Correction 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24: Candidate Joe Kendy is not a newcomer to Norwalk politics. Additional information below.
NORWALK, Conn. – Eight candidates for Common Council At-Large seats took the time last week to explain at the East Norwalk candidates forum why they are running for election, with most of them focusing on education and the budget.
“This is a big deal to these people who are running,” moderator Win Baum said. “This is a lot of time they are taking. Really, we are privileged here in Norwalk to have such a fine slate of candidates.”
Baum asked them why they are running and what they hope to accomplish.
Here is a summary of what they said:
Sharon Stewart, Democrat
Stewart, a District B resident who came in seventh in the 2011 municipal election as a Common Council At-Large candidate with 6,447 votes, said she is a social worker and lifelong Norwalker.
“I get to see first hand the other side of the people’s plight and what’s going on,” she said. “I would like to see better job prospects. I would like to see us not have so many box stores because the box stores aren’t really paying any salaries that are making it easier to live in Norwalk. It’s not really making our families self sufficient. I would like to see better assistance and help for the homeless. I would also like to have a say or put a stake in the whole gang criteria. I would like to see something done on that.”
Bruce Kimmel, Democrat
Kimmel an incumbent District D councilman who caucuses with the Republicans and is running as a Republican-endorsed Common Council At-Large candidate, touted his “fairly extensive history in the world of education.” He earned a Ph.D. in 1981 from Columbia University, he said, and taught there in the sociology department. His son was going to the only combination public/private preschool in Manhattan, which inspired him to get a job teaching at Northern Manhattan Public School 22, where he stayed for 25 years, he said. After retiring last year, he began teaching sociology at Norwalk Community College.
“To me, Norwalk is like a beautiful mosaic,” he said. “We’ve got incredibly complex class structure. We’ve got a diverse population. We’ve got beautiful parks. We’ve got beautiful waterfront. We’ve got urban, rural, suburban communities. We’ve got distinct neighborhoods. Our potential is incredible, but we’re not quite there yet. But we’re beginning to move there. Unbelievably, we’ve come out of the recent recession in good shape fiscally. As Mayor Moccia indicated earlier, we are in good shape. That’s the foundation that you need to reach your goals. Without that you don’t get anywhere. For the next two years what I want to see, particularly because it affects so many people so directly, our flood mediation program be implemented so we can deal with local flooding.”
Joe Kendy, Republican
Kendy, who lives in District E, was born and raised in Norwalk, he said, as were his children. He has been a legal and business adviser to chief executive officers and senior management of American and multi-national executives, he said. He was senior vice president and general counsel and secretary of Shiseido Americas Corporation, responsible for its legal affairs and is an adjunct professor of Western Connecticut University. He is the owner of Kendy Law LLC, which handles domestic and international legal affairs management.
Kendy was a captain in the US Army, and served in Vietnam. He said he was honorary director of visiting nurse and hospice of Fairfield County, and oversaw merger of Mid Fairfield Hospice and Nursing and Home Care, as the president of Mid Fairfield Hospice.
A former Democrat who was active in the Democratic Town Committee, Kendy said, “I love Norwalk. I have a vested interest in it. But I have three priorities: One is maintaining the fiscal soundness of this city and the Triple A bond rating. Without that you can’t do anything. The second priority is education. Maintaining the quality of our teachers, competence, getting new teachers, competence and quality as well. Advancing the facilities and of course the security of our schools. My third priority – it’s very difficult to pick priorities – is the value of our residential real estate, the value and viability of our commercial real estate and that smart decisions are made with respect to larger businesses that want to come into Norwalk, which are important to the city.”
Glenn Iannocone, Republican
Iannacone lives in District C and previously served on the Board of Education. He is a second-generation Norwalker, living on part of a farm his grandfather bought in 1905, he said. He retired last June after 31 years on the Norwalk Fire Department, the last 17 as fire marshal. He is a past president of the Norwalk Rotary Club.
“I’ve always wanted to run but I couldn’t see myself running when I was fire marshal,” he said. “Now that I am retired I have a little more spare time and I just want to continue serving the city of Norwalk, my city, the best that I can.”
Olivia Dardy, Democrat
Dardy is a District B resident, a native Norwalker who played basketball at Brien McMahon High School. She earned a degree in communications from Wake Forest University and coached women’s basketball at the college level for 10 years.
“It was very time consuming but I developed many interpersonal communications skills, working with different people from different creeds, backgrounds, economic status, she said. “You find out a lot about people and how they interact, and what you must do to get the best out of them. Just recently I’ve transitioned into graduate school at Quinnipiac University for business management. Moving back here to Norwalk, I realized it is not the city that it used to be when I grew up here. Now that I am the guardian of my nieces, who are 12 and 10 years old, respectively — their mother passed away from cancer so I took on the responsibility of changing my lifestyle, to come back and take care of them — I wanted to help Norwalk become the city that it used to be.
“It is my hope that being elected to council I will be able to help our school systems become Class A. I would like to definitely tackle the issues of public safety by giving our youth alternative lifestyles because I understand how difficult it is out here. I would also like to reach across partisan lines and tackle the tax burden. Also make smart decisions to bring good businesses here to create jobs.”
Warren Peña, Democrat
Peña is a District D resident who was elected as a Common Councilman At-Large in 2011. He was born in South Norwalk, where he lived until moving to East Norwalk as he entered high school. He was a state wrestling champion and played baseball. He graduated from Norwalk Community College and went on to study criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston, with a concentration in legal studies. He then came back to Norwalk and has been a financial adviser in Westport for 10 years.
He is the youngest council member and the only Latino
“When I came back from college I started to notice a lot of change in educational system, particularly where I was born and raised, in South Norwalk” he said. “I didn’t know how to get involved.”
Then District D Democratic Party Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra recruited him into politics, and he won election with 6,551 votes, the fourth highest total.
“I didn’t really get it up front, I didn’t understand it, but serving for two years and being involved in a mix of municipal business is quite challenging. I’m running because I want to make sure that we have a first-class education system here. I went through the school system. I got good enough grades to play sports. I was mediocre but then I went on and I challenged myself and did better things in life.
“I’m a product of Norwalk Public Schools and everyone talks so poorly about it, it saddens me to hear that. Last year, when we had that $4 million shortfall, I championed the fight to restore some money back into our budget. I will continue to fight for our education system.”
Richard Bonenfant, Republican
Bonenfant lives in District A, near the town green, and has served as an in-district councilman for 10 out of the last 18 years.
“Sometimes they vote me in and sometimes they vote me out,” he said with a shrug, getting laughter. He has met a lot of people throughout Norwalk as a councilman, people who he has helped, he said. He also is a photographer.
“I love serving. I love the time I do it,” he said. “I served as majority leader two times during my tenure. I’ve chaired at least four committees. I loved giving Harry Rilling all the tools they needed to fight crime as chair of Health, Safety and Welfare. I chaired Land Use and took good care of the buildings and wired up all the schools and did those kinds of things. I love protecting all our assets. I don’t like giving them away without something in return, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of things I like to see.” In terms of development, he said, “We have empty lots. … The best thing you can have is industry because that printing press, that lathe, that piece of machinery gets taxed the same rate as property and building. That machinery doesn’t call the police. They don’t need services. They don’t have a fireman coming to get them. They are taxable without costing you anything as opposed to residential units. Well, residential units have babies and they go to school. That’s costing you $15,000 a pop. In the long run, you can give the residents a huge break if you found industry to come into Norwalk.”
Doug Hempstead, Republican
Hempstead, an incumbent, lives in District D and used to live in District C, which he represented as a councilman in the 1980’s and ’90’s. He has been on the council for nearly 30 years. He is “homegrown to this community,” a product of local schools, “good bad or indifferent.” He works at Stew Leonard’s.
“I think from my experience living in this community, working for a great family business and working my way up to vice president, I kind of get it. I try and stay in tune with the public,” he said.
He is a board member of the Norwalk Seaport Association, the Child Guidance Center of Mid-Fairfield County and the Lockwood Mathews Mansion.
“I have a vested interest in making sure this continues to be a great place to live,” he said. “I had options to leave this town many times. I chose not to because I love this community. I’m passionate about what I do.”
Most people don’t realize being on the council is a volunteer job, he said. The many hours are compensated by a $50 a month stipend.
“Why do we do that? Because we care, we care, we care,” he said.
It’s a tough job and anyone who steps up to run deserves credit, he said.
“I never would have envisioned in 2007, when things started to hit, that I would be going on, sitting here in 2013, having to deal with a tough budget,” he said. “It’s about making tough choices. It’s trying to find balance with what little money you have to work with, between what taxpayers can afford to pay. I always weigh that first because we’ve got one pot of money.”
Democratic Common Council At Large candidates Chrisley Ceme and Deidra Davis did not make it to the forum.