Updated 7:54 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, with remarks from Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Torrano, other informtion.
NORWALK, Conn. – Bruce Kimmel has been looked at as the swing vote on the Common Council for the past two years. His next swing could cause a major change in the makeup of the Council.
Kimmel, an at-large Democrat caucusing with the Republicans, said Wednesday night he will not participate with the GOP caucus going forward unless a situation involving another Council member is remedied.
The situation, he said, involves what he called bullying and intimidation, not just of him but of others.
“I have taken great offense over a period of time at some of the activities taking place concerning a member of the Republican caucus,” he told NancyOnNorwalk, saying the situation dates back two years.
It was two years ago when Kimmel left the Democratic caucus, citing disarray and tactics that made it difficult to get any business done. His switch helped switch the Council majority from the Democrats to the Republicans and allowed the Moccia administration to set the agenda for the final year of his tenure. Kimmel was joined in the move by Mike Geake and Carvin Hilliard.
Kimmel maintained his Democratic Party membership, but ran on the Republican ticket last fall, endorsing the platform and all the GOP candidates. His election helped give the Republicans an 8-7 Council majority.
Kimmel said Wednesday night he has not made a decision to rejoin the Democratic caucus, but said he has told the Republican leadership “I won’t participate in any Republican collective activities.”
Should Kimmel decide to return to the Democratic caucus, the Democrats would regain control of the Common Council by an 8-7 majority. Currently, Travis Simms (D-District B) is the minority leader. Jerry Petrini (R-District D) is majority leader. Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) is Council president.
The majority party gets the chairmanship of all Council committees, sets the agendas and controls the meetings.
Kimmel said his decision to leave the caucus is pending a resolution of his concerns.
“Members of the leadership said they cannot disagree” with his concerns, he said, but they feel “powerless” to do anything.
Kimmel said that, over the past three years, “a number of people have been deeply hurt and insulted” by treatment and tactics of a member of the caucus, who Kimmel declined to name, although he specifically mentioned situations regarding Nate Sumpter on the Zoning Commission and talks surrounding the Bike and Walk Task Force. He said the tactics involved bullying and intimidation, and said, “There is no place for that in Norwalk politics.”
Kimmel locked horns with fellow caucus member David McCarthy (R-District E) earlier this year over McCarthy’s bid to get Sumpter off the Zoning Commission. Sumpter, a Democrat appointed by Moccia, was reappointed by Mayor Harry Rilling but needed Council approval. He got it with a 13-1 vote, but not before Kimmel unleashed anger at the politics of the situation.
McCarthy’s tactics have been the focus of complaints on other issues as well, including his connection to the distribution of at least one inflammatory flyer about the proposed mosque during the 2013 campaign, and about a public hearing requested before the city’s sewage treatment plant’s license was renewed. He has publicly battled with fellow Councilman David Watts – currently an ally in fighting against a mosque settlement – and former Zoning Commission member and current Bike and Walk Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak over behavior and tactics in addition to actual city issues.
Kimmel would not put a timetable on any decision to rejoin the Democratic caucus, saying only that, “Right now, my concern is to get past the mosque issue, to see if we can get some kind of settlement and see if we can move forward.”
Kimmel was not at the Wednesday night executive session Council meeting to discuss the issue, as he was teaching a class.
Petrini did not respond to requests for comment, but Republican Town Committee Chairman Peter Torrano spoke with NoN Thursday afternoon.
“There’s not much we can do about it,” he said, and pointed out that Petrini and Hempstead have “worked reasonably well” with Kimmel since he joined the caucus. “This is something he is going to have to work out with them,” Torrano said. “If he can’t find a way to work it out, he’ll have to make his own decision. We have no control over it. It’s Bruce’s decision.”
Kimmel changed parties during the Alex Knopp administration when he was a Board of Education member. He was elected to the Council as a District D Democrat in 2011 and left the caucus almost immediately due to unhappiness with the caucus behavior. After a year of attending committee meetings, he announced he would caucus with the Republicans.
His move was preceded by a move by elected Distict B Democrat Mike Geake, who left the part five months after the 2011 election, registered as an Independent and joined the Republican caucus. That move gave the Republicans an 8-7 majority. The Republicans have maintained Council control since then.