Updated, 5:05 p.m., May 22: recording added; 10 a.m.: More information.
NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Republican lineup on the ballot this fall will not include Mike Lyons. Doug Hempstead has also said he’s not running. Bryan Meek is a maybe.
On the other hand, it was revealed at Monday’s Republican Town Committee that two currently not-in-office Republican electoral veterans are set to run, and there are newbies lined up.
Hempstead told NancyOnNorwalk on April 16 that he’s a definite no, although party members were pressuring him to run.
“I think it’s time to move on. I need a break,” the veteran Council member said. “It’s been 16 years straight. I just want a breather, I am not saying never run again.”
Council members either run in-district, to represent the part of the city they live in, or at-large, to represent the entire city. Hempstead’s done both.
He squeaked by to reelection in 2017 as an in-district Council member, with 12 votes over Democratic third place-finisher Bill Pappa.
It’s been hard to be the only Republican Council member, Hempstead said on April 16.
On Monday, Hempstead sat quietly as District D Chairman John Romano revealed that Tom Keegan and Carl Dixon are going to run as in-district Council candidates, and that at large candidates are needed.
Traditionally, District D has presented multiple candidates for at large Council, but “right now we are deficient in that area,” Romano said, commenting that there have been “some issues” with “both” of the candidates that have come forward for mayor, and “people are hesitant to come forward.”
Some Norwalk Republicans would like the RTC to endorse unaffiliated Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton, while others appear to support Darnell Crosland, who recently changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Both hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Mayor Harry Rilling.
Crosland spoke at Monday’s RTC meeting, run by Vice Chairwoman Liz Lyons in the absence of Chairman Mark Suda.
“I’m trying to understand offense and defense,” Crosland said. “…I don’t have anything against Democrats, I have something against the Democratic policies.”
“This campaign for me is about listening to the people in our community and seeing what they want. It’s not about making Harry look bad, or the other candidate look bad,” Crosland said. “… I look forward to the debates, I look forward to learning what it means to run the city.”
Brinton did not attend. In a 9:30 p.m. email to NancyOnNorwalk, she said she had just pulled into town after spending the weekend in Washington D.C. for her son’s college graduation and dorm move out.
District C also has Common Council candidates lined up, Chairman John Tobin said.
Mike Foley has already raised $3,000 for an in-district run, and former BoE member/former Council member Glenn Iannacone is going to run for Council, probably at large, he said.
Former Council member Rich Bonenfant said he’s planning to run at large.
“It’s been successful enough that we know that we can win if we have a good frontrunner who will pull in the ticket. It’s been proven: Kelly (Straniti) worked real hard and it brought in four of us. Last time around didn’t work so good. We’ll let it go at that,” Bonenfant said.
Straniti challenged Rilling in his first reelection bid, in 2015. In 2017, Republican candidate Andy Conroy finished behind Brinton and there was a near-sweep for Democrats.
Charlie Yost has filed paperwork to run for Third Taxing District, Tobin said.
“Bryan (Meek) is making whispers that he wants to run again, maybe,” Romano said.
Meek would be seeking a second 4-year term on the Board of Education, if that’s the case. He is Brinton’s campaign treasurer.
“I have not filed my paperwork at this point,” Meek said. “I will probably not run if the mayoral ticket is a fractured ticket, period. Interpret that the way you want to.”
“A three way race for Mayor will guarantee a 4th term for the incumbent,” Meek said Saturday on Facebook. “…Doug Hempstead who has served our city for the last 30 years barely kept his seat by a dozen votes running out of district D (Cranbury to Silvermine). Our brand is dead and coalitions with the Independent party is the only way to resurrect it.”
Lyons on Monday stood to give a Board of Education report, and said he wouldn’t be running for reelection because “eight years has been more than enough.”
Five or six years ago, Norwalk’s student performance trailed badly behind state averages and now, the city’s results exceed those averages, he said, also pointing out that Norwalk has its first new school construction program in many years.
“I really feel we have made dramatic improvement in the education system, for a city school system, we have significantly closed the achievement gap. We have done things that no other city in the state able to achieve,” he said.
A new superintendent search is starting soon because Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski is sticking with his words and retiring in June 2020, fulfilling the commitment he made for five years, Lyons said.
“I’ve been very pleased with the bipartisan way that the board has run,” Lyons said, observing that he was made BoE Chairman five times, four of those times by a Democratic majority.
“I am going to miss Mike dearly on the school board,” Meek said. “But everybody owes this man a deep thank you and debt of honor for running what he did for the last eight years… Mike had brought this city forward more than any elected official that I have ever known in this city.”
Lyons won reelection in 2015 with 1,408 votes to 1,369 votes for Democratic challenger Lisa Nuzzo.
In January, there 53,542 people registered to vote in Norwalk: 20,384 Democrats, 9,790 Republicans, 1,037 Independent Party and22,238 unaffiliated, Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.
Romano expressed optimism Monday about the fall election.
“I think the public is seeing that a 14 to 1 scenario is not good for the town at large so hopefully we’ll be able to field some good candidates,” Romano said. “Also keep in mind that a lot of the candidates that are on the Democratic side, are not running. And they are not running because they… have other things to do or they have a different career path. They are not running because they don’t like what’s going on in the city themselves. They’ve been browbeaten and pushed and coerced, to vote with the party line. We need to break that stranglehold.”
Norwalk Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho did not immediately respond to an email seeking a response to that comment. Neither did Council members nor Mayor Harry Rilling.
“That’s the backstreet story,” Romano told NancyOnNorwalk after the meeting. “That’s the backstreet conversation, I have no substantiation from them, other than people are talking.”
“Mr. Romano’s ‘backstreet story’ for which he admittedly has ‘no substantiation’ is, as I’m sure he knows, false,” Camacho wrote Tuesday.