NORWALK, Conn. – There has been a lot of speculation throughout the campaign about where we at NancyOnNorwalk stood. There have been allegations of bias in the reporting and presentation, which we have denied and continue to deny. There have been suggestions that we favor one party or the other. Again, to repeat the oft-repeated phrase of the incumbent mayor, not true.
We have had angry emails and calls from both sides of the aisle. We have had questions ignored by both sides of the aisle. We have presented both sides of the story when both sides were available. And, through it all, our readership has doubled (unique visitors) and our page views have tripled. We must be doing something right.
We were not going to endorse or recommend candidates. However, as we have learned more about the candidates, we feel the need to make some exceptions.
A few weeks ago, my personal ballot was going to be split evenly between the major parties. That is no longer the case. When the Republican Party decided to boycott our Common Council question-and-answer request, it raised our suspicions. Then, when we saw the Republican Party boilerplate responses to the League of Women Voters’ questions, we made up our minds.
First of all, those responses were angry, dismissive and insulting. They were also misleading and, in some cases wrong — and this, to a non-partisan organization (LWV) trying to fulfill its mission to educate voters. The responses were highly partisan and showed a desire to make Republican Party speeches instead of allowing the public to see just what the individual candidates were thinking and how much they knew.
To excoriate Democrats for supposedly signing a pledge to put party over public was the height of hypocrisy – a bar that has been set very high, indeed – first, because the Republican Town Committee DID insist that at least one member – and multiple RTC members have said it was more – sign an oath of allegiance.
Second, the majority of the Republican Party Common Council candidates answered seven of the eight LWV questions with identical replies, indicating the replies, and the opinions they reflect, are those of the RTC. Who needs a pledge or an oath when you can simply tell everyone what to say? And the fact that the candidates allowed words to be put in their mouths indicates that they will not or cannot think and act independently.
We also have a problem with candidates we will call D-publicans – Republicans who won’t stop clinging to the “D.” Those are candidates – Bruce Kimmel and Michael Geake — who were Democrats, who were elected as Democrats in 2011, who quit the Democratic caucus and, in one instance (Geake), the party itself, and caucused with the Republicans. Then, just before the Democratic mayoral primary, Mr. Geake re-registered as a Democrat to vote in the primary. Both he and Mr. Kimmel, who still claim to be Democrats, were nominated to run as part of the Republican ticket. They accepted. Mr. Kimmel recently endorsed Republican Mayor Richard Moccia for re-election and was one of the Republican-backed candidates to say what he was told to say in the LVW responses. This despite his years in office. He should have at least called upon his experience to give voters some window into what his current thinking is. Then again, by his actions, he may have told voters all they need to know.
At least Mr. Geake came up with his own answers.
In 2011, Norwalk’s Democrats thought they had elected a majority on the council that would give some counterbalance to the Republican mayor. With the defections, the Democrats became the minority party and lost parliamentary control of the body.
Not that the Democrats did not bring about some of their own problems. Government by public spectacle often backfires, as the Republicans/Tea Partiers in Washington have found out. And, while some events of 2012 certainly begged for public attention – and the other media chose to ignore at least one of those stories – there are better ways to do it. The “clown show,” as it was called by some, undermined Democratic Party credibility.
As for our choices, we urge District E voters to choose Democrats John Igneri and Kate Tepper for Common Council.
The knock the Republicans have put on Mr. Igneri is that he hasn’t accomplished anything in his single term on the council. We feel that he has — he has shown that one can behave like a gentleman and a professional and still represent District E. We feel that, in an atmosphere not rife with rancor and buffoonery, Mr. Igneri and Ms. Tepper could bring a lot to the district and the city. We feel that David McCarthy’s often rude and condescending behavior is not something that voters should encourage, and that Emily Wilson’s contentious tenure as Zoning Commission chairwoman has shown she is too highly partisan to be an effective council member. Voters should also remember that both Republicans were involved in the misleading attack flier left at homes in West Norwalk, complaining about a vote mayoral candidate and Zoning Commission member Harry Rilling made on an issue involving the proposed mosque. The flier did not mention that Rilling was one of six out of seven members voting in favor of the resolution (not in favor of allowing the mosque), and that Ms. Wilson voted the same way. This is not the kind of honesty the transparency Norwalkers deserve.
As for other council seats, our sentiments above preclude us from recommending many other Republican candidates. However, Doug Hempstead and Richard Bonenfant have our support for at-large seats. Both are gentlemen with Norwalk’s best interests at heart and have demonstrated the ability to think for themselves.
We recommend Democrats Kevin Poruban and newcomer John Kydes in District C and express disappointment that Republican Michelle Maggio rejected the opportunity to allow the voters more insight into who she is, because she was on our original list for support.
In District D we strongly recommend Democrat Marilyn Robinson. In addition to the District E duo, this may be the most obvious Democratic choice on the council ballot. She is smart, experienced, outspoken and professional. She knows the lay of the land in City Hall and has said she will be fully involved. Again, we are disappointed in Jerry Petrini, a council veteran and good guy, who seemed to have more allegiance to the Republican Party than respect for the voters when it came to answering the LWV questions. He had been on our list.
In the at-large race, in addition to the two Republicans, Democrat Olivia Dardy, who has demonstrated intelligence and discipline in her life as an athlete and coach and who we believe will bring some much-needed new thoughts and energy to the Common Council, deserves a shot.
We struggled with Democrat Warren Peña. Mr. Peña barely made it onto the council in his first run in 2011. The image he presented in debates and forums was one of a centrist, a responsible, intelligent candidate who would be all business on the council. Then Mr. Peña got involved in the bombast and uproar that marked 2012. In his role as a leader of the SoNo Community Center, he had a very public battle with the leadership at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, calling out that leadership over issues surrounding their shared building and NEON’s administration of SoNoCC-intended grants. While Mr. Peña looked bad at the time – and raised questions of a conflict of interest because of his role on the Common Council – hindsight gives us a different perspective. A contrite Mr. Peña, in his answers to NancyOnNorwalk’s questions, spoke of learning a lot in his first term and his desire to have another chance. We believe in second chances.
We have no recommendation for the fifth seat.
As for the Board of Education, we noted above there are several good candidates. This is a tough choice. We would like to see less politics and more focus on what’s good for the kids, as scores show Norwalk lags behind state averages, although it does score better other cities in most grades and subject areas.
With a strong, experienced and well-respected superintendent on board, we feel it is important to elect a diverse board that will put the kids first and that will support the superintendent’s efforts while, at the same time, keeping costs in check without creating a feeling of resentment. We strongly feel there is no place for partisan politics on the Board of Education. It is a place for dedicated, educated and committed individuals whose No. 1 concern is the education of the children and how best to do that with fiscal responsibility.
Because we believe all of the candidates have their strong and weak points, we are going to refrain from making specific recommendations. Instead, a few comments:
Republican Susan Haynie and Steve Colarossi are two passionate, knowledgeable people who were part of a board that restored fiscal balance and recruited a top-notch superintendent. Then again, they were part of the board on whose watch the district lost track of millions of dollars; they helped bring in Susan Marks, who brought in Elio Longo, who caught the mistake and set the BOE back on track after a horrible year filled with cuts. Then Ms. Marks quit and Mr. Longo went to Westport. The two candidates are also frequently at odds, often in a manner that, if they were students, would earn them a trip to the principal’s office. It would be to the district’s advantage for them to learn how to peacefully work out their differences, because they both have so much to offer. Ms. Haynie has come in for withering commentary from teachers’ union president Bruce Mellion in the union newsletter. For some people, that makes her a hero. For others, not so much. For Mr. Colarossi, the opposite is often the case.
Mr. Colarossi has split with his Republican Party to run on the Community Values ticket with Andres Roman, a newcomer with a compelling back story, a solid education and a career as a probation officer and counselor that requires him to make difficult decisions that can have profound effects on people’s lives. A parent with young children in the system, Mr. Roman wants a chance to help guide Norwalk education.
Democrats Sherelle Harris and incumbent Heidi Keyes and Republican Lauren Rosato, along with Ms. Haynie, are being backed by the reform-minded Red Apples, a professed non-partisan group concerned with the direction of public education. Ms. Haynie and Ms. Keyes are the only incumbents in that group. Ms. Rosato is the former president of the education foundation, and Ms. Harris has a long and solid history of community involvement in South Norwalk, including years as a librarian working with children.
The grouping was not done by the candidates but by the Apples, causing some confusion among people who thought the candidates were turning their backs on their political parties. Not so. Still, a non-partisan Board of Education is not a bad thing, and a board with an even split, with members working for the good of the students, is most desirable.
Two Democrats – Shirley Mosby and Haroldo Williams – and Republicans John Bazzano and Artie Kassimis round out the field. Mr. Kassimis is running for re-election, and has served the past year as vice chairman. Ms. Mosby has been on the board before, having served after being appointed to fill a vacancy. Both candidates have a history of community volunteerism and reaching out to youth groups.
Mr. Williams is a businessman making his first run at the board, while Mr. Bazzano is a veteran banker with J.P. Morgan. Both could bring some solid financial and business knowledge to the table, which could provide extra value during what is sure to be a tough budget year.