David Watts: Norwalk doesn’t know my story

Councilman David Watts (D-District A)
Norwalk Councilman David Watts (D-District A) is running against state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) in an Aug. 12 primary.

NORWALK, Conn. – From high school dropout to Yale Divinity School graduate, Norwalk Councilman David Watts has a story to tell as he attempts to unseat long-time state Rep. Chris Perone.

“I worked my way up from 16,” Watts said. “I had to drop out of school at 17 to work, to feed my family. I had to study and work, working odd jobs to help my mother who was single. All throughout college I had to work my way up.”

Watts (D-District A) has been a lightning rod for many Norwalk residents, and a leader and ray of hope for others. His sometimes bombastic, often challenging, style of politics rubs some people the wrong way. He is a constant target of mostly anonymous commenters on this and other websites.

But the 41-year-old candidate says he wants to help people, and points to his rocky start in life as a driving reason.

Watts said that when he was 2, his father left his mother and his young son’s life for good. Watts said he grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New Haven, and that no one else in his family ever went to college. As a child, he said, he never dreamed he’d go to Yale, which was plainly visible from the street.

Watts bested Perone in the recent 137th District Democratic caucus. Perone subsequently collected enough signatures to force a primary, which will take place Aug. 12.

NoN intends to profile Perone and candidates for other seats.

When NoN talked to Watts on June 2, the comments left on the stories about his win over Perone were clearly on his mind. That included, “Watts was dressed really poorly, […] not (like) a politician that was well put together. If we are dumb enough to vote for this guy, we get what we deserve […],” from Bill on this website.

“Commenters can say things, and rip me apart, and they do, but when I meet people on the street they’re like ‘You know what? I believe in what you are doing, I believe in your heart,’ he said. “I am not perfect. I’m not a perfect candidate. I don’t have a pedigree. I don’t have the clothes. I’m overweight. It’s everything that a political consultant would say, I’m a work in progress. And you know what? I am overweight. But that doesn’t discount me because of my weight. But it’s something that I didn’t realize that people view you when you see your weight and they look at your clothes.”

Watts said he is from New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood. His mother made excuses about his father’s absence. He never knew his father, he said. The family was on welfare, he said.

“The kids in the neighborhood were tough,” he said. “I mean, you show up with food stamps they make fun of you. My mother told me, she said, ‘Hey if you don’t go to college you will send your kids to the store with food stamps,’ and it’s true. So part of my public service work is paying back what the government did when I was a kid.”

He is the oldest of three children, he said, and dropped out of Hillhouse High School when he was 16 to help his mother pay the bills.

“My mother didn’t want me to do that, but I had to help her,” he said. “I had to help with the rent, I had to help with the lights, I had to help with food. That’s what happened. I had to make a choice, personal sacrifice. Even though I have always had good grades … I never had academic problems. It was just a choice, growing up in the inner city New Haven, that I had to make that sacrifice, that choice.”

Later, he got a high school diploma in adult education classes, he said.

“The people there were great. They thought I had potential to go to college. I never thought I would because I had no one in my family that has ever gone to college before,” Watts said. “So I started out working odd jobs and working my way through community college. After a semester of remedial classes I was able to get into regular classes. Kind of put me a semester back. … I did well. I was on the dean’s list every semester there.”

He went to Southern Connecticut State University and graduated cum laude with 3.5 grade average, he said. He worked his way through that, and interned in the state legislature.

Councilman David Watts (D-District A)
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) provided this photo of himself with Yale President Peter Salovey, who became president in July 2013.

He said he went on to Yale Divinity School and produced photos to prove it. The Yale website shows Watts as a 2003 graduate. Yale Divinity School registrar Lisa Huck confirmed that information.

It was during his time at Yale that Watts  provided some foreshadowing of the controversy that would follow his career. In 2001, he forced a primary election against Linda Townsend-Maier in the Ward 2 Alderman race. Watts also leveled a charge of dirty politics against his opponent, to whom he eventually lost.

Watts said he met his wife in his last semester at Yale. “We instantly clicked. I was a Baptist, she told me she was a Catholic, and we just clicked. I was like, hey, never thought I’d get married, but I turned around and it was like, hey, I’m gonna, she wants to get married. She was like, if you want to get married, you’ve got to live in my town. Which, I never thought I’d leave New Haven,” he said. “I never thought I’d leave. This was her hometown. This is where she wanted to put the roots down.”

She told him he could get involved in politics in Norwalk if that was what he wanted, he said. He walked into then-Mayor Alex Knopp’s headquarters not knowing anyone and went on to volunteer for the campaign, he said. Knopp appointed him to the Human Relations Commission and then the Zoning Commission.

He was Knopp’s campaign manager in the mayor’s failed 2005 bid for re-election. No one would give him a shot after that, he said, and when he decided to run for the District A seat in 2011, people told him he would lose. He was running against incumbent Republican Rich Bonenfant, “a great guy,” he said. Veteran former Councilman Matt Miklave was also running.

“When I won, people were shocked, they were like, how did that happen? I proved that if you knock on doors, you have conversations with people, the voters get to know you,” Watts said. “I was fortunate to win a tough race. That was hard. I am not going to lie, that was a hard campaign.”

The Republicans then told him he would be a one-term councilman, he said,

Why run for state representative?

“In politics you try to keep going,” he said. “When I ran for politics the first time they had no clue that I was an appointed official. People just thought I came out of nowhere and it’s just not true. I did it the right way, I started out licking stamps, sweeping headquarters. It’s the old-fashioned farm system.”

Watts, who created a firestorm when he released a rap video criticizing then-mayor Richard Moccia for purchasing “a brand new car, riding around like a movie star” on the city’s dime after his 2011 re-election, said he would not engage in negative campaigning, even if he had been attacked repeatedly by commenters. Watts has been repeatedly attacked over being delinquent on his property taxes and not having a paying job. Several have demanded to know how the man who wants to represent Norwalk in Hartford makes his money.

The answer is vague, despite being pressed. Watts is a freelance campaign operative, he says, and refuses to give details about which candidates he has served, other than New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who was elected last November. He said he does not get paid to work Norwalk campaigns, because it would be a conflict of interest for him, and he won’t reveal others he has worked for because he does not want the candidates or himself to be linked by political opponents looking for an advantage.

He says he prefers to stick to the issues.

“I just feel like the people in Norwalk deserve a conversation, but people don’t have any fresh ideas. … They use scare tactics to scare voters,” he said.

Issues include “the silliness that come out of Hartford,” the Electoral College and the fact that Norwalk hasn’t built a new school in 43 years, while there are new schools all over New Haven, including some that look like mini-colleges, he said.

“Are we getting the aid? Are we getting money for Wall Street redevelopment? Are we getting money back for sidewalks?” he asked.

Commenters might want to remember: Don’t count Watts out.

“I was counted out my whole life,” he said. “In America, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. It is the greatest country in the world because it gives someone like me … a person, an opportunity, when life throws you a curveball you can correct it. Only you can hold yourself back. That is how I have taken a positive attitude all my life. It is something that I carry with me every day, that nothing was given to me, I had to work for it. When you hear people just tear it all down… they don’t know my story. They don’t know that I had to go from high school dropout to getting my college education and receiving a Yale University degree. I could have used every excuse in the book.”

Norwalk Councilman David Watts (D-District A)
Norwalk Councilman David Watts (D-District A) provided this photo. He says these are his brothers.


20 responses to “David Watts: Norwalk doesn’t know my story”

  1. Sarah Mulligan

    Norwalk most certainly doesn’t know his story, or not one person would vote for him.

    A bunch of hot air, surrounded by lies and misdirection. He has not done one thing except yell and scream for the unions. Now his latest tactic is to talk about things most people would want (a free sidewalk…someone else to pay their taxes…) and act like he is doing something about it.

    There should be a law that someone who has not paid his taxes should not be able to run for or hold an office. If he can’t pay the taxes on the house he owns that is not in his district, how is he paying for the apartment that is?

    The link to the story about New Haven is good, there should be about 4 more that show the outrageous lengths he is willing to go to, the lies he is willing to tell, the personal attacks he resorted to, until he was thrown out of town.

    Anyone can run for office, but not everyone should be considered seriously. To grandstand and go on and on, while posting layers upon layers of comments using phoney names (C’mon man!) is pretty much the story of what kind of guy this is. Nancy wants to give him a fair shake, but Chris Perone deserves credit for years of actually working for solutions.

  2. Oldtimer

    Not fond of Mr. Watts, are you ? Have you ever met him ? Have you ever had a conversation with the man ?
    We are all entitled to our opinions, but don’t write Watts off too quickly. He is bright, works hard, actually reads the information packets before a council meeting, and understands how politics work. How many times did Moccia get elected without ever paying a tax bill ?

  3. Tim D

    It is quite ironic that he brings up the anonymous attacks but he’s often guilty of doing the same thing, posting under various names, attacking people – including the video mentioned above. And that he still will not divulge he employment status. One can only speculate.


    Take a cue Mr Watts, none of the other Council members get attack so viciously by anonymous posters, but then it should pointed out that as far as we know none of the other Council members post on this site nor The Hour using fictitious names. Grow up. You’re swimming in a cesspool that you have actually been a major part of creating. Good luck with that.

    Editor’s note: Actually, others do post under fictitious names and make attacks, unfortunately.

  4. One and Done.

    This comment was disallowed because of its personally insulting, trollish nature.

  5. LWitherspoon

    Candidates for appointment to Norwalk’s boards and commissions must provide a resume which details work history and experience.
    David Watts believes voters aren’t entitled to even this basic level of information before we decide whether to hire him to represent Norwalk as a State Representative! What’s Mr. Watts hiding?
    According to the City of Norwalk’s web site, Mr. Watts owes $10,391.53 in delinquent property taxes. Yet he’s spending personal funds to rent an apartment in a district where he doesn’t live, to mount a primary challenge. Norwalk would be better served if Mr. Watts focused his energy on paying his property taxes, and then spent some time on Common Council putting the needs of taxpayers ahead of the needs of municipal employee unions, for a change.

  6. OhNoNorwalk

    This comment was disallowed because of its personally insulting, trollish and contradictory nature.

  7. New Era

    Cute Story! But I want see what Chris Perone has done as well! Before I tell people who is the better candidate!

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ New Era

      As the story indicated, we fully intend to do that. We have also contacted candidates in the 140th primary about sitting down with us. We hope to do the same for the November election with the non-primary candidates.

  8. we the people!

    These comments are designed to take down of a public official who loves God and gives a lot to this city.

    Human Relations, Zoning, 2 term Councilman and College Educated. Still not good enough? This is nothing more than moving the goal post for minority candidates.

    The guy beat the odds! He grew up on welfare and worked his way up. Impressive!

    A true American story.

  9. LWitherspoon

    @we the people! aka David Watts
    Worked your way up to what? NoN stated that when pressed for details regarding your employment, you were “vague.” Why?
    What you do for a living is relevant because it tells us about the experience of the person who wants the job of state representative. Nobody in his right mind would hire someone who refused to reveal the details of his prior employment.
    It would be far better to simply answer the questions than to attack the questioners as racists.

  10. Rich Davis

    I’ve listen to Watts plenty. Enough to be able to say to we the people! (aka David Watts) that we all know you, we all know you are the juvenile commenter, we all know that you haven’t worked your way up, that you don’t pay your taxes, that you don’t live in the district you seek to represent, that you are a new haven union stooge. This election has nothing to do with race, it has to do with accomplishment and who we want representing Norwalk. You have played the system long enough to get to the place you are, but on the backs of taxpayers every step of the way. Perone 2014, just because we can’t afford the alternative.

  11. Tim D

    @Editors note – you mean to say that other council members post under fictitious names? And you know this by? IP?


    The title of post [ David Watts: Norwalk doesn’t know my story ] is somewhat misleading as the Councilman declines to divulge much of his story. Taxes aside – what does the man do for a living? If its campaign work – what campaign? What candidate? What accomplishments does he have to show for his 41 yrs? And anyone who attacks his weight oughta shove it. It’s a non issue. It’s quite unfair to put the spin on here – “The untold Story” that has no details. This is neither an attack on or a defense of Mr Watts. Just an inquiry.

    1. Mark Chapman

      We know because we have access to info that does not display on the site. We cannot tell who everone is, but we are sure of two council members and various city volunteers and a few employees, as well as former board members. We will
      Not divulge names to anyone, private citizen or public figure. Identities are sacrosanct.

      As for the headline, it is something Mr watts wanted to convey. Any intent to mislead or obfuscate is not ours. We have repeatedly asked the questions, and have repeatedly been given what you read here. We try to get answers, then report what we get. It is then up to the readers and voters to use that information how they see fit. And we understand where you are coming from and appreciate your approach.

  12. Norwalk headed for the dump!

    Please Watts, go somewhere else. Bridgeport would be happy to take you in and I’d even pay for your entire campaign.

    Norwalk needs to be elevated to the next level with the help of ‘elitist’ minded individuals. Let Norwalk prosper and become the next city where “everyone wants to live” with yuppies, wealth and prosperity.

    We are at a breaking point. We must clean house and bring fresh and suitable candidates.

    Watts will further pull down this city.

    (THanks Nance for providing this venue, not only to let people vent, but to bring a little drama in here! I’m certain my comment above will spark a debate! You’re making a name for yourself and I’m so proud of you!) – Someone you know and admire, but need to remain anonymous.

  13. peter parker

    All this preoccupation with David Watts, he must really scare you people. He must be doing something right. That’s not to say I am a supporter, but David Watts is a saint compared to Dave McCarthy who is Alvord’s boy and in his pocket and supports his no bid agendas, etc.

  14. LWitherspoon

    @peter parker
    If and when you find out what David Watts is doing that’s right for all of Norwalk, please let us know. If you can find out what he does to earn a living, if anything, please let us know. Lastly, if you can find out if and when Mr. Watts intends to pay his overdue property taxes, let us know that too.
    Any candidate who is several years delinquent on property taxes and refuses to tell the voters how he earns a living is not a candidate worthy of serious consideration by any voter.
    According to the above article, Watts “won’t reveal other [campaigns] he has worked for because he does not want the candidates or himself to be linked by political opponents looking for an advantage.”
    So basically, Mr. Watts refuses to tell the voters where he derives his income, because he’s afraid it will be used against him by his opponents! What’s Mr. Watts hiding? Does he receive any income from organized labor?

  15. RU4REAL

    I agree Parker, Watts over McCarthy any day. A tale of two Dave’s, one is often mean spirited and one doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.

  16. Pookie Evans

    This comment was not allowed because of our policy against character assassination by unsubstantiated innuendo.

  17. Pookie Evans

    My comment was not character assassination, but actual FACT! I guess this site is biased…

    If you have a copy of a police report, send it to us. Otherwise, it is unsubstantiated character assassination and is libelous. No respectable journalist would published it. Nor pay for it.

  18. Average Joe

    Q: Why is David so interested in running for State Representative to begin with?

    A: Because if he wins, he will finally have a job that pays… maybe it’s only $28k per year but it’s still more than he makes on the common council.

    Let’s be honest… He is tired of the local politics of the common council when it has no financial gain for him. By making a move the State level he can legitimately put money in his pocket.

    I am all for change but, if Watts beats Perone for his seat Norwalk is in big trouble.

    If you want a real laugh (or cry) in regards to where he stands on issues, just check out the League of Women Voters Candidate questionnaires and compare Perone’s responses to that of David’s…. His answers are pathetic.

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