Harry Rilling is the all-star coach Norwalk needs

Norwalk Rilling for Mayor Feb. 24 2013 029
Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling reaches out to a supporter at his recent campaign kickoff.

By Rod Lopez-Fabrega

NORWALK, Conn. – Not to overstress a sports analogy, the guy we need here in Norwalk to occupy the mayor’s box at the big game of civic politics is a Sparky Anderson or a Tony LaRussa, or even at times a John McGraw of the iron fist. As we know and as is frequently made clear, at City Hall we have a weak mayor/strong council form of governance that grants the mayor limited appointment power and only a degree of control over administrative agencies. It is the Common Council that is the law-writing body of the City of Norwalk. The man we elect to move our sometimes divided and quarrelsome “team Norwalk” has to have the quiet strength and sensitivity to take a diverse group of individualistic, ambitious, head-strong, Common Council prima-donnas, who often suffer from tunnel vision, and direct, advise, inspire and mold them into a working team to achieve great things while speaking softly but carrying the nightstick of persuasion.

Is there such a guy in the tunnel?  After a good look at the candidates vying to replace Mayor Richard Moccia, who by many accounts has irritated and demoralized the team in many instances and has not always been a productive coach, there is one who has proven himself to have the qualities we seek. We think it is Harry Rilling, who for 17 years served as chief of police for Norwalk, molding a diverse collection of tough men and women into an admirable team of enforcers who have kept us safe from the desperate actions of some and from a rising tide of reactions to unemployment and the deprivations of hard times. So, the man most needed is not a team owner (or a captain of industry or a conventional CEO) but a really effective coach with the proven qualities to cajole, convince and sometimes be very firm but always civil in pushing his players to make the cooperative moves to keep them and their followers in the major leagues.

True that Harry Rilling has never held an elected office and that, as is the case with the current mayor, he has never worked in a large corporation nor has he practiced professionally as a lawyer. So, we ask you, how important is that – a question convincingly posed recently by Peter Berman in his cogent letter to The Hour – when it is the Board of Education chairperson and superintendent who are the city’s most important officials, the mayor has limited authorities and little control over the police and fire departments and “even a new mayor with ambitious new governance goals would be hard pressed to significantly boost spending and local real estate taxes under the current environment”?

Now, Harry Rilling does have “ambitious new governance goals”, and as Nancy on Norwalk has pointed out in a recent article in that publication, those include: An appropriately and adequately funded BOE with support for Common Core State Standards; support of the Head Start program with universal pre-K to direct young people in a positive and productive direction for their lives; a government that is transparent, inclusive, accessible and civil; providing developers a friendly place to do business and not obstacles; encouraging affordable housing so the people who work in Norwalk can afford to live here; and more. He also cites his experience with budgets as police chief, adding, “I put together realistic budgets which allowed me to run the department effectively and efficiently. I feel that all department heads should be held accountable to do the same thing.”

The voters of Norwalk expect these to be the basic goals of any worthy candidate running for the top job in our city. It’s proof of the ability to get difficult tasks done that we look for. Among the Democratic candidates going for the top job, we have seen that Andy Garfunkel is a weathered vote getter (coming close to beating Richard Moccia last time around); Matt Miklave shows huge promise for the future with his analytical talents and big picture planning; Vinnie Mangiacopra deserves our admiration for jumping right in to face up to impressive competition; but we conclude that Harry Rilling has the right stuff to shepherd our divided Common Council on to real achievements, has already proven he can run the biggest municipal departments effectively, and he has the gravitas and  presence to make us proud if he becomes our top man.

And to stretch the baseball analogy as far as it will go, Harry, a native Norwalker and the grandson of German and Irish immigrants, explains that he did coach youth baseball in the Cranbury league for about nine years, then coached in the Babe Ruth league for three years. He also volunteered to coach the baseball team at West Rocks Middle School when they had no staff person to do it. For approximately four years, he was an assistant district commissioner with the Boy Scouts of America.

You can’t get much more “American Mayor” than that.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega


17 responses to “Harry Rilling is the all-star coach Norwalk needs”

  1. ScopeonNorwalk

    “Common Council prima-donnas” wondering who he’s referring to? Not the most helpful statement for a man who will most likely have to primary and will need the help and support of at least a few Common Council members from either aisle of he plans to have any success.

  2. oldtimer

    Harry will be hard pressed to develop the majority that Moccia has put together with the elected Repubs and the three Dem turncoats. Can’t help wondering how that was accomplished. The next mayor will need the same kind of majority to get anything done his way. I still have hopes that Harry can get the party nomination w/o a primary. He can be very persuasive, and I would never bet against him.

  3. LWitherspoon

    Mr. Lopez-Fabrega,
    I don’t yet know who I’ll support for Mayor in November, but one thing is for certain – this letter makes a lot more sense than your last one comparing Matt Miklave to Pope Francis.

  4. ScopeonNorwalk

    He can’t get the nomination without the support of a few council members either. Either way, the statement does not help him.

  5. Joe Espo

    Wow. One Pope; one coach. What a spectrum for Andy and Vinny to fit in within Mr. Lopez-Fabrega’s mind. Maybe from what I have read here of recent vintage, Mr. Lopez-Fabrega might have miscalculated and should have denominated Harry as Jesus Christ, with Pope Matthew I (the first) being a Pope-apostle, just like Peter. Oh, no, wait! Would Matthew I be Judas? A primary-er against Christ-Harry? OMG!! And Andy? Well, St. Andrew was a fisherman! Mr. Lopez-Fabrega should have no doubt assigned Andy the fisherman’s role; “reeling in the years” ?? I don’t know? As for Vinny..well.. let’s wait for him to graduate from the Seminary. There’s a place for him, for sure, as a missionary somewhere in Bridgeport, but not 125 East Avenue, Norwalk.

  6. Don’t Panic

    If that’s really Rilling’s platform, that’s sad. He’s been taking really good notes while listening to Miklave. And he doesn’t seem to have a plan to pay for any of it.

  7. Tim T

    The last thing Norwalk needs is more Harry Rilling. We are still suffering from he crime epidemic that occurred under his watch as chief. I would like to see Miklave as he is not afraid to take on the big issues. I also like Andy as he showed that he is a forward thinker by purchasing the new system while he was town clerk, that allowed the issues in the town clerks office to be uncover.

  8. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Joe Espo: I like your scenarios. But, I disagree in part. I see Andy as a potential Lazarus.

    Scope: The references to the Common Council are my assessment, not Harry’s. I base them on repeated reports in the media about the bickerings and dissentions and turnabouts we read about almost daily that seem to hinder progress in the Common Council .

  9. NorwalkVoter

    Tim T and Don’t Panic clearly write from inside a competing campaign. You are not fooling anyone…your comments are inaccurate at best and false at worst. Slamming Democrats is your MO.

  10. Kennedy Dem

    The 2011 council elect was majority Democrat. That coalition fell apart in the presence of Mr. Miklave as a councilman. At fault or not, it seems he missed an opportunity to forge alliances and unite the Democrats, who could have had control of the council and delivered an agenda that Mr. Miklave claims to have now that he is running for Mayor.
    The other three may or may not be able to achieve that, but you can’t deny that Mr. Miklave has had the opportunity time and again and has failed to deliver results.

  11. Don’t Panic

    I take issue with the suggestion that slamming democrats is my MO. It’s true that I am supportive of Matt Miklave’s platform. He has been vocal for years about what is needed. I simply observed that there is nothing in Rilling’s platform (as outlined in this article) that is markedly different from Miklave’s. Score one for Harry for recognizing a good idea when he sees it.

    It would be good if we could hear more about how he is going to pay for any of it. Miklave’s proposed Performance Based Budgeting, which has shown results in other cities.

  12. NorwalkVoter

    DP – What Mr. Miklave is not telling you is that PBB is in place and has been for several years in several city departments. Sorry he hasn’t noticed. But now you know.

  13. LWitherspoon

    @Don’t Panic
    You don’t know how much money PBB would save, if anything, so it’s not accurate to claim that your guy Miklave has offered a real solution that pays for any of his proposals. What if due to union contract restrictions PBB doesn’t save anything? How will Mr. Miklave pay for all his proposals?
    I am extremely skeptical when Miklave partisans are saying on various news sites that PBB will allow us to pay high wages to City workers while at the same time enjoying lower taxes. If you believe that, I’ve got a pier at Calf Pasture I’ll sell you.
    Mr. Miklave has eight years of experience on the Common Council, he should know what’s in the City’s budget. If he doesn’t, he has abdicated his responsibility as a Councilman and doesn’t deserve to be Mayor. So let him propose exactly what cuts he would make, rather than offering this vague panacea which you and others are using to promise all things to all people.

  14. politricks

    harry would be hard pressed to be mayor…
    he has had mayoral aspirations since the days of bill collins. he is a wannabe with no real political experience of any elected office

  15. Hobbes.the.Calvinist

    If the biggest complaint is that Rilling has “no real political experience”, then he would be qualified to lead a city where most of us are sick of politicians.

  16. Tim T

    Being a police chief is very political

  17. Peter I Berman

    Some puzzling questions early in the game. First it’s unclear what any of the candidates including Mayor Moccia are promising. The few OpEds in the Hour are “puff pieces” avoiding major issues or at least issues that will galvanize the public. So far we have some views on gun control, big boxes, bringing in business, Hartford and performance based budgeting (the last by a labor attorney who served on the Council for a decade w/o leaving noticeable footprints. That suggests the candidates Are struggling with their messages and not using professional campaign consultants. Typically in vigorous campaigns lead with their most appealing visions to gather supporters. Weak campaigns focus on raising funds. So our initial assessment is that the 4 contenders are off to “slow” start and wobbly.

    Second, it’s surprising that none of the candidates have gathered substantial backing within the Party and especially among the Party leadership. Allowing 4 candidates to slug it out doesn’t bode well for putting together a team and campaign strong enough to really challenge a well entrenched and financed mayor.

    Third, it’s surprising that at this stage in the campaign none of the candidates have displayed their team of candidates for Common Council and BOE. Surely (we hope) they understand the importance of putting together a visible “under ticket” early in the game. Few mayors are successful without a Party majority in the Common Council.

    Finally a few words about Mr. Rilling. By far his professional life has been the most interesting of the four candidates. A police chief is an extraordinarily difficult job and Mr Rilling has earned considerable distinction and admiration. More than a few long term residents consider Mr Rilling the most accomplished City Dept. Head in recent decades. That said politics is a “blood sport” requiring the ability to galvanize volunteers on a path to victory. So far the absence of hired political consultants and an early full fledged platform suggest Mr Rilling is not playing the game the way it needs be played to win. Anyone even as talented as Mr Rilling needs skilled advisors to create a winning campaign.

    Still another consideration is that the Democrats will be exhausted after their primary and be unable to raise adequate funding for the varsity run. Hour editor John Riley expressed that thought months ago.

    There is another consideration. There is a real danger that the Democrats will exhaust themselves after fielding 4 candidates in an unsuccessful effort and future weaken the Party for years to come. The failure of the Party to rally early around just one or two candidates is discouraging to say the least.

    At this juncture the advantage points to Mayor Moccia. Should the candidates talk about “big ticket” items such as excessive taxes and City salaries and declining property values we could have a real campaign. But not a different outcome unless the selected candidate acquires professional assistance and develop real agendas.

    Peter I Berman

    PS: I was a Senior Policy Advisor in Gov. John Rowland’s campaign serving under Issues Committee Chairman Joel Schiavone.

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