NORWALK, Conn. — Lisa Brinton Thomson, unaffiliated candidate for Norwalk mayor, on Thursday criticized incumbent Democratic Mayor Harry Rilling for his efforts regarding the state’s expected massive effort to rebuild the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River.
“The lack of leadership from our mayor and the state is simply not good enough,” Brinton Thomson said at a press conference, sitting near the Maritime Aquarium’s IMAX Theater and the Walk Bridge.
The state is expected to tear down the IMAX Theater to provide room for construction equipment. Aquarium leaders are working toward building a 4-D theater as a replacement on the other side of the aquarium, but funding is not yet certain.
“It’s a step in the right direction if the state actually makes one organization whole,” Brinton Thomson said. “However, there doesn’t appear to be anyone asking for, or fighting for, anything of this magnitude on behalf of the other businesses and residents that will also be affected by this project.”
“I am shocked and concerned by the very real prospect of actually paying for this (IMAX) building three times, with taxpayer money-albeit from different sources,” Brinton Thomson said, later explaining that “three times” refers to the initial construction, the building of a new theater and the pending demolition.
“Even if replacing the bridge is absolutely essential, and I am willing to believe it is, Norwalk is being treated as a mere bystander by the state,” Brinton Thomson said. “…I am at a loss for words when I consider that this past year, we had a 109-page report indicating the impacts that would befall Norwalk if this project went ahead. With no in depth analysis, even though a request for a written response had been made, the state was allowed to simply dictate that there was ‘No Significant Impact because of this project. And our mayor said nothing.”
“So far, the current administration has simply played ball with Hartford, trusting that they will make Norwalk whole,” she said. “Unfortunately, the state has a poor track record of looking after our city, having taken advantage of Norwalk for years with the Educational Cost Sharing formula – and so I have no reason believe they will look after our best interests now, unless we a lot more noise.”
She suggested possible compensations from the state:
- “Norwalk should receive special allocations to assist with the construction of our two new schools, due to the near permanent removal of property tax producing residential and commercial properties from the tax rolls
- “The state should help in the re-opening the Wall Street train station
- “The state should insist Metro North make capital investments along the Norwalk portion of the New Haven line to compensate riders for delays and other hardships inflicted on the city.
- “The state should provide grants to the taxing districts to compensate for the permanent removal of income producing customers from their service territories
- “The state should, and this is a real minimum, provide a commitment to hire local labor and using local businesses where possible during the projects”
She did not respond to subsequent emails asking what capital investments she had in mind for the New Haven line.
Rilling has previously expressed support for a Wall Street train station.
His response to her comments:
“While I appreciate my opponents’ efforts to offer suggestions, her lack of understanding, experience and leadership ability is shining through yet again. It is shocking to me that a person with zero experience in government, zero experience in managing large budgets, zero experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects would seem to think she knows better than our elected officials, attorneys, engineers, planners and citizens at the local, state and federal level who have been immersed in this project for over a year.
“We have hosted at least a half dozen public meetings (of which I believe Ms. Thompson attended one) where she could have had the opportunity to get a better understanding of the process and options. As I’ve said many times, my team and I have had over 50 meetings with the State. We understand what is at stake and are working in partnership with the state to accomplish the best outcome for Norwak.
“A true leader understands the process (or at least makes an effort to learn about it), the leverage points (not while there is no state budget in place) and works to achieve the best outcome for all stakeholders (not only a small group of friends). A true leader brings people together to find solutions (not putting stakeholders against one another). A true leader does not make snap decisions and pronouncements with little to no information.
“I have been a staunch advocate for Norwalk throughout this process and will make sure we not only continue to thrive during construction but have a strategy in place to make South Norwalk an even more vibrant part of our City at the conclusion of the project.”
Brinton Thomson, in an email, said she had attended “two public hearings for sure.”
“The first one last year, when they proposed the three solutions and provided an overview in the Concert Hall,” she said. “At that time, I submitted a written statement for the Wall Street Train Station. Then the one a couple of weeks ago.”
Rilling has said that he has been in 50-60 meetings with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to discuss the Walk Bridge project.
Republican candidate Andy Conroy has also held a press conference to denounce Rilling’s approach to the Walk Bridge dilemma. State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140), like Brinton Thomson a petitioning candidate, said at a recent debate that the “horse is out of the barn” as far as protecting Norwalk during the years of construction, agreeing with Brinton Thomson that once the Common Council authorized the signing of a master municipal agreement with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Norwalk’s leverage was gone.