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Editorial: An easy choice for mayor – Harry Rilling

(Updated 2:120 p.m. with closing paragraph.)

NORWALK, Conn. – Sometimes it is difficult to decide who to endorse in an election. This is not one of those times.

NancyOnNorwalk urges Norwalk voters to choose former Chief of Police Harry Rilling to be the city’s next mayor.

If this election was simply a matter of triple A bond ratings and snowstorm response, it might be a tougher choice. But this is about so much more.

It is about changing the culture of Norwalk.

Harry Rilling put civility front and center in his campaign. He said he would conduct a positive campaign, and he did. He highlighted areas in which he felt the incumbent mayor had underperformed, and said what he would do differently.

In response, Mayor Richard Moccia constantly invoked the “we’re already doing that” defense, even going so far as to go point-by-point over Rilling’s education platform, saying his administration was already doing every item, then questioning how Rilling was going to pay for it. Really?

Moccia said early he would conduct a positive campaign, but those were hollow words. The attack ads and robocalls, the insinuations of the Rilling campaign stealing his lawn signs, and the silly accusation of “grandstanding” when Rilling stopped on his way to a City Hall event to listen to angry NEON clients looking for answers about their Head Start program, hardly could be called positive campaigning. And while the Moccia campaign tried to scare voters with claims of Rilling making expensive promises to unions, it was conveniently forgotten that Moccia used to get some of those same union endorsements. And grandstanding? Moccia reportedly walked the picket line with firefighters prior to his narrow victory over Mayor Alex Knopp in 2005.

While making dire predictions of skyrocketing taxes of Rilling is elected, Moccia and his minions are conveniently forgetting to mention that the Common Council votes on the cap. Finance Director Thomas Hamilton advises everyone; we have heard from reliable sources that BET Chairman Fred Wilms works with Hamilton to formulate a budget, which Moccia then agrees with and sends to the council. The mayor does not control the budget.

We talk to a lot of people involved in Norwalk business, and one of the most prevalent complaints is the way the mayor, his staff and certain appointees and Common Council members treat them and, often each other. The atmosphere in this city has become highly partisan and quite toxic, and it starts at the top.

We have been on the receiving end of the mayor’s rudeness and hostility on many occasions. His loud, angry phone calls were frequent long before NancyOnNorwalk was conceived. He called The Daily Voice management with complaints about negative coverage. He called to complain about the way questions were phrased. He complained about using information from then-Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel that he felt should have come from him – about whether the fireworks were on or off.

And, of course, he tried to have Nancy arrested for accidentally recording a conversation in the Common Council chambers during a recess, and saying she intended to use it for a story. She gave him advance notice and an opportunity to respond and to register his complaints. When The Daily Voice backed down, he pushed the issue, spending state taxpayer dollars for a State Police Major Crimes Unit investigation into charges of eavesdropping and coercion. The state’s attorney refused to sign the warrant. We saw the entire incident as petty and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

This is the same mayor whose campaign filed a police report over stolen campaign signs, a report Chief Thomas Kulhawik says is being investigated. With police overtime and public safety in Norwalk both campaign issues, this is how the mayor chooses to spend police resources.

The incident with the recorder called into question how the mayor could ethically supervise the corporation counsel, who he said is his private attorney and who is collecting a city paycheck as well. While there is no law being broken, the relationship raises questions when one considers the mayor is responsible for counsel’s performance review and controls his pay raises.

That leads to the question of appointments, and this is where Norwalk voters should pay close attention. The mayor of Norwalk has sole hiring or appointment authority – no council oversight – for 15 boards and/or paid positions, including finance director, corporation counsel, director of public works and personnel and labor relations director, according to the city website. Among his direct board appointments are police and fire commissions, both of which consist of three people, one of them being the mayor. Those commissions decide who will be the chief of police and the fire chief.

That’s a lot of power for someone whose judgment is questionable.

The mayor appoints, with council approval, 29 of the other 31 boards and commissions. When the council is packed with Republicans – and those elected Democrats who abandon the party to caucus with Republicans – the council is often a rubber stamp.

The mayor has appointed his personal attorney (or retained him as personal attorney after hiring him); has appointed a personnel director with a history of bad behavior elsewhere, who recently had a violent flare-up during a meeting; and an Oak Hills Park Authority chairman who was among those convicted of stealing from the city while commissioner of the Second Taxing District, according to published reports, and who more recently made a lewd gesture and rude remarks to Nancy. Neither he nor the personnel director has been publicly rebuked, let alone disciplined or discharged.

As for diversity, there are about 15 Latinos serving on Norwalk’s appointed boards and commissions despite the city’s demographic makeup being about 25 percent Latino. The mayor and Republican Common Council candidates said during the campaign that there was plenty of diversity, and the mayor blamed the Latino community itself for its lack of representation. And while several council candidates have underscored the need for qualified, knowledgeable people to serve, actions speak louder than words.

We also note that so many commenters on this site and others complain incessantly about Norwalk’s high taxes and stagnant property values, then use it as a reason to re-elect the mayor. With the boards stacked with the mayor’s appointments, surely, in eight years, if things are as bleak as some say, the blame cannot be laid at the feet of the other guys.

The mayor has also taken campaign donations from companies with business before the city, including $3,000 from City Carting top management personnel just months before City Carting got a 10-year contract from the city, despite some troubling history. Most recently, at least four and as many as 10 members of a Long Island family with ties to a company handling 100 Connecticut Avenue – future site of Lowe’s – each donated the maximum allowable $1,000 to the mayor’s campaign. While Lowe’s was already given approval following a controversial zoning change encouraged by the mayor and following a $20,000 donation to the city for a park, the company still must obtain permits and begin construction.

Meanwhile, we think Harry Rilling, when he was chief of police, could have acknowledged and acted on the gang influence in Norwalk sooner than he did. We think he is walking a fine line with so many unions endorsing him and contributing to his campaign, and he will be under heavy scrutiny here and in other quarters to see how he handles the situation. We would note, however, that the mayor is not responsible for negotiations with the teachers or school administrators, and the firefighters will not have a contract coming up during the next mayor’s term.

We recognized long before he chose to run for mayor that Harry Rilling is a man of compassion, strength and integrity. That goes a long way in our minds. It is also interesting to note that Mr. Rilling is supported by the police union. Some think that is because they expect him to give away the store in contract negotiations, but if that happens, Rilling may well find himself a one-term mayor.

Rather, the endorsement by people who used to work for him tells us that his employees respected him as a man, as a leader and a boss. We have had many bosses. The majority we would not recommend for anything. A few, though, we would go to bat for in a heartbeat, and one of those people had to lay us off. These people were fair, honest and compassionate. They respected people – employees and the public – even when they disagreed. And that is something this city needs.

With all this, and more, in mind, we urge Norwalk voters to choose Harry Rilling for mayor on Nov. 5.

Update:

We left out one thing on out endorsement list: Republican Rick McQuaid for town clerk. Yes, he is unopposed. But Mr. McQuaid is the kind of public servant and, yes politician all the others should aspire to be: Honest, civil, helpful and diligent. We hope he would consider a step up in the future.

 

Comments

19 responses to “Editorial: An easy choice for mayor – Harry Rilling”

  1. Farewell Moccia!

    What a beautifully written article!

    SPOT ON!!!

    Tuesday, history will be made and all will rejoice!

    Mayor Harry Rilling, we love you!

  2. Lifelong Teacher

    Well done! My family and I have had encounters with both gentlemen over the years. Rilling has been nothing but professional and cordial. I cannot say the same for Moccia.

  3. Susan Wallerstein

    The Moccia administration has never come close to tapping the diverse talent in our community for service on boards & commissions. Besides Latinos, women and younger voters are also under represented (though there has been some improvement recently). With loyalty and friendship almost always trumping quality and diversity, it’s “same old, same old” much of the time, with some people serving on more than one board. We should also expect the next mayor to call for the swift resignation of anyone serving who no longer lives in Norwalk (not to be confused with owning real estate).

  4. Norwalk Lifer

    There are many opportunities for Norwalk going forward, we have some of the best recreational spot Southern Connecticut has to offer, and before it becomes gentrified and exclusive, it would benefit us all to understand the long term positives that come from developing our open land space.

    On the subject of Unions, like it or not, they are here to stay, No mayor, no matter how ambitious will go down in the annals of Norwalk history as a union buster, Walker tried this in Wisconsin, Schwartznegger tried this in California, and it’s the ancient Greek myth that holds true to this day; Icarus tried to fly too close to the sun, and his father, the inventor ended up with a sad ending to Icarus’ adventures.

    You must use civility and respect in negotiation, even the Mayor stated this in his debate with Mr. Rilling; but when you read about human resource heads shoving tables at union negotiators, then you must stop and wonder; will those who come to bargain give any special dispensation to those who walk in with a preconceived conviction about unions? No one is that divine.

    Insofar as teachers are concerned, they under siege; from the parents, the BOE, their own union; cut them a break, they do an honorable task, and those parents who cry loudly about achievement gaps and how this should be legislated, I would challenge to educate yourself on an unknown subject, and then pass that information, that knowledge along to your child, instead of spending your time, writing missives and appearing in public to campaign for the “good of the children”. The teachers in Norwalk do not deserve this treatment, they are more interested in educating children, than they are interested in polishing their image to defray the convicted “perception” of the public.

    And insofar as taxes are concerned, let’s get some real businesses attracted to Norwalk; Mayors and Governors have traveled to other states trying to “steal” business away, look at Governor Perry and California. And what will it do? it will make California more competent in attracting business.

    Look at Florida and their iniative to attract business, look at Alabama, Huntsville, to many the proving grounds always resided in Alberdeen Maryland, for decades, now Huntsville is seeing development thru the efforts of those aerospace contractors, the government, their local government, and yes, the people themselves.

    We have many talented people who live in Norwalk, from every faction of competence, time to start using their talents.

    And in closing, to the good people of South Norwalk, keep your work ethics and your goodwill intact; this is a unique community, South Norwalk is, we are the gate between the residential and the Rowayton community. We have a lot to offer, no one asks us to contribute. With Harry Rilling at the helm, I would argue you will see people from every faction of competence, every faction, roll up their sleeves and ask “what can I do”?

    However, if we do see the re-election of Richard Moccia, we will see more of the same, because as the man says himself “Been there, done that”.

    So, ask yourselves this; are you better off now than you were two years ago?

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  5. marjoriem

    I am a Rilling voter. I agree with all of the positive comments written so beautifully above. Time for a change!

  6. Daisy

    No surprise that THIS left leaning blob would endorse Rilling. You suggest that Moccia has been mid-slinging? Hardly – mud-slinging would have been personal stuff. …
    (this comment has been edited to conform to our policy)

  7. M Allen

    Lifer – what world do you live in? I don’t discount your words regarding civility. But on the subject of unions and Wisconsin, could you be anymore wrong? Wisconsin is far from over. The Governor survived a recall for the first time in the history or gubernatorial recalls, and the issue is before the WI Supreme Court. But it was really the first shot across the bow of the public unions and not likely the last. Quit putting the entire respect issue on the backs of everyone but the unions. Respect is a two-way street. Likewise, stop acting as though an attack on the union, or better yet, how the unions go about influencing elected officials, is an attack on the membership. Teachers are not under siege. The union, part of the biggest in the nation, isn’t under siege. It’s under pressure to evolve. But most important, teachers are not under siege. Teachers are great. They are wonderful human beings out to do the good dead of educate our young people. Aminstrators are great. Cafeteria workers and janitors and those other people that work in or for the schools – great, great, and even more great. Not every move against a budget, not every move against a union is a slap in the face of the teachers and it doesn’t mean we hate students. In the ned, costs are paid for by tax payers and we don’t have limitless pockets. Saying no isn’t, or shouldn’t be, personal. And saying yes shouldn’t be seen as a given. This isn’t about teachers and those who hate them. Stop making it into that to use as leverage.
    .
    As for South Norwalk, this election is about more than South Norwalk, although you may not notice that from the campaign. I’m beginning to think, as Bill Clinton was once called “the first black President” that Harry, if elected, may be the “first Latino Mayor of Norwalk.” I’m glad to see increased outreach to the Latino community of residents and voters. But there is more to this City than South Norwalk. Way more to it when it comes to tax generation. So while it’s nice that South Norwalk has been on the minds of so many this election cycle, let’s not forget the other parts of Norwalk that continue to fund the revitalization of South Norwalk (now in its 4th decade). As for your call to the residents of South Norwalk, and what they have to offer and not being asked to contribute. Had we only known years ago that asking for a contribution would do the trick. Silly us for not asking the residents, who are apparently so adequately capable, to contribute. Well, hopefully the Mayor, current or future, will ask.

  8. Ark

    Rilling is for higher taxes; Rilling is for giving money to NEON; Rilling is anti-development; and Rilling is supporting the Mosque in West Norwalk.
    So the choice is easy.
    Moccia protects Norwalk on taxes; Moccia protects Norwalk from NEON; Moccia is pro-development; and Moccia protects Norwalk from the Mosque litigation.
    QED vote for Moccia!

  9. MocciasMyMayor

    This could not be a more partisan endorsement if written by Harry Rilling himself.

    Moccia has the right to defend his record. Don’t pretend it’s otherwise.

    Moccia has far more character and leadership ability than Rilling. You paint a portrait of a different man and then claim he’s ugly. It’s completely insulting to the intelligence of this city.

    Moccia has done a great job, and will continue to do a great job for the next two years.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @MOCCIAIS….

      Endorsements, by their nature, are partisan — not for a party, but for the candidate.

  10. MocciasMyMayor

    @Mark – I don’t have an issue with NON choosing a candidate. I have an issue with the outline as to why – there isn’t a semblance of an attempt to pretend to portray both sides.

  11. David

    For me an election is first and foremost a referendum on the incumbent. In particular these past two years, all I’ve seen is discontent. Parents protesting at City Hall over school budget cuts and West Norwalk residents protesting a driving range at Oak Hills. Failed development plans litter the city, no increase in the grand list (all the while Stamford managed to grow its own), no major businesses moving to the city, offering high quality, high paying jobs. No vision, no future.
    .
    If all of this happened while taxes were reduced I might see the payoff, but that hasn’t happened either.
    .
    Moccia is the “get off my lawn” candidate. All he’s offering is FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) of his opponent. That’s not good enough, just not good enough. For me, Mayor Moccia has lost the “referendum” question.

  12. Mary Pugh

    🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. The Deal

    …….less than 28 hours…….

  14. Norwalk Lifer

    To Mr. Allen:

    You lost me at these words, you know nothing about civility;

    Lifer – what world do you live in?

    With regards to Governor Walker, you are right; it’s not over yet, and neither is the findings in the investigation ongoing now, perhaps you’ve read about it?

    And insofar as South Norwalk is concerned, I’ve been a life long fan of South Norwalk, from all the day workers to the retirees, to the young families, to the single mothers, to the homeless.

    It’s my prerogative, and with regards to my comments about teachers and the perception that they are under siege, you didn’t read my words.

    I said everyone is piling on them, the Red Apples, well intended but on the road to hell, the unions, ambitious in their drives, and yes, the people of this town.

    Show them some respect, they deserve, they put up with the children that parents whine about, buy expensive toys for, and basically ignore, yes, ignore,

    If you think a soccer game attendance on a Saturday, or a PTA meeting is the sign of good parenting, guess again, it takes a village to raise a child, and in MY neck of the woods, we have done just that.

    Just ask the people of South Norwalk, I daresay they are complaining less than those who live on road where a school is allowed, three cemeteries are right around the corner, a major catholic church is located, but a mosque? oh no, we can’t have THAT traffic!

    Please, save the sanctimony for someone else, I will be voting for Harry Rilling, because it is time for change. A change to civility.

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  15. Better Norwalk

    Yes, vote Harry if you want HIGH TAXES, So many promises, Harry will NOT be governing the city since he has to answer to all the promises and “seat at the tables” for unions.
    /
    Harry does not have political experience, no real leadership from his tenure as Chief, no experience in dealing with so many departments and budgets and the list goes on.
    /
    With Norwalk rated in Connecticut Magazine as the number 2 city in Connecticut, high ratings for education, development and more this does not happen overnight or one term. It took hard work from a mayor who brought this city into the light of such a high rating from a well respected magazine.
    /
    Our triple bond AAA rating is a great achievement when other cities are much lower since borrowing from the rainy day funds (sounds something like Garfunkel wanted to do)more so now after coming out of a recession.
    /
    Developments are moving forward and more and better to come which grows the grand list and lowers our taxes.
    /
    Fiscal responsibility in dealing with unions, budgets while also responding to major weather disasters.
    /
    Violent crime now reduced by 11% (Without Harry at helm)
    /
    Sorry, but Harry is still unqualified for the office of mayor.
    /
    Mayor Moccia has accomplished all this and more and it takes more than one term to accomplish what this city now has and will have.
    /
    Tomorrow, I urge you to vote row A: Mayor Moccia and team and let’s keep Norwalk moving FORWARD with Moccia-mentum!
    /
    THANK YOU!

  16. Piberman

    The paucity of Rublican candidate ads in NON suggests partisanship was well recognized. Whether that proves a good business model remains to be seen. It may also be “an easy choice” for some readers.

  17. Mary Pugh

    Actually, I haven’t seen any ads for anyone!

  18. John Frank sr

    I have known both men for a long time, worked with Harry on the police dept., first met Moccia when he was a councilman and a rising star in the Republican party.
    This time, the choice is easy, Moccia has had his run, earned a small pension, made his share of mistakes, and it is time for him to retire. I wish him well. Harry will be a good mayor, bring a lot of energy to the job, and be a lot more accessible.

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