NORWALK, Conn. – District A Common Council candidates met online Wednesday for a robust discussion hosted by the League of Women Voters of Norwalk.
Moderator Deb D’Arinzo began the forum by asking the candidates their top two issues. She got a variety of answers:
David Heuvelman, Democrat, Working Families Party (incumbent, seeking a second term)
- An equitable Norwalk
Chris Morales, Independents for Norwalk
- The parking situation
- Being a voice for the district
Luis Estrella, Republican
- Unifying and balancing the entire Council
- Walkability and bike-ability of the district
Nicol Ayers, Democrat
- Having a sustainable neighborhood
- Pro-aging policies
Some key thoughts
The 45-minute forum included much back and forth. Some samples:
- “I would really like to focus on pro aging policies, making sure that our older citizens have the resources and the access to resources that will help them be sustainable.” She would like to support neighborhood schools.
- “I agree with some of my colleagues, our neighborhoods need to be walkable, they need to be bikable. But they also need to be affordable. We need to make sure that people who want to stay in our district are able to stay in our district.”
- “We need to turn Wall Street into an entrepreneurial hub. We need to make sure that all of those businesses up and down that corridor are filled with things that bring flavor and taste and culture to that to the city in that particular neighborhood.”
- “I really want to get down to what is really going on in my area,” and aggressive parking policies are damaging small business.
- “The people in my district, you know, feel like we’ve been being ignored. No one’s really listening. And to have a voice here is very important. And I believe that I have a strong personality, I believe that I could have a voice. You know, I’m bilingual so I can speak with, you know, multiple different audiences.”
- He brought up Byron the Baker and said, “no one’s doing anything.”
- “I commend Mr. Sanchez and really want that bakery to be there… But there are processes that do need to be followed within that.”
- “We are facing a true climate crisis. And is evidenced by the IPCC report which came out this summer. And I think that municipalities owe it to ourselves and our future generations to start to look at that climate crisis, and see what we can do to begin to put in systems and policies to make sure that we are caring for our environment, and creating the future that we want our children to have.
- “I live a quarter mile from Wall Street, I have to get into my car to go anywhere near there. So once I’m in my car, I might as well go somewhere that has more diverse foods, you know, at least a bigger array. But if I was able to walk there, I could just go there and come back.”
D’Arinzo asked about the funding “cliff” that Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton has warned about, given the use of federal COVID-19 funds to keep the tax increase low instead of granting NPS more of the increase it had been seeking.
“What is your view on how to properly fund the Board of Ed?” she said.
Morales stressed small business as “a key essential to our area” and revenue generator, and promised to be the voice needed. “We’re giving all this money to Hartford, but no one’s really fighting for us in Hartford for us to get more money.”
Estrella said he’d learned there’s an efficiency study underway of the Board of Education and the City. He’s aware that the BoE is a “whole other board and “they have their own policies in place. Rather than us just, you know, throwing money at them, we should definitely see what the efficiency study says first.”
Ayers, “We will never, ever have enough money. I don’t think it’s necessarily about continually giving more and more money, but making sure that we are leveraging resources.” She explained that the Council sets a budget cap but the Board of Estimate and Taxation sets the line item for the school system and suggested that the nonprofit sector and the business sector should be brought in.
Heuvelman said he agreed with Morales. “Small business is the wave that we need to ride and I think that Norwalk is positioned to become the Small Business capital of the South Western Connecticut.” The BoE decides how its money is spent, and, “in the coming years … we have to be very, very prudent with how we are how we are allocating our funds.”
In rebuttal, Morales said the “Tyvek Temple” is “ugly” and “right in front of my house” so “I stare at it every single day.”
“Something needs to be done and what is really happening with the POKO?” Morales asked.
Ayers repeated that the best solution to the “cliff” would be “opening to the nonprofit sector to offer some services, the business sector, as well as the municipal sector, and having us all work together will answer the needs of the school.”
Heuvelman said, “I agree. The Tyvek temple is an eyesore. And it’s a problem. But that entire area has been tied up in litigation that is dealing with one particular developer who has decided that it’s his way or the highway, and that’s the problem.”
Estrella countered that figuring out the litigation with that “particular developer,” real estate broker Jason Milligan, would be the best way to build the area. A traffic study is needed, he said.
The idea for a traffic study “is spot on,” Heuvelman said and its underway, courtesy of American Rescue Plan funds. A more inviting corridor would include a redesigned intersection on the Belden Avenue end of Wall Street, wider sidewalks, trees and room for restaurants out on the street. “These things are in process and we’re looking at them. And then we need to fund the work.”
“I don’t really think we need any more studies,” Morales said. “You know, someone could come down here, go dinner, go get a cup of coffee, and you get a parking ticket within the first five minutes of being in this area. That tells you something…. I’ve been here for four years and the only thing that’s been done to this Wall Street area is we painted new parking lines. It went from from straight lines to diagonal lines. That’s not much.”
Estrella said, “The sidewalks are wide enough. There’s plenty of street trees. They’ve recently planted trees over there already. The problem is the roads and the parking like there’s it’s not a friendly road. It’s not inviting.”
As rebuttal, Heuvelman said Morales isn’t aware of the history, business owners asking for the city to do something about residents leaving their cars on the street all day and leaving no room for business customers.
“Look at Main Street, look at where Valencia is,” Morales countered. “They have free parking. It’s thriving over there… People want to go where there’s free parking. People don’t want to go to a place where they’ve been ticketed more than once more than twice now.”
“Mr. Morales is speaking about is city procedures, not necessarily a city policy,” Ayers said. “If the procedure is broke, we definitely need to fix it. But we also need to understand that we can’t make everybody happy….we need to make sure that our policies and procedures are reflective of the people in which we service.”
Correction, 12:55 p.m.: Candidate’s priorities.