Updated, 1:30 p.m.: Comments from Donna King.
NORWALK, Conn. — Doug Stern handily won the Norwalk Democratic Party endorsement Wednesday for Judge of Probate; opponent Darnell Crosland later called the proceedings a “corrupt staged event … lead by incompetence.”
Stern, a relative newcomer, won 35 votes to Crosland’s 19, in a Norwalk/Wilton convention that featured Norwalk Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho appointing at least five proxies for Norwalk delegates who were not present. Some delegates sent their own proxies. Crosland said in a late-night email that Camacho handpicked people who were in favor of Stern.
Camacho was not available for a response to the late-night email.
The proceedings in the City Hall Council chambers included Camacho admonishing Crosland for trying to vote twice, once as a proxy for Alex Knopp and once for himself.
Crosland qualified for an automatic primary and said he would pursue it. Whoever wins is expected to face Republican former State Rep. Larry Cafero, who Crosland, during the DTC convention, called a weaker opponent than he would have been a few years ago.
“As long as I have known Larry Cafero he is nowhere near a weak man,” Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Mark Suda said during a late Wednesday phone call. “Larry is not running because it’s cool to have a judge title. He is running because he knows what the Norwalk citizens need and deserve for the position of probate.”
Crosland spoke first to Democrats, putting on a fiery show with a container of Visine as a prop and signs on tripods.
“I stand here in front of you not by accident but by divine appointment. I became ready. I worked hard and I kept the Republicans up at night,” Crosland said, referring to his unsuccessful 2014 challenge to longtime Judge of Probate Tony DePanfilis.
“He’s 19 years of powerhouse in Norwalk and arguably, Larry Cafero is pretty strong but not as strong as Tony. I lost by one precinct,” Crosland said, reminding those in attendance that NancyOnNorwalk had published the 2014 vote tally: 16,630 for DePanfilis and 11,288 for Crosland.
“Although we love Doug Stern, now is not the time to put a new candidate in,” Crosland said. “Now is not the time, when they have a weaker candidate, to put a new candidate in, that has to start all over. It’s time to keep Lebron James in the game.”
Galen Wells had nominated Stern, saying that she served with him on the Zoning Commission and found him to be “very thoughtful and hardworking, also very kind and feeling,” qualities she said a Judge of Probate needs.
Samuel Pride had seconded the nomination, calling Stern a “determined and patient hard worker,” an overall nice guy, honest, approachable and with a compassionate spirit.
Darius Williams nominated Crosland, saying, “I have seen him work, and I have seen his work ethic. I believe he is a very compassionate person and I think he is community minded. He has done a lot of work for the good of the people, pro bono work.”
Daisy Franklin said she worked with Crosland at the NAACP and, “I have seen his work and I know he is for the people.”
Crosland said he worked in the Bronx District Attorney General’s office, dealing with victims and their families, and his resume includes working for the Department of Children and Families.
“You can’t just be compassionate,” Crosland said. “I heard people say Doug Stern is a nice guy. That is great, but you have to be a strong zealous advocate. He is new at this. I have won four trials last year alone and countless other trials throughout my years… if you haven’t argued with a judge at least once you are not doing your job.”
That passion will keep the Republicans from sleeping as he pursues the position in the fall election and “a vote for Stern allows them to rest,” he said.
“Larry Cafero will go they didn’t do the math,” Crosland said, “We are here to take over all of the offices.”
Stern commented, as he stood to speak, that he has a different style. He demanded that Crosland “take down the picture of Visine” and the signs.
The Judge of Probate role “requires a variety of personal and professional skills to perform correctly,” Stern said.
“Not only is the job intellectually challenging but also requires a demeanor of professionalism, a sense of fairness and a patient attitude,” Stern said. “As a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Tulane University School of Law, I can handle a heavy workload. As a solo practitioner I have needed to be a fast learner and as responsible for the tasks I perform.”
As a Zoning Commission he made weighty decisions that affected people’s lives, and in his six months on the Common Council he has learned to listen to both sides, “work with others to come to a common ground and understanding, that may not come to a perfect decision, but I believe the right one.”
“I can ask questions without being judgmental, I am patient and listen to everything presented to me with an open mind. When I make a decision I am clear and direct and true to my core understanding,” he said.
He loves being a criminal defense attorney and the reasons why he loves it are the same reasons he is “interested in seeking this position of honor,” he said.
“I consider it a true privilege to be in the position to help people under very trying circumstances during the most significant and stressful period of their lives,” he said. “Poverty, mental illness, addiction, parenting challenges are often all present during the time that my client is facing challenges charges by the state. Many times my job is as much social work as it is law.”
“’Deserve’ has absolutely nothing to do with this,” he said. “This is something that must be earned.”
Democrats had to fill out ballots and sign them, causing some to ask the reason for the lack of secrecy.
“There’s no secret ballot at a convention or anyplace where you are selected as a delegate,” Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.
Caucuses have secret ballots, Camacho said.
Delegates from both Wilton and Norwalk were called up to vote, sometimes standing four abreast as they filled out ballots. Camacho stood right there as they did it.
The tally included three abstentions, according to Camacho.
Stern thanked everyone for the time they spent voting. Crosland asked to see the ballots; as he examined them one woman complained, saying she was “shy” and didn’t like that he would know how she voted.
Crosland declined to comment but said he would send an email later.
“I learned a lot at the Statewide Democrat Convention this year. What I learned that is of utmost importance is that we Democrats must always place the Party above personal interest, we must respect the voices of all the members, and not just a few, and in the end, that respect will become a practice that translates to respecting the voices of the people we serve.
“During the Convention there were a good number of very angry people who took to the Mic. There beef was simple, their voices were not being heard within the Party, and rules would be relaxed and altered to silence them.
“The sad part about tonight is that I saw and felt that same spirit. There was no order, people standing over others as they attempted to vote, pressuring voters, and the DTC Chair did nothing. I had to consistently approach the front table and ask for a point of order. At one point it was so much raucous in the room, the Wilton Delegates yelled out, stop it this is a convention.”
NancyOnNorwalk did not witness the Wilton delegates yelling out.
“What’s more troubling is this. The rules were not followed and the entire situation was a fix. For starters, if a delegate is not present, that delegate fills out a form two days prior to the convention giving authority to a particular person to speak on their behalf, with their voice.
“Marc Bradley, point person for Ned Lamont for example, was a delegate who arrived late. He was a vote for me. Instead, Ed Camacho and Stuart Wells allowed a guy from the audience to be a proxy for Bradley. When Bradley arrived, I personally introduced Bradley to his Proxy, and Bradley and the Proxy didn’t even know each other. Bradley asked the Proxy did you vote for Crosland and the Proxy said no.
“When I approached Ed Camacho while he was asking Wells could certain things be done, Wells said and I quote, ‘I have no problem with it’. To which I responded, I have a problem with it, you two are not following the rules. It’s a shame.
“When I reviewed the ballots it was no surprise one abstained and one voted for Stern. And the registrar of voters wife nominated Stern. The whole thing stinks and I see why people at the convention was so angry.”
NancyOnNorwalk did not witness a lot of anger. The Democratic Town Committee meeting that followed was cordial, with no complaints about the convention. Bradley stood to speak about Lamont.
“They say when people show you who they are, believe them. I supported our party from the Mayor on down. Today I realize that it’s very important to keep your grass cut low.
“There were 47 Norwalk Delegates, 10 Wilton Delegates, 57 in total. Only 51 votes were cast.
“Tonight the fix was this, more than half of the Delegates didn’t show up, and Camacho the DTC chair was arbitrarily but within his power picking delegates and illegally appointing proxies from the floor all hand picked in favor of Stern, a candidate that has way less experience than I do, that can’t beat Cafero, but won tonight because of that thing that angers so many Democrats. That’s why when we get our clocks cleaned and lose in the General election to the Republicans we shouldn’t complain.
“Remember Donna Brazile and Hiliary. When we discounted Bernie because our party thought Hilary was entitled, they gave our country to Trump. Now we all suffer. Tonight we gave the Judge of Probate to Larry Cafero, congratulations.”
City Clerk Donna King on Thursday wrote in an email, “The chair has the power to make delegates of any Democrat living within the District of the Convention in order to fill a vacancy.”
Those are convention rules, she said.
Proxies appointed by Camacho included:
- Rosa Murray for Martha Dumas
- Jeanne Hard for Donna King
- Carlos Guzman Jr. for Bruce Morris
- Carlos Guzman Sr. For Chris Perone
- Barbara Meyer-Mitchell for Nick Sacchinelli
King said that Hard arrived late to the convention and did not need a proxy. King voted for another delegate, she said. Morris also arrived late, and Camacho allowed him to vote. Bradley arrived after the voting ended.
“The Chair could have prevented the earlier late-comers from voting, but he was lenient and let them vote since the vote had not yet been taken,” King wrote.
Crosland on Wednesday evening continued:
“But here is what makes me very happy. I am blessed to be a voice of the people. As I do day in and day out giving a voice to those before the courts, I have the skill and obligation to give a voice to the people, of Norwalk and Wilton. That room tonight didn’t come close to being the voice of the people. That was the voice of those that think they can give our party away to their friends, to those they describe as nice and kind, give me a break.
“I’m smiling because I’m so much better than the few, and God as my witness, I will have Visine not only for the Republicans, but for misguided democrats, I truly don’t know how they sleep at night…. Only the righteous will prevail in the end. Those who are corrupt will get sick, sick of themselves, and the cancer will come from within.
“We Democrats should take Mayoral Candidate Lisa Thompson’s advice, and drain our own swamp.
“As in the old negro spiritual, we will march on till victory is won.”
Asked why he thinks Cafero is weak, Crosland said in a text message that Cafero “is weaker because a 19 year incumbent always has an advantage, plus Larry has been away from Norwalk for a long time.”
“I have lived in Norwalk my entire life,” Cafero said late Wednesday. “I have a practice in Norwalk for the past three years. I have never left Norwalk so I don’t know how he measures strength or weakness, but I’ve been involved in the community ever since. I am on various Boards and Commissions. But if that’s what he feels he needs to say to further his cause, then God bless.”
Cafero said that he doesn’t know Stern and understands that he’s new to Norwalk and new to politics.
Stern ran for election the first time last fall.
“Parties pick their candidates. Voters pick the winner. That’s the process we are in,” Cafero said. “I look forward to my convention tomorrow and God willing, and look forward to the general election where I presume meet either Mr. Stern or Mr. Crosland and the voters will decide.”
Suda said late Wednesday that he expects Cafero to have no competition at Thursday’s convention.
Suda said he knows Stern but would not comment on his candidacy.
Cafero’s “work ethic is second to none,” Suda said. “His professionalism, his long standing service for the city of Norwalk, the way he understands what the people really need, especially during a time of need, such as during a probate case, I feel as though that when Larry wins it will be a seamless transition. Not only does he have the passion but he has the compassion.”
Suda, a Norwalk Police detective, said he has attended numerous school expulsion hearings where Cafero served as the hearing officer and, “What he brings to the table, Doug Stern and Darnell Crosland don’t even have a seat at the table.”