NORWALK, Conn. – District E Common Councilman John Igneri is running for re-election in what is expected to be one of the more hotly contested district races in the city. Igneri and fellow Democrat Kate Tepper are opposed by Republican incumbent David McCarthy and current Zoning Commission Vice Chairwoman Emily Wilson (Wilson chaired the commission until earlier this week, when new officers were chosen).
In 2011, Igneri polled 1,697 votes, second to McCarthy’s 1,785. Tepper ran for an at-large seat and got 6,421 votes, 1,516 in District E. Wilson did not run.
NancyOnNorwalk sent each Common Council candidate a set of questions to help introduce them to the electorate. Here are Igneri’s responses:
NoN: Why are you running for re-election? What are your priorities for the next two years?
JI: I am running for re-election because the work I started two years ago is not nearly done. The past two years have been difficult, with both economic and political impasse at times on the Council floor. I learned long ago from my experience in business that we must all give a little, compromise, in order to keep the ball moving forward. Families in our community cannot wait for politicians to get their act together, they’re concerned about the quality of education their child is getting, escalating property tax increases, and the manner in which City Hall approaches key issues. The work is hard and I feel strongly about my ability to build genuine coalitions to get the business of the people done.
NoN: Several council candidates listed the schools among their top priorities at the East Norwalk forum, but the council has little control over what goes on in the schools. Other than votes on the final budget figures, how do you propose to have an impact on Norwalk’s schools?
JI: As elected officials, we all have skin in the game, so to speak, when it comes to education. It has the biggest effect on crime, property values, and businesses relocating to Norwalk. Often people don’t even look at the facts but rely merely on their perception that there are issues. In my second term, we need to start discussing the positive developments in educating our children. Now, with Dr. Rivera in place, it’s time we all — the BOE , the Council, our citizens — put our best foot forward as a collective community and rally around Norwalk schools. There are many positive things that deserved to be championed and I plan on taking an active role working with my education colleagues to get them the support to get the job done.
NoN: One of the biggest complaints we hear from our readers is about property taxes and how they just seem to go up. This year it’s around 4 percent. So what can be done differently, if anything, to hold the line on spending — or even roll it back?
JI: I represent District E, so this is the question I am faced with time and time again, especially this year when the increase was 4.97 percent. Being on the inside and watching how this government is run, I don’t feel that we have a comprehensive strategy or game plan for the long term. We’re always playing catch up. And our zoning regulations promote box stores, which keeps the burden on residential taxpayers.
I also learned in a recent conversation with a developer that the perception of excessive crime is a reality to many seeking to do business in Norwalk, stability in education has been lacking and the homeless are on our streets. This results in developers going to Stamford.
As a city, it’s important that we change these perceptions by tackling the issues. More development in Norwalk will help us diversify our tax base, and grow our grand list, resulting in more people paying into the pot. With that said, we also need to maintain fiscal responsibility on all issues facing Norwalk. Norwalk has great community assets and history, but we need to show we have our act together, otherwise we will continue on the path of budget Band-Aids year after year.
NoN: Do you believe it is essential to read and understand the Common Council info packets before voting, or will you depend on discussions, staff recommendations and constituent input to inform your vote?
JI: I believe it is a combination of all of these things that shape a council person’s vote. For many issues, we rely on staff recommendations to guide us as to their respective departments’ needs. I feel that it is always important to conduct city business with integrity and full transparency. If debate arises, compromise should be encouraged. Members of the Common Council need all information in a timely manner from City Hall, so we have as much time as possible to prepare. There can always be improvement there. Representing District E over the past two years, I have maintained an open door policy with my constituents and their concerns. I look forward to maintaining and improving that in the next term.
NoN: Would you support the formation of a charter commission?
JI: I would definitely support a charter commission. I would like to see the terms of the mayor and council changed to four years (with term limits). I believe it will give us an opportunity to tackle the city’s issues without being distracted by the need to run for re-election after completing only 18 months of our 24-month term. Also, I would want to expand the Police and Fire Commissions to five members, allowing for more economic and cultural diversity.
NoN: Civility has been a big topic. What can you say to the voters to assure them that, if you are elected, they will find a kinder and gentler council?
JI: I have refrained from heated council debates, writing articles about issues that are really attacks on others or participating in heated blogs. Hopefully, my example will be a guide to new members on the council next term… Hopefully, with more civility, we can reach compromises which will only benefit the city.
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