NORWALK, Conn. – One thing is certain – there will be a Norwalk Democratic primary this September. All four Norwalk Democratic mayoral hopefuls said Friday morning that they would force one if they didn’t get their party’s nomination at the July convention.
Surprised? Probably not. There wasn’t much surprising about the Historic 2013 Mayoral Debate hosted by The Hour at the Norwalk Inn. Former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel emphasized that he is the one candidate who ran against Mayor Richard Moccia before, and nearly won. Common Councilman Matt Miklave would like to institute Performance Based Budgeting – something he will begin on day one in office. District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra thinks there are too many struggling people in Norwalk, something he lays squarely at the feet of Republican Mayor Richard Moccia’s administration. Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling thinks Norwalk needs civility and he has the experience necessary to bring it.
“Together up here you see four candidates,” Garfunkel said at the end of the debate. “Together combined we make one fantastic candidate up here. It is unfortunate that we cannot put this together a little bit quicker. But our goal is to get into office and change the direction of how Norwalk works. I’ve been there before, been there very close. We just need to pick up that torch and get us a little bit farther to win that election.”
A bit of scorekeeping:
Mangiacopra scored the first laugh. Asked about signing what has been called a pledge to remain true to the Democratic Party, Mangiacopra pointed out that he knew they were in the Norwalk Inn – bastion of the Republican Party.
Mangiacopra also scored the first rebuttal. Same question. After his three opponents weighed in on the document – Rilling said he didn’t see it as a pledge, Miklave said he did and took pledges very seriously and Garfunkel said he had pledged to make Norwalk a better place, which was the most important pledge he could make – Mangiacopra said he was looking forward to serving every person in Norwalk.
“However, leaders lead,” he said. “It’s important to recognize that the Norwalk Democratic Party is important. We do have a commitment to that as elected officials and people pursuing office. I am committed to that organization and making it better. Because that’s what leaders do, they make people around them better.”
A question about support for Oak Hills golf course and a possible driving range drew a variety of answers. Mangiacopra said he supported a driving range as he wouldn’t have much choice given the decisions made by the Moccia administration but he would seek resignations from the Oak Hills Park Authority should he become mayor. Rilling scored a laugh – wouldn’t it be nice if the holes were bigger? – and said the idea had been around for 15 years. If someone had a successful idea he would look at it but the priority would be to make the course affordable for residents. Garfunkel said he supported a driving range, but the first tee would be a better place than the woods designated by the OHPA.
Miklave said “I would love for there to be a driving range at Oak Hills golf course. I just don’t think the current crowd has the ability to manage it. … I think topographically the golf course is a tough place with its current configuration. I think we have to look at alternative to build a driving range. Having teed off on rocks before, that is not good for our clubs.”
Rilling became a bit of a target in a question about crime. While Garfunkel said police officers needed to be deployed to crime hotspots and investments must be made in community organizations, Mangiacopra emphasized that the “current police chief” had instituted foot patrols, something that Norwalk has needed for years, he said. Miklave said Rilling’s answer referring to statistics and to preventing crime wasn’t good enough because people do not feel safe. He said he had asked for eight years if Norwalk needed more police and he had been told no.
Rilling said Miklave did “not have a true understanding of what community policing is” and that he had asked for more police officers every year.
After the debate, Rillling said that line of commentary proved one of his points.
“That’s what politicians do,” he said. “That’s why I said I kind of believe that I have not been in the political arena. I believe in telling people what I believe and what my position and my platform is. I will say that there’s two ways to have the tallest building in town. You tear down everybody else’s, or you build the tallest building. My campaign has decided that we are going to build the tallest building.”