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Common Council At-Large: John Levin

At-Large, Republican

John Levin. (Contributed)
  • Describe how your occupation will assist you in serving Norwalk and give three brief but specific examples, including what committees on which you hope to serve.

I am a methodical and evidence-based thinker.  In college (Yale) I majored in Economics and Mathematics, subsequently went to Business School (Stanford) and had a two decade career working on Wall Street in investment banking, securities analysis and distressed debt investing.  These jobs required meticulous attention to detail and usually an enormous amount of work, including extensive research and analysis, and frequent collaboration with experts and clients.  Further, that work is not complete until there is a clear answer, or possibly a range of answers, each with clearly identifiable advantages and disadvantages.  I feel strongly that this approach will help when serving on Norwalk’s Common Council. 

Example 1: During the 1990’s, my own independent research allowed me to uncover two company frauds (Hemmeter Enterprises and Molten Metal Technology) which cost investors dearly (many hundreds of millions of dollars) after these companies filed for bankruptcy, but also prevented further losses by future investors.  Lesson: read documents carefully.  If they don’t make sense, keep reading until they do – if they still don’t make sense, find out why.

Example 2: In 1993 I saw Schindler’s List – and was confronted by a leafleteer outside the theater reminding moviegoers that genocide and ethnic cleansing was happening in Europe again as a result of the war in Bosnia. As a Jewish American I felt compelled to act. I then spent two years lobbying my government to assist the victims of war crimes, to no avail.  In 1995 I decided to act locally by starting a group to sponsor a refugee family from Bosnia – this group included my Jewish congregation, Wilton Quaker Meeting and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Darien. The family we sponsored came with two young children who are adults now, the daughter with her own family. The parents own their home and still live and work in Norwalk, and their son recently also bought a home. All have become proud US citizens. Lesson: Our community is full of generous and kindhearted people who will help others in need. Our neighbors can surprise us in good ways.

Example 3: In late 2008 a friend told me that “Darwin Day” was coming and would be a worldwide celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin on February 12th with a big celebration of science. I checked the DarwinDay.org website for a local event and found none. So, being a science lover, I decided to start one – what has become the Annual Darwin Day Dinner – a science party with a lecture presentation and a Science Quiz. I recruited some like-minded people to pull it together, starting with our first one in 2009 at The Continental Manor. The event grew to 200 people before Covid. We invite local high school students to attend for free, and this year had five attending from the BMHS Center for Global Studies. Lesson: it’s okay to have fun, and it’s delightful to share learning and fun as a community.

  • The Norwalk Charter is on the ballot for its first major revision in about 100 years. Assuming it passes, would you support forming a new Charter Revision Commission in the coming term to address unfinished business? What would be your top three priorities for change? Can you explain why?

I attended many of the meetings of Norwalk’s Charter Revision Commission. I think the Charter Commission did a heroic job overall, and I am pleased that one of my suggestions was adopted – to expand the Police Commission from three members to five. But I also suggested that two of the five members be nominated by the Common Council rather than all by the Mayor – this part was not accepted. In my view, the Mayor holds too much power under both the existing and proposed Charter because all commission appointments must originate with a mayoral nomination. This permits the Mayor to effectively be the sole decider of who is permitted to serve on Norwalk’s commissions.  I think Norwalk’s voters would be better represented if the Common Council could independently nominate a portion of the many commission members.  For the Police Commission at the very least, this would be my top priority for the next Charter Revision Commission, which I hope will be appointed in the coming term.

  • Do you believe Norwalk should have a Civilian Police Review Board and why or why not?

Candidates are advised to never answer a question with “I don’t know” – but I think a CPRB should be studied.  To my knowledge, Norwalk’s police department has not had a case of police misconduct which was not adequately addressed by supervisors. Further, Norwalk’s police department is overseen by the Police Commission, which currently consists of two residents appointed by the Mayor and is chaired by the Mayor.

  • There is a constant public battle between city government, the school board, and concerned citizens. It seems that all are “dug in” with their positions, eager to “defeat” the other to win their own agenda. What would you specifically propose to bring all groups to the table to solve issues rather than fight about them? Policy changes and revisions can certainly be part of your answer.

Fighting is unnecessary and counterproductive. I would seek to establish monthly city-wide in-person Town Hall “Listening and Reporting” sessions for the public to share issues, express concerns, gather information and interact with city officials and each other.  These should be held in different places in the city, on different days of the week and at different times to allow more people to attend. Let’s use these sessions to debate and discuss issues thoroughly and try to find good solutions to real problems, and let’s ensure that all residents can feel their concerns are being heard. Norwalk needs to continue to be a place where people feel they can voice their opinions in a respectful and welcoming environment.

  •  “Housing affordability” means different things to many people. The current standard is based on the median income of Fairfield County, which is $84,233 per household. A job that pays $30 per hour misses that standard by approximately $22,000. What is your definition of Housing affordability, and do you think the standard should be made more equitable?

There is a recognized crisis statewide in Connecticut due to the limited availability and high cost of housing, with “affordability” most acute in Fairfield County.  The people who are most impacted by this are lower income individuals and families, who often must endure unsatisfactory housing conditions, absurdly long commutes, and a high proportion of their income spent on housing. Norwalk does a pretty good job compared to its immediate neighbors with 13.2% of its housing stock designated as affordable according to city officials. But Norwalk has missed a simple low cost solution by failing to promote ADUs – accessory dwelling units. Since 1980 only 251 ADU’s have been approved citywide – a very low number in my view – representing only about 1% of single family homes. The rules for ADU’s, both attached and detached, should be relaxed to encourage more homeowners to take advantage of this option to improve their own affordability while also ensuring that Norwalk’s scare land it used more efficiently and more housing is made available throughout the city for small households.

  • What would you propose to move Norwalk’s government agencies, businesses, organizations, and private citizens towards a zero-carbon footprint?

I love this question.  In my view, options available to local governments to help mitigate climate change are very limited, as the heavy lifting of setting rules, defining goals and developing solutions falls at the state, federal and international levels. But there are small things that cities like Norwalk can do to help:

            a. Plant more trees, along our streets, especially in neighborhoods that have too few now.

            b. Audit all city property to find suitable locations for solar panel installations – Connecticut has the 2nd highest electricity prices in the nation, and the city could buy less of it and save money by generating its own electricity while also reducing its carbon footprint.

            c. Reduce vehicles’ idling time at intersections by installing ‘smart signals’ and using other simple methods (e.g. roundabouts) to improve traffic flow in the city.

d.      Make walking, bike riding and public transit compelling transportation alternatives for more residents to help get cars off the road.

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