Another municipal election is upon us, which means that as voters we may find ourselves at odds or in different camps on many of the issues affecting us as the local level. That’s a healthy part of our democracy. What I find less healthy is when voters (or candidates) make decisions on these issues using deliberate misinformation. Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, black or white, young or young-at-heart, we may and will disagree on the best way to navigate our City’s future, but we should, at the very least, agree to basing our positions on reality, not on unsubstantiated talking points.
I’ve heard some folks say, for example, that Norwalk has become too over-zoned, with “fortress apartments” and insufficient infrastructure. The *fact* is the majority of Norwalk is still zoned for single-family homes. Our urban core is growing, which some may disagree about, but the hyperbolic doomsday language is obviously unproductive and misleading. Part of that growth, for instance, has included renovated public park space in South Norwalk. And the city is paying more attention to utility and transportation infrastructure than it has in decades. Also, if anyone tells you that they can “cap” the number of residents in any town, they are insulting your intelligence. (Or worse, they are parroting some of the same thinly-veiled racism that has infected our national politics.)
It’s worth noting that when the Maritime Aquarium was being built a few decades ago, there were similar reactions about overcrowding and capacity, none of which have proved true.
I’ve heard that renters don’t contribute as much or aren’t as invested in Norwalk as homeowners. Besides the *fact* that that apartment owners do, in fact, pay property tax, and that many renters have been here for decades, renters also contribute in so many other ways. I rented an apartment here for three years before my husband and I bought our first home. We supported local businesses. We went out to dinner. We grew to love this city so much that we decided eventually decided to invest in a house. Renters are an important part of our ecosystem, who help our businesses grow and thrive.
I’ve heard that our taxes are high and that the City spends too much. As a taxpayer, I would always welcome lower taxes, but the *fact* is, according to the CT Office of Policy and Management’s most recent Municipal Fiscal Indicators report, Norwalk actually spends less per capita than our suburban neighbors and has a lower debt per capita than New Canaan and Westport. The percentage of our grand list that relies on residential property is also less than the state average, and property taxes make up a lower percentage of our total revenue than Wilton, New Canaan, Fairfield, Stamford, Ridgefield, Darien, and Greenwich. I am not saying we will agree on every policy (again, healthy disagreement is vital), but we should at least agree on the facts. Don’t let political talking points cloud the actual reality.
Finally, I’ve heard that City Hall is too bureaucratic, and run by what some call “crony capitalism.” Admittedly, I don’t have a stat-sheet on that, but my personal experience has been that Norwalk is lucky to have dedicated public servants doing their best every day to make this city a better place. Crime is down in every neighborhood. Our schools are getting better and better. The men and women serving on boards and commissions volunteer their time and expertise, often without thanks or appreciation. The city is leveraging digital tools more and more to make government transparent and open. Have you been to a Common Council or Board of Education meeting recently? We’d always love to have more public participation.
I know everyone’s experience may be different, but again, based on the *facts* I am enthusiastically supporting Mayor Harry Rilling for reelection as our Mayor. Other candidates have offered talking points, but we shouldn’t tolerate anyone spreading misinformation or bending the facts to serve their own purposes.
Public service is not always fun or easy, but we can make it better by not resorting to ad hominem allegations or hyperbolic statements. I like to assume that all the folks running for office, whether Republican or Democrat, are doing so because they want what’s best for Norwalk. Can’t we all at least agree on that?
At-Large member of the Norwalk Common Council