(This is the second in a series of videos of Democratic mayoral hopefuls responding to questions at Monday’s forum held by the Norwwalk Democratic Town Committee. In the coming days, we will continue to highlight questions with video.)
NORWALK, Conn. – Andy Garfunkel and Vinny Mangiacopra agreed on one topic in the mayoral forum held by the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee Monday.
It may not hurt that their initial answers to a question about the need to help Norwalk youth were a zinger at their mutual opponent, Harry Rilling, who retired last summer after 17 years Norwalk Police Chief.
The question, written by Faye Bowman, was “Norwalk has been losing more and more youth to gangs over the past 10 years. What do you plan to do that besides throwing them into jail?”
Garfunkel, former town clerk, came first.
“I think one of the first things was confirming that we did have a gang problem here in Norwalk,” he said. Several years ago the current administration publicly “denied the fact that we have a problem,” he said. “I think by sweeping things under the carpet, denying it because of our reputation has not helped the citizens of Norwalk. It doesn’t help our community.”
Mangiacopra said something similar.
“When it comes to gangs, we have to realize in this day and age that this has been a problem that has been going on for a long time right here in this city, especially for the last decade, the lack off acknowledgment that we actually have a gang problem here in Norwalk,” he said. “Because we do. The community has cried out numerous times to let people know, people in charge, people in leadership positions, that there are gangs in our schools, there’s gangs in our neighborhoods. There’s been less than a very responsive approach to that for the past decade here in our community.”
Garfunkel said the city needs to financially support programs that help families and youth and “take charge of our streets, be diligent.”
Mangiacopra said he would be a conduit to Norwalk’s diverse population as mayor, and reminded people of his pledge to bring a Boys and Girls Club here. He also said he would start a “mayor’s re-entry program,” to support young people when they are released from prison.
Rilling ignored the zingers, but did say that Norwalk community policing officers have been meeting with convicts when they are released “for a long time” to offer support.
“Our youth in Norwalk feel disenfranchised,” he said. “They feel they have no place to turn because they don’t have opportunities.”
Rilling said he had been talking to trades unions.
“They’re very, very interested in expanding their apprenticeship programs so that young people who may not be able to go to college but who we can ensure that they have an opportunity to graduate high school, that they can go on to learn a trade,” he said; “where they can feel a sense of accomplishment, feel there is an alternative choice to gangs.”
Common Councilman Matt Miklave had not yet joined the forum, as he was still in a Planning Committee meeting.