why your vision includes 1000’s more?

Big talk all around the US – who could attract Amazon? That I95/ Main plot that’s going to host a mall – made obsolete before it’s constructed, ironically, by the company that could have taken that space. But the low information voter you crave will only hear about all the jobs – the one’s that pay on average 40% of our city’s median income. Those career building job at Popeye’s, Lowes, Dick’s, and Merry-go-Round will sure keep millennials home, especially if the Waypointe will let them live 8 in a two bedroom.

Further – what I want to know is – name me one positive for Norwalk because of your blind, steadfast devotion to the Hartford Democratic party bosses. How has your support for Malloy, Duff, Morris, Perone, etc. helped this city? Helped this state? You’ve never explained, why did you stand with Bob Duff on the “Fix it First” press conference? Only to change your mind when the wind blew. Why did you do literally nothing about Firetree? Why do you capitulate to the DOT on the Walk Bridge? On the RT7 connector now boulevard?

Mr. Mayor – here’s the good news: I’m but 1 vote. But know this: nothing you can say now will help, because I’m only concerned with deeds, not words. It’s what you have done, not what you have said. Sorry, but you have lost my vote, and as I listen, observe, and sense the dissatisfaction with other Norwalk taxpayers – I’m not alone.

Notaffiliated October 18, 2017 at 2:19 pm

A number of statistics would always be great to know.

Earlier post suggests the numbers on apartment ownership and taxes. It would be great to have the breakdown

I guess we’ll never hear anyone talk about undocumented folks living in Norwalk and what the associated costs per capita

Debora Goldstein October 18, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Standing up for Norwalk against whom?

Firetree? who wanted to put a prisoner halfway house on Quintard?

The DOT? Who insisted on backing up plans drawn by city engineers to lower the roadway on East Ave over twenty years of objections by the residents?

The DOT? who would not consider a fixed bridge solution or repair in place for the Walk Bridge?

GGP? Who successfully wrangled the city into two (not one, but TWO) amendments to the LDA for 95/7 so that the proposed mixed use plan pitched to the residents in a year of dog and pony show meetings could wind up being–a mall, with almost a million square feet of retail and no mixed use at all?

NRG? Who is sitting on Manresa Island watching us spend money to talk about all the uses the island can be put to, and has the right to do nothing with it?

How about your own common council? Who refused to even vote on the possibility of a second charter revision commission (so nobody would be on record as being against it), despite your expressed preference to tackle it?

Wineshine October 18, 2017 at 4:56 pm

I can understand a Congressman who hasn’t had to deal with his ACA sponsored healthcare because he or she is given special coverage. I can understand A world-class tennis player being so engrossed in their career that they don’t see the news, or read the papers, and I can understand Hillary Clinton not knowing how to swipe a Metrocard, but for the life of me, how does the Mayor of a city of eighty thousand or so residents become so detached from reality that he writes this article, and clearly believes what he’s written?

Norwalk has been and continues to be held hostage by any entity with a competent legal team. We’ve come to be known as pushovers. No one yet mentioned the $2M settlement in the mosque deal. This is not leadership.

Rick October 18, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Firetree Stantec ( or whatever name they are using this week)

The mere fact Pa officials are using our research work from Quintard ave QANA fighting firetree and our own city ignored us speaks volumes.

Comments from a Norwalk official in the Reading Eagle PA this week shows how disconnected the city is from our fight.

Backing the likes of Duff Himes and Murphy shows how far disconnected the city is.

Ryan Park was disaster, when we all first talked about it with the Redevelopment auth concerns of PCB was paramount in cleanup ,it was those who live close was the concern. Before ground was broken on new apartments, Now that those new windows are feet from the site new concerns arise.

Then the city goes out and hires a street and driveway business from Msss the lowest bidder to do clearly defined critical work removing nasty chemicals passing qualified companies that yes cost more, the one bid that was double the amount accepted is concerning.(what did they know)

Issues that surround the Day st park was never clearly defined during the bid process but be happy don’t worry .

GGP what can be said its a Trojan horse where the impact wont happen overnight but when it does the money will be on the tree in city halls back yard.

Manressa cost us money and we don’t even get power from it the grant replaced lawn signs wonder what the breakdown was

Salt marsh restoration study cost us money yet Fish and Wildlife info was for nothing again lawn signs were replaced.

Bike lanes cost us now they are used for the unicycle age where laws are needed but will cost money to enforce nice job people. Trust the bike people have been reading whats going on with bikes now riding in traffic on one wheel. progress or ignorance Norwalks new slogan.

Giving up 50 parking spots at the new mall the city had for carnivals will kill the draw of the oyster fest and church groups when Sono Collection the carnivals weekly , yes its what new malls are all about.

Contractors yards on meadow street with dirt piles 4 stories high sending dust into Village creek and South Norwalk was a wonderful plus for those property values, trucks all day and all night possibly responsible for SNEW weekly water main breaks was another well planned growth for the city.

Finding a qualified Fire chief from within the department worked out well, we have some of the smartest firemen around stuck in a power struggle for the top.

Outfitting the police with what it needs seems to have fallen short, but the noise ordinance is working out well right?

where in the traffic studies does it show a bridge strike was covered and plans to reroute traffic is in place, the strike today shows how ill planned the city is now before construction.

Emergency prep is at all time high , its amazing what has been left out.

One thing I found interesting and moving the city was the artist who touched up the mural at the diner on Ct ave , the first artist passed away and the diner had it touched up a nice tribute to the city.

Editor’s note: Parking spaces were eliminated at the mall when the plan for a hotel was dropped. GGP said it didn’t need to dig a second level for its undermall parking area.

Paul Lanning October 18, 2017 at 8:50 pm

According to the news articles I read, Norwalk borrowed $1.7 million from the state for use in the Globe Theater renovation.

I read that the city must either repay the $1.7 million or else lose that amount in state grants.

Look at the theater now. Nothing is happening there at all, because no one involved in the lavish renovation had any plan or vision for filling the 1,000-capacity venue with paying customers ongoing. Booking/marketing/operating were all left to chance.

No insult intended toward the occasional local night club band, cabaret performer, or puppet show that fill out the theater’s paltry fall lineup, but the place is DOA.

To complete the picture, the project’s developer faces millions worth of contractor liens for alleged unpaid bills.

Bill Nightingale, Jr October 19, 2017 at 8:19 am

Paul Lanning

I have maintained for years that the city will end up owning the theater and be on the hook for its liabilities. It is clearly going that way. The owner never had any equity in it.

Hello I Must Be Going October 19, 2017 at 1:05 pm

“Big talk all around the US – who could attract Amazon? That I95/ Main plot that’s going to host a mall – made obsolete before it’s constructed, ironically, by the company that could have taken that space. But the low information voter you crave will only hear about all the jobs – the one’s that pay on average 40% of our city’s median income. Those career building job at Popeye’s, Lowes, Dick’s, and Merry-go-Round will sure keep millennials home, especially if the Waypointe will let them live 8 in a two bedroom.”

This is it, in a nutshell, Patrick Cooper.

Patrick Cooper October 20, 2017 at 7:01 pm

@Hello I Must Be Going – awesome, thank you. Apparently, you “get” my affect-effect scattered economic assessments. It’s a tiny group.

You see some people talk about “economic activity”, but that’s just the dope-warping of statistics. Anyone care to clarify “of that – what accrues to Norwalk” – no – unable. So, a person buys bread, dry cleaning, yoga classes and new tires – how does that pay for local schools when they are funded principally by property taxes? I wish that was the nutshell. But it’s bigger, and all inter connected. My hunch is you know that.

Behind the Nome de Plume, anything beyond affirmation for one of my points you want to share? Like relative to who (or “what”) you want or need as a leader for this city? Even if you don’t reply, I encourage you to connect with other invested taxpayers and urge them to speak by voting.

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