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Contentious vote makes it official: Norwalk DTC will expand to 55 members next year

Former Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, second from left, leads the Democratic Town Committee meeting Thursday in the Common Council chambers. Sitting next to him are, from left, DTC Chairman Ed Camacho, Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells and Peter Thor.
Former Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp, second from left, leads the Democratic Town Committee meeting Thursday in the Common Council chambers. Sitting next to him are, from left, DTC Chairman Ed Camacho, Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells and Peter Thor.
Norwalk Councilman David Watts (D-District A), left and Democratic Town Committee District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra react Thursday in City Hall as the DTC votes against keeping the membership at seven per district.
Norwalk Councilman David Watts (D-District A), left and Democratic Town Committee District D member Vinny Mangiacopra react Thursday in City Hall as the DTC votes against keeping the membership at seven per district.

Corrections 4/26: The original story identified Vinny Mangiacopra as Democratic District D chairman. He is the former chairman. Also, Haraldo Williams was not the only person of color in the room after the others walked out. DTC Chairman Ed Camacho and Eloisa Melendez also remained. We have removed the reference altogether.

NORWALK, Conn. — There was “no mutual respect” in the Common Council Chambers on Thursday night, one member of Norwalk’s Democratic Town Committee said.

The internal DTC rifts were on full display as new bylaws were approved – and with it an expansion to 11 members per district – with Vinny Mangiacopra and David Watts trying to keep the DTC membership at a lower level, first with a compromise of nine per district, then by maintaining the current seven. Having failed in that endeavor, they and other members left in an exodus that was mostly along racial lines, a move that Steve Serassis said was self-defeating.   

“In their effort to quell this final vote, they would have probably defeated it because we needed two-thirds. They all left the room so they just shot themselves in the foot,” Serassis said after the meeting ended.

The vote to finally approve the new bylaws was 21 to 0, with one abstention: Diane Lauricella. If all 35 DTC members had been there to vote, the new bylaws would have needed 24 votes to pass. However, there were 32 votes cast on a previous ballot, meaning 21 would be two-thirds.

Former Mayor Alex Knopp, who led the committee to revamp the bylaws, led the meeting. Most of it was spent debating amendments to the proposed bylaw revisions.

During the course of this, Mangiacopra spilled the beans on a well-known secret – the Common Council’s Democratic caucus does not meet together.

The DTC voted in January to increase its membership from seven members per district to 11, a move that generated controversy as the issue was listed as a discussion item and no one had expected a vote before the meeting. The vote on the bylaws would make that final.

Bobby Burgess, there as a proxy for state Rep. Bruce Morris, made the move for a compromise: nine members per district, not 11. Knopp said he needed it in writing; Mangiacopra produced the proposed amendment and Watts walked it to the podium.

Mangiacopra argued that it isn’t time to expand the membership, given the tensions that are splitting the DTC. Watts said New Haven, which is much bigger, has 60 members in its DTC, and that 55 members is too big for Norwalk.

This prompted an amused comment from Donna King – she agreed with Watts, she said.

The DTC has had nine members per district at various points in its past and it has worked, she said, calling for the compromise that would satisfy both sides of the argument.

The move failed, 17 to 13.

Mangiacopra first assailed the accuracy of the minutes from the January meeting, saying the numbers of people voting must be mistaken, then repeated that it’s not time to expand the membership.

“There are some rifts among our party from various different sections of the community for various reasons,” said Mangiacopra, who came in a distant second to Mayor Harry Rilling in a four-way primary during the last election cycle. “Our Democratic caucus here on the Council doesn’t all caucus with one another, we have a majority on the Board of Ed and yet for two years in a row we have had a Republican leading the Board of Education. I am saying this strictly from a party perspective, I am not being critical of anybody in their capacities, I am just saying from a Democratic Party perspective, there’s a lot of things that we have to do in order to clean up our act here as well.”

Better to stand pat with 35 members than get people involved in a mess, he said. “Those things are not going to go away just because we expand from 35 to 55 members,” he said.

The compromise was an opportunity to unite the party, Watts said, calling the defeat “extremely disappointing.”

Mangiacopra and Watts said the people who wanted to keep it at seven members were willing to compromise. Those who favored 11 members were not.

“I am concerned with the leadership of this party right now, I am concerned with a lot of things, but the one thing that we know that we can do is try to work together and come up with a compromise, and that’s how it’s been, the leadership of this party is their way or highway and you see this tonight,” said Watts, District A chairman.

Outright anger broke out when Watts said, “How you doing?” to Serasis, who had come up behind him to wait for a turn at the lectern.

“First time you’ve spoken to me in three months, in public?” Serasis said.

After the meeting, Serasis said, “I thought we had a friendship that went beyond politics, but I may have been mistaken because it may have just centered on politics for David.”

Given his own turn at the lectern, Serasis said, “I find it very contradictory then that we are staying with the number seven when that’s where all the dysfunction lies and that’s exactly why we are having problems.”

The party needs an influx of new energy and new business skills, Nora King said. “Someone who ran for mayor of the city of Norwalk should be fully in support of moving Norwalk forward,” she said. She then mentioned Watts, but Knopp shut that down, as Watts called, “No minority members in your district.”

King found a way around Knopp’s prohibition of talking about other members.

“One of the battles that took place in District A and will continue to take place in the next election is the fact that there are certain people who feel, they want to control the environment and not let new ideas, new people, new energy in there,” King said. “It’s wrong, and it’s inappropriate for the city of Norwalk.”

“The action we are taking tonight will tell us if we can work together as a party in harmony or whether we can work as a party split with each other,” Burgess said. “I don’t see no compromise on the other side at all in the first vote and this vote will probably do the same thing. … We have a mayor running for re-election and we don’t need any splits.”

“I can’t understand for the life of me why folks wouldn’t want to compromise,” Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman said.

Increasing the membership to nine would mean that those who didn’t get onto the committee last time would be able to be on it the next time, Eloisa Melendez said. Jumping it to 11 would mean that new people would be able to get involved, she said.

Rob Frazier said the tension was making him shake.

“What I don’t see in this room is I don’t see respect. That’s mutual respect,” Frazier said. “I think that it’s very important that we step back and we think about how we treat each other. We treat each other badly. We treat each other like a dysfunctional family. … We need to calm down. We need to take a breath, we need to not call each other names, we need to work together.”

“All of the substantive changes seems to address openness and accessibility to the DTC and I think that’s a good thing,” said Doug Stern, who was serving as a proxy for member Kevin Poruban.

Many people who have been part of the DTC for a long time feel slighted, which is sad, he said.

The DTC needs to go on a retreat, Lauricella said. “I think civility needs to get started after tonight,” she said.

“You don’t grow just because more people want to come into the DTC meeting because it’s not going to matter if their mindset isn’t there,” Martha Dumas said, after calling the tension “discouraging” for a new member.

The attempt to keep the DTC at seven members per district was voted down 19-10, with two abstentions. Before the final vote was held, many people walked out, including Mangiacopra, Watts, Dumas, Sharon Stewart, Lynne Moore, Travis Simms, Brenda Penn-Williams and Bowman. Some questioned whether a quorum remained.

The dissatisfied Dems lingered in the hallway outside the Council chambers.

Asked why they had left, Stewart said it was a “protest.”

Serasis said, “They protested in vain because what they did was they didn’t rationally think out the process… By not exercising their democratic duty they got the opposite of what they called for.”

Many people praised the committee that drafted the new bylaws. Diane Lauricella referred to “12 to 15 years of many of us trying to help whatever town committee chair was in place, oftentimes to silence” to update the bylaws.

King sent NoN an email at midnight to laud the effort:

“The Democratic Party had a successful night and we moved forward. The new rules will allow more community involvement, which will bring new business skills, diversity, new ideas and progression for the party. Progression, openness and change are great goals and I feel that the Democratic Party achieved this tonight.

“Galen Wells, former Mayor Alex Knopp, Stuart Wells, Peter Thor and Ed Camacho worked tirelessly at mapping the rules of the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee to our state Democratic rules and always kept in mind the ability for others in our city to get involved.  No matter what party you are involved with, this will benefit the city of Norwalk. We need to make our political landscape about issues, less about personalities, and we need to focus on getting things done that progress Norwalk.

“The majority of Democrats as well as the city of Norwalk will benefit from these changes. Progress is good and it helps our city further develop into a top notch city in the Northeast.”

NEW DTC RULES 2- with comments

Comments

38 responses to “Contentious vote makes it official: Norwalk DTC will expand to 55 members next year”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    The attempt to keep the DTC at seven members per district was voted down 19-10, with two abstentions. Before the final vote was held many people walked out, including Mangiacopra, Watts, Dumas, Sharon Stewart, Lynne Moore, Travis Simms, Brenda Penn-Williams and Bowman. As the meeting continued the only person in the room who had a dark complexion was Haroldo Williams. Some questioned whether a quorum remained.

    As the meeting continued the only person in the room who had a dark complexion was Haroldo Williams.

    Wow, had to go there, didn’t you?

    I think that David Watts and Nora King should be spoken to; privately, without any one else in the room, except for party leaders, they don’t “own” the DTC in Norwalk, neither one of them, and they NEED to be told that, no obsfucation, with complete clarity.

    And you guys, NoN should not be in the room when it happens

    Editor’s note: The phrase “who had a dark complexion” was changed in the editing to “person of color.”

  2. Norewalk Lifer

    You also quoted David Watts verbatim, but you glossed over Nora King’s words. Why?

    Editor’s note: Perhaps you missed the end of the story, where King was extensively quoted verbatim.

  3. John Hamlin

    Maybe the increase in membership will decrease the impact of certain toxic walking root canals. Let’s hope.

  4. Susan Wallerstein

    “…the fact that there are certain people who feel, they want to control the environment and not let new ideas, new people, new energy in there… ” From where I stand, the new energy over past five years has contributed to the loss of civility and mutual respect. An effective party embraces and manages change while recognizing and valuing the contributions of both veterans and rookies. #marginalized

  5. John Levin

    Was there any food? Usually if there’s food, people are in a better mood, and will be more agreeable. I’m not sure what alcohol might accomplish.

  6. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    I agree with the 7/9. Why have district meeting /chairperson. Grow you district and get all involved 1st, so your dtc member can bring those ideals to the DTC meeting. Sometimes too many will just cause more tension. It also seems that minority has know say, and they are really dealing with “Fake Demo”.

  7. Piberman

    Best news for Norwalk Democrats in years and years. Maybe the Party will regain its lost luster of halcyon years when the press wasn’t used to display incredibly poor manners. And “Democrat” wasn’t often taken in vain. Kudos to all.

  8. Kathleen Montgomery

    @ John Levin 🙂

  9. Eric Parrish

    Keeping the District Committees at 7 is what has allowed this dysfunction to exist. Expanding it to 11 will allow a larger consensus to have a voice.

    I understand that the opposition wanted a compromise at 9 but the stink that was made about this expansion tells a lot about whats really going on.

    The current district chairs have a choke hold on the votes… by expanding the committees it just means there are more opportunities for people to get involved and have a voice.

    It obvious that some are not out for the greater good of Norwalk but rather their own ego and political endeavors.

  10. Bill

    If Watts and Mangiacopra don’t like Norwalk DTC’s rules, and laud New Haven, feel free to move to that broke city, or better yet, move to Bridgeport.

  11. Bill

    Now is time to get more Latinos involved in District A. District A is now majority Latino, time to have a Latino council member from there. Out with the old, in with the new #hopeandchange

    Editor’s note: District A Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez is Of Latino heritage.

  12. McKeen Shanogg

    Walking out when you don’t get your way is typical neighborhood bully behavior. “If I can’t have my way, I’m taking my ball and bat and going home.” That’s now how we teach our kids to settle their differences, is it?

  13. Bill

    @editor, I wrongly wrote District A, I meant district B. Apologies.

  14. John Levin

    @EDITOR —
    1) Hey, I didn’t know we were allowed to post corrections to our own comments! That opens up a huge realm of possibilities . . . .
    2) 2nd photo needs a caption contest

  15. Bill

    @John Levin, not a correction, the wrongly written district is still there, just an explanation.

  16. Piberman

    Long past time for appropriate Hispanic representation in our Parties. They promise to revitalize our City.

  17. Norewalk Lifer

    No, that’s NOT what I am referring to, I am referring to your verbatim quotes of David Watt’s verbal exchange with the board, BUT, you did not verbatim quote Nora King’s opening salutation, no where do I see that.

    You post an email she sent to you; a carefully crafted, politically correct, email.

    You did not post or record, or quote what she said. But you sure did when David Watts spoke.

    Getting tired of this one sided argument; if people didn’t want David Watts they wouldn’t vote for him, but the sideline heroes here seem to have a read on what people in his district want.

    Maybe so, but I’ll tell you this: Thank goodness for Alex Knopp; he was the only adult in the room, and Mr. Camacho never said a word.

    Perhaps David Watts is correct

  18. Norewalk Lifer

    And in regards to this:

    The attempt to keep the DTC at seven members per district was voted down 19-10, with two abstentions. Before the final vote was held many people walked out, including Mangiacopra, Watts, Dumas, Sharon Stewart, Lynne Moore, Travis Simms, Brenda Penn-Williams and Bowman. As the meeting continued the only person in the room who had a dark complexion was Haroldo Williams. Some questioned whether a quorum remained.

    As the meeting continued the only person in the room who had a dark complexion was Haroldo Williams.

    Wow, had to go there, didn’t you?

    I think that David Watts and Nora King should be spoken to; privately, without any one else in the room, except for party leaders, they don’t “own” the DTC in Norwalk, neither one of them, and they NEED to be told that, no obsfucation, with complete clarity.

    And you guys, NoN should not be in the room when it happens

    Editor’s note: The phrase “who had a dark complexion” was changed in the editing to “person of color.”

    The editing means nothing; why is it so important to point out the color of people’s skin in the first place? you state you witness and just report, but this isn’t just reporting, it isn’t setting a standard.

    It’s an unconscious conditioning; we don’t refer to Mike Lyons, as an Irishman, a white Irishman, why is it so important for people to point out people of color, or a different and specific ethnic background when in discussion?

    Mike Barbis’ email to Ms. Rivas, illuminating that she crossed off a “Hispanic” candidate speaks volumes; and so does your editing here

    1. Mark Chapman

      @lifer

      “…why is it so important to point out the color of people’s skin in the first place? you state you witness and just report, but this isn’t just reporting, it isn’t setting a standard.”

      Perhaps you should ask David Watts why color matters. It was he who accused Ed Camacho, a minority Hispanic, of not supporting minority candidates. Mr. Watts made his call for the DTC chairman’s resignation all about color. You would have us ignore this why? The Black Caucus, as Watts has dubbed the black contingent of the Council Democrats, does not caucus with the white and Hispanic members. Is this something that should be ignored as well? The voters and taxpayers deserve to know what is going on in their government. We would be delighted to be able to never mention anything in a racial context, but it is what it is. To ask us to turn a blind eye to what is happening is to ask us to bias our reporting and abandon our journalistic duty.

  19. LWitherspoon

    David Watts has been injecting toxic racial politics into Norwalk’s discourse for years. Disagree with Mr. Watts and you are likely to be accused of racism. DTC chair Ed Camacho appears no longer willing to put up with such unhelpful behavior, much to his credit. Let’s hope that when the time comes later this year for Democrats to nominate Common Council candidates, Mr. Watts is quietly encouraged to find another hobby, or perhaps seek gainful employment which would allow him to pay his property taxes which, last I checked, were years overdue.

    Was Mayor Rilling present for the meeting? Is the Mayor a member of the DTC?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @LWitherspoon

      The mayor is not a member of the DTC and was not at the meeting.

      Mr. Watts has, for some months, been employed at Town Fair Tire. That is, last we knew.

  20. mollyB

    It is very doubtful that Watts will seek re-election. Which is a shame because Norwalk will be losing a true public advocate.

    Thanks Dave, for all you do for the people!

  21. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    FYI I spoke with Mrs. Dumas to ask why? She stated” I left before it got to that point, shortly after I spoke, because I had to be in Stamford, so who ever made that state is one probably that keeps confusion going not knowing other people agenda”. She’s right we always assume this or that about a person or situation, fine out 1st.

  22. Robert J. Sodaro

    I am not a member of the DTC, I am, however a member (and recording Secretary) for the District D Democratic Party. I was not present at this meeting due to the fact that I was out of town attending a ROVAC (Registrar of Voters of Connecticut) convention — I’m the Democratic Deputy Registrar of Voters in Norwalk. I would however, like to make a couple of (I believe) very important points, as they relate to this article.
    .
    1) Vinny Mangiacopra is no longer the District D Chairman. He voluntarily stepped down from that position back in November of 2014. Joe Tamburri and Donna King currently serve as co-chairs of District D. They were elected to fill out Vinny’s term in December of 2014.
    .
    2) Nancy, you reported “…The only person of color in the room…” yet you apparently knew that both Ed Camacho (who is Hispanic) and Eloisa Melendez (who is Latino) were both in the room. Are we no longer considering Hispanics & Latinos as people of color?
    .
    Robert J. Sodaro
    Democratic Deputy Registrar of Voters
    District D Recording Secretary

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Robert Sodaro

      Good points both. The irony of #2 is not lost on us, given Mr. Watts’ decision to disregard Hispanics and Latinos as minorities.

      We shall correct the story. Thank you.

  23. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman

    Thank you for the information. I congratulate Mr. Watts on finding gainful employment and remain hopeful that he will pay his back taxes soon. The city web site shows that his property tax bill remains unpaid going back to 2012.

  24. LWitherspoon

    @mollyB

    Can you name something Mr. Watts has accomplished during his time on the Common Council, apart from gamesmanship, self-promotion, and race-baiting?

  25. Kevin Di Mauro

    @NoN

    LWitherspoons’s last comment about David Watts should definitely be considered a personal attack unless you are certain that David is guilty of “gamesmanship, self-promotion, and race-baiting”.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Kevin Di Mauro

      You should worry about your own comments, some of which had to be edited in the past week. You also made similar “personal attacks” on Ernie DesRochers not long ago in multiple comments (if you consider LWitherspoon’s comments personal attacks). Mr. Watts is an elected official who is being criticized for activities in the performance of his duties. We have refused to post personal attacks on Mr. Watts on a number of occasions. Real ones.

  26. MollyB

    Mr. Chapman fails to give Watts credit for recruiting and running with Melendez.This young lady is only on the DTC/CITY Council because she had Watts’ support. Its funny to see Melendez turn her back on the “Ward Boss system”that gave her complete access. Hey thats politics!

    Mr. Chapman, What minority did Mr. Camacho help get elected? Remember this statement when Crosland ran for probate judge.

    Ed Camacho, a criminal defense attorney who is chairman of the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee, said he nominated Crosland for the Democratic probate judge candidacy, because Crosland had expressed interest in the office. He said DePanfilis is a “great probate judge” who has garnered “widespread support” from the Norwalk-Wilton Probate District.
    Camacho said he will watch “the process to play itself out” and does not have any expectations one way or the other.

    http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/crosland-earns-democratic-probate-judge-nomination/article_eb9f5ea0-e19b-5fa5-a534-7446345b3f7d.html

    The black community is united against Mr. Camacho for his lack of support. How can he lead half a party?

    @LWitherspoon

    Your comments are very personal and shameful too. It shows your inability to make a case against a person without digging into their personal life. […]

    This post was edited to remove an personal attack on another commenter.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @”MollyB”

      The way we heard the story, Ms. Melendez approached Warren Pena, who took her to Mr. Watts, and the two of them supported her and helped her campaign. She has since distinguished herself among her peers, from what we are told by her peers. Mr. Camacho’s election to DTC chairman was fought by the black caucus. Mr. Camacho is chairman of the entire Democratic Town Committee, not just the minority segment, and should be following his belief as to who is best for the Democratic Party and for Norwalk, much like Peter Torrano, his Republican counterpart, did in backing a new face for Republican Registrar.

      We do not endorse candidates or parties. We report what is happening and how Norwalk’s elected and appointed officials and staff are behaving in the course of their taxpayer-funded duties. This includes their political maneuverings behind the scenes that can affect elections and the way city’s business gets done.

      Oh, and just a point of, say, mathematics: Given the racial breakdown of the city, and of the DTC itself, it would seem the black community does not comprise “half the party.”

  27. LWitherspoon

    Why did MollyB fail to respond to my question?

    To repeat, what has David Watts accomplished during his time on the Common Council, apart from gamesmanship, self-promotion, and race-baiting?

  28. Kevin Di Mauro

    @ Mark Chapman

    I have no worries about my comments. It’s your website. Feel free to do with my comments as you wish. As far as Mr Watts goes, I don’t know of anyone who has suffered as much ridicule on the site as he has.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Kevin Di Mauro

      I would suggest three sitting members of the Board of Education, the mayor, the fire chief, the Planning and Zoning director, possibly the DPW director, Mike Mushak, John Mosby, Chiquita Stephenson… There’s a long list.

  29. Mark Chapman

    This would seem like a good time for a refresher:

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  30. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Mark Chapman

    Thanks for the refresher which was as appealing as a Google acceptance agreement. Thank goodness you didn’t have a button for accept. Salute !!

  31. Don’t Panic

    NON,

    I appreciate your willingness to continue moderation and provide this valuable forum for discussion.

  32. Eric Parrish

    David Watts should resign as Committee Chair of District A.

    If he wants to call out the head of the DTC and vote against expansion of the districts than he really is not aligned with the party and he is doing a disservice to the district constituents.

    I’m very confused as to the thinking that expanding the districts is prohibiting minority individuals from getting involved in the party.

    It seems to me the opposite….The current 7 member structure actually hinders new blood.

    I agree with another comment that there is a bully mentality of “if I don’t get my way, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

    How about embracing the new 11 member rule and recruiting some good people to represent the party and get Norwalk moving forward?

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