NORWALK, Conn. – Accusations of insults flew – without anger – across the Norwalk Council Chambers Tuesday night as council members and interested citizens lined up for an expected partisan battle over a nomination.
The battle over Bill Dunne’s appointment to the Planning Commission never materialized, nor was it planned, according to Common Council minority leader David Watts.
“We weren’t going to say anything because we felt that, at this point, he had the votes and we weren’t going to make hay out of it,” Watts said after the meeting. “We were just going to vote no, because that’s what we came up with after we talked about it. That’s the will of the caucus.”
The first public speaker to attempt to preempt the expected grandstanding was Peter Nolin. “I’ve been on the other side. We all know sometimes in the heat of political battle we all attack adversaries in ways that maybe goes a little too far. But honestly, everyone of you on that side has done it and I know all of you at least in private has done it. Let’s get past that,” he said.
Board of Estimate and Taxation member James Feigenbaum was next.
“There seems to be a predictable pattern that plays out among some members of this council when it comes to some of the mayor’s appointments,” he said. “First someone will suggest there is something controversial about an appointment. Then someone will say something about civility.”
Civility means treating other people with courtesy, respect and consideration, he said. “Intolerant” is also a word that gets bandied around, he said.
“Some of the members of the council prefer the upside down definitions of civility and intolerance,” he said. “They use those words like a club to shut people up when it is they who are being intolerant.”
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) nominated Dunne, making reference to appointments he voted for many years ago, appointments that were controversial but worked out well. That included a Zoning Commission appointment, that of Mike Lyons, who is now Board of Education chairman.
“We took a lot of flak for making that appointment,” Kimmel said. “Because Mike can be a partisan guy when he wants to be.”
Dunne’s problem is he writes too well, Kimmel said, a reference to objections made by Watts when the appointment was announced. Dunne spoke at the Jan. 8 council meeting, sarcastically referring to Watts as a “constitutional scholar.”
Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large) spoke next.
“I am struck by the number of comments that seem to be anticipating partisanship,” she said. “I note that none of the other four appointments that are listed here tonight seem to inspire anybody to come up and talk.”
She went on to talk about the duties of the Planning Commission.
“My reason for voting against Mr. Dunne’s appointment has nothing to do with his writings, has nothing to do with what letter he may have after his name,” she said. “But it is because I do not have faith that he is going to carry out a very important duty of the Planning Commission, which is to stick by the letter of the Plan of Conservation and Development, specifically where it involves climate change and climate action in Norwalk.”
After Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At-Large) spoke Dunne’s praises, Watts informed the council that the Democrats hadn’t planned to fight the nomination.
“Actually we were prepared tonight to vote and not say anything, but because of these comments we’re going to go ahead and say something. It’s not about D and R,” he said.
Dunne had called Democrats anarchists and clowns, he said.
“That’s his right as a citizen to speak his mind, but those were personal attacks,” he said. “He has attacked members of our caucus individually. I just thought that wasn’t right.”
He had met Dunne at a meeting, he said, referring to last month’s Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations meeting. Surprise – Dunne “seems like a great guy.”
Dunne’s comments “just didn’t square with his personality because he was nice,” he said, causing Mayor Richard Moccia to snicker and look at Dunne.
Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) came next.
“I’m a little taken aback I guess, disappointed, of people assuming that he won’t do something,” McCarthy said of Dunne’s expected performance on the Planning Commission. “I don’t think there is any fact in evidence to suggest that. I also have to question a little bit of a double standard. There’s the first amendment that I think applies to us all … Contrast that with making extremely personal videos and things like that is not even in the same breath.”
Moccia said he could identify with feeling upset over personal attacks because of recent comments by a zoning commissioner. That would be Mike Mushak.
“I think it is a little unfair to prejudge Bill because of his writings,” he said.
Dunne’s nomination was approved, 8-4. Every member of the Republican caucus voted for him, save Carvin Hilliard (D-District B), who wasn’t there. Matt Miklave (D-District A) voted for him. Duleep, Watts, Warren Pena and John Igneri voted no. Fred Bondi abstained.
“I was pleasantly surprised that the vote turned out to be bi-partisan,” Dunne said in an email. “And that’s as it should be, I suppose, because issues that come before the Planning Commission tend not to involve much partisanship, if any. Now I look forward to getting to know my fellow commissioners.”
His praises include these comments:
“I believe he has good judgment because I’ve seen him analyze issues to the T,” Andy Conroy said. “He’s good at listening to both sides. He states an opinion occasionally and strongly. That can bother people who don’t approve of them, but nevertheless he adds an economist way of approaching life and, as you all know, I definitely appreciate economists.”
“He’s a bright guy, he’s a serious guy,” Nolin said. “He’s going to do the right thing for the town. I don’t think you’re going to see any partisanship. He’s a good writer. Frankly, Planning is really not one of those places partisanship comes up. People work together. I think it would be a real disservice to miss a talented person like him.”
NancyOnNorwalk asked Watts after the meeting what he thought about the effort to subvert any objections to Dunne. It was the second time the Republicans pulled the trigger recently when they shouldn’t, he said, referring to an assumption that he would make political hay out of his car being undrivable because a Moccia campaign volunteer backed into it.
“This is equivalent to that game of tug of war, when you pull and then you let the rope go,” he said. “They assume that, in the noise chamber, you’re going to take on every fight. Sometimes it’s OK to punt.
“We were hoping they would come in and people would just vote and then we can just move on. Tonight they came in with all their troops and thought it was going to be a big event. And I guess we got them.”