NORWALK, Conn. — Come November, lifelong Democrat Chris Bowers plans to do something out of character: She will cross party lines on Election Day to cast her ballot for Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton.
“I think that on the local level, it’s not a party issue. It’s about what’s happening in the town. And I think with (Mayor Harry) Rilling, it’s going in the wrong direction,” she said.
Bowers was one of three Brinton fans who spoke to NancyOnNorwalk on Thursday, after Brinton spent two hours in Brien McMahon High School explaining her views to a crowd of up to 50 people, some of them Republican candidates. NancyOnNorwalk caught the last half hour, during which Brinton stressed her business background, explained her position on the ballot and insinuated nefarious motives behind Rilling’s efforts to restart construction on Wall Street Place, commonly referred to as “POKO.”
Rilling, a Democrat, is seeking a fourth two-year term. Brinton is an unaffiliated voter endorsed by Republicans, appearing on that line of the ballot only, a row she called “B for balance.”
“I’ve taken a lot of grief” on the party issue, Brinton said. “They’ve been trying to make this national and I don’t want to offend any of my Republican friends…. I was not able to secure the independent line because there are rules. If there had been a three-way race, I’d have been on the “I” line. Because there is no Independent Party here in Norwalk on a municipal level, I could not be on two lines; there are lots of rules written by the two parties to keep minor parties out.”
She ran two years ago as an independent, in a four-way race. “Ironically, if I had petitioned on two years ago as an Independent Party candidate, not just as an independent citizen … I would have been on both lines,” she said, because she had 23% of the vote and that would have established the Independent Party line on the ballot. “You know, live and learn.”
A man in the audience said she “sounded more like a Republican than anything else.”
“Well, I’m a businesswoman,” she said.
President Donald Trump is a businessman, “and he’s talking just exactly like you,” he replied.
“I do sound like perhaps a Republican, but let me say something about the parties,” she said, characterizing the party system as having been productive once but, “It’s so hard to get people to serve in public service to deal with the politics within the party system. There is nothing left over for sorting out the city problems.”
Someone asked if “POKO” is a done deal.
Brinton said that as Mayor she would tear up the Land Disposition Agreement, holding Citibank responsible as a businesswoman, and sell the property on the open market. “This is a bad idea that is only getting worse,” she continued, alleging that the issue has gone “quiet until after the election.”
Patrick Cooper alleged a quid pro quo between developers John and Todd McClutchy and the state Democratic party “apparatus.”
“Why isn’t that dirty business getting the light of day?” he asked, pointing out that the McClutchys regularly make large donations to the State Democratic Party and that Common Council member Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) is State Democratic Party treasurer.
“I would ask the press about whether they want to cover that. But the other is, I think there is a general cynicism of the of the public right now,” Brinton said.
NancyOnNorwalk reported on the McClutchy’s donations to the state party as part of an investigative series in July 2018. Melendez became party treasurer in January and is not running for reelection.
“Right now, we’re in a low ebb, of folks not trusting politicians, and part of what I think the answer to that is, is term limits for everybody,” Brinton said.
One man, who described himself as a die-hard Democrat,” called Brinton “the first candidate that is looking at running the government in a realistic way.”
“We have to have courageous conversations right now in this country,” she replied. “And we’re not doing that. People are making a lot of money hurling grenades back and forth. And it just, it serves no purpose.”
An audience member brought up the proposal to push back high school start times, and Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis explained the issue. Brinton talked about the ramifications in negative tones, citing “unintended consequences.” She said she knew studies show the move has resulted in teens getting more sleep in other communities but the teens who spoke Tuesday predicted that wouldn’t happen, she said. “I think the key is taking the phones away from the kids because that’s what they’re doing. But there are some knock-on effects. And I just think that there’s just been too much going on in this city.”
Afterwards, Caryn Raimondi said she plans to vote for Brinton, just like she did two years ago.
“There’s so many issues,” Raimondi said. She complained about drivers not using bike lanes correctly on Strawberry Hill Avenue, and described a kid doing wheelies as “an accident waiting to happen.”
She’s heard there are 300 apartments going up near her home and “even the parking thing that they instituted over the summer with the beach, and Cranbury Park, that was a cluster bomb.”
People are expected to use a parking app but the wifi is spotty at Cranbury, and “I confronted the mayor on this and he started going he deflected and start talking about other stuff,” she said. “…He may be a nice man But I don’t think he knows a thing about running a city. You know, it’s one thing to be a chief of police but that doesn’t give you qualifications to run the city as a Mayor.”
Tony Carlo, a Republican, said Rilling “is the first Mayor in Norwalk since Alex Knopp that has never ever returned my phone calls. And I’m affiliated with the Flax Hill Road Association.”
He’s called about traffic and road issues, he said. “It’s just what they’ve done to our neighborhoods. You know, you got West Norwalk, our little area over here. It was kind of countryish. They’ve commercialized everything they want, they want to build Norwalk. First thing they need to do is build the roads because if you can’t build the roads, you can’t build anything because we’re so jammed up. It’s just it’s out of hand.”
Bowers said she lives in East Norwalk.
“I want somebody who’s going to make a difference, who’s going to rescue our neighborhoods and not destroy them,” she said. “… I’m living in fear of the Walk Bridge reconstruction and the traffic that’s going to result from turning the Pooch Hotel into apartments.”
Brinton plans another community forum from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Norwalk High School. Rilling and Brinton will come head to head on Oct. 21 in a League of Women Voters of Norwalk candidates forum. The Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce plans its Mayoral debate for 8:30 a.m. Oct. 29 in the Norwalk Inn.