NORWALK, Conn. – A move to redistribute the power on Norwalk’s Common Council is based on a misconception, Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said Tuesday. Wednesday, Kimmel said comments made by Minority Leader Travis Simms (D-District B) and Councilman David Watts (D-District A) at Tuesday’s meeting were false.
“I never officially resigned from the Republican caucus,” Kimmel said Tuesday, attempting to invalidate a move made by Simms to elect new council officers.
On Sept. 24, Kimmel spoke to NancyOnNorwalk and said that the actions of Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) had inspired him to stop caucusing with Republicans. He also said that he would not join the Democratic caucus unless Watts left it, because Watts had destroyed the caucus.
Tuesday night’s agenda included “discussion of election of new officers and Common Council committee chairs.” Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) introduced the item by saying it was there by Simms’ request.
“There seems to be a misconception among Council members and some members of the public that I have officially left and resigned from the Republican caucus,” Kimmel said.
An erroneous news report had started discussions about a 7-7-1 split on the Council, and things had been “spinning out of control,” he said. Kimmel said he had spoken to Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) and Hempstead and had never lost contact with the caucus, although he had not attended two meetings. Hempstead had called him to ask his opinions on things, he said.
“I never officially resigned from the Republican caucus,” Kimmel said. “I let Mr. Petrini and Mr. Hempstead know that I had severe reservations with the activities of one caucus member and would limit my participation with that caucus. At no time did Mr. Petrini consider me a non-member of the caucus. We stayed in touch. He sent me information about caucus meetings.”
Kimmel attended the caucus before Tuesday’s meeting after talking to Petrini that afternoon, Kimmel said. McCarthy was absent, but Kimmel said Wednesday that had nothing to do with it.
“I think there will be a healthy outcome for both me and the Republican caucus,” Kimmel said Tuesday. “… My view is the status quo on the Council never really changed. We are where we have always been, technically where we were, and that any motion to rework the Council or to redistribute the committee chairs, things like that, I think should be considered a moot point. Most of it was based on a misconception. I think I caused a lot of people to spend a lot of time checking out law books, state statutes, spend a lot of time on the phone. I apologize if I implied something other than what I just stated. We never stopped communicating on how we could resolve the problems that I brought up before and I never officially resigned from the Republican caucus, which would have to be done for me to leave the caucus.”
“I don’t believe there was a misconception here,” Simms said. “Mr. Kimmel was very frank and adamant about his involvement in not caucusing with the Republican caucus. That led me as the minority leader to make sure that the meetings reflect the balance of the council. There was never a point that there was a misunderstanding whether he was caucusing with the Republicans or he was not. He came to our caucus and told members directly that he was no longer caucusing with the Republicans … and he didn’t foresee himself as long as David McCarthy was caucusing with that caucus.”
Watts said he agreed with Simms.
“We had a conversation with Mr. Kimmel, actually we were leaving a meeting one night, he actually held us up, he requested a meeting with us outside in the parking lot and we spoke frankly,” Watts said. “The conversation went as follows, ‘I am no longer caucusing with Republicans but I don’t want to talk about committees or chairmanships as long as the mosque is an issue.’”
Watts then went on to paint himself as a victim, calling himself “a target of Mr. Kimmel’s for a while.” He referred to the NoN article without mentioning where it came from, paraphrasing the text.
“(Kimmel) went on to attack me, but he also attacked a fellow Republican council member with harsh words, terrible things he said about myself and Mr. McCarthy. Just horrible, without any facts or proof to bring that up,” Watts said. “He on numerous occasions sites Nate Sumpter as a reason to defend his character but then go on and engage in the same type of behaviors that he accused other people of with harsh words. Sources say ‘Kimmel left the caucus recently because of what he called bullying and political intimidation tactics of one member but tonight pointed to David McCarthy and David Watts as two Council members making his life miserable.’ Why? Kimmel also ‘accused Watts of bullying and said he has disrupted the Democratic caucus.’”
Watts said he didn’t know how Kimmel would know what goes on in the Democratic caucus since he is not a member. Kimmel has a history of jumping political ships since 2002, he said. Kimmel had organized a meeting at Harbor Lights, which could be substantiated with emails, Watts said. Not every caucus member went, because if they did there would have been a quorum
He cited the Freedom of Information Act, challenging the validity of Kimmel’s claim that he had not officially withdrawn from the Republican caucus.
“Under FOI, when caucus members make a public declaration that they are leaving can they go return under FOI? I would like to get a legal opinion on that but I think that is pretty sufficient evidence that he has claimed he will no longer caucus with the Republican party and we should investigate under FOI can he return or can he make those statements and then decide they can go back,” Watts said. “… If he can return then it’s all moot and we go back to business as usual. If he cannot return then that leaves the Council at 7-7-1, where it’s seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one independent or unaffiliated, whatever he would be. That would basically put the caucus as – we would now have two majority leaders because the Democrats would no longer be in the minority.”
Petrini said he couldn’t speak to conversations Kimmel had with Simms and/or Watts, but, “It was always my impression and I have always told them that as far as I was concerned, Bruce – no matter what he said in public, no matter what he said in the paper, no matter what he told you – that until I got a letter from the town clerk stating that he was going to leave the caucus he was still a member of our caucus.”
Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola suggested tabling the item to give him time to research the issue and come back with a legal opinion at the next meeting. That was done.
Kimmel sat quietly after his initial speech. Wednesday, he said that was because “we had a room full of people who came to hear about Oak Hills and the Aquarium. I had hoped the Council business item would be pushed back on the agenda. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.”
He sent the following statement by email:
“Most of what Mr. Simms and Mr. Watts said was simply not true, it was as if they were making it up as they went along.
“I was invited to, and attended, a meeting at Harbor Lights by members of the Democratic caucus. I did not organize that meeting. We mostly discussed how to deal with David Watts going forward.
“Last night, Simms did not mention that I had three conversations with him alone (two over the phone when he called me, and one at City Hall after a meeting). Each time, he wanted to discuss what he referred to as ‘fairness’ and the composition of the Council. I repeatedly responded that, for me, the only issue I would discuss was David Watts’ dysfunctional antics and I had no interest in discussing the makeup of the Council while Watts was a member of the Democratic caucus. Interestingly, on all three occasions he did not dispute my characterization of Watt’s actions; in fact, he seemed to agree. His view was simply that Watts was not in control of the caucus. I disagreed with that. I indeed spoke with Simms and Watts at length last month in front of City Hall after a committee meeting, but the caucus issue was never brought up. I only talked about the mosque, trying to figure out how they would be voting and why. All they wanted to talk about, especially Watts, was making me the Council president because, to quote Watts, everyone ‘respects’ me because I am ‘fair.’ If I remember correctly, at the time, they were not even aware that I had a problem with Mr. McCarthy.
“Also, it is no secret that I have had a rocky relationship with the Norwalk Democrats over the years. I won’t go into details, but I will say that I have refused to allow the dysfunction that has afflicted the party over the years force me to leave politics.
“Regarding the caucus, I have repeatedly said to the Republicans that I would not show up at caucus meetings as long as the issues I raised concerning McCarthy were not addressed. At no time did I submit or even discuss submitting the paperwork necessary for me to actually leave the caucus (which, in my case, was required because of my political affiliation). I have been in constant contact with Mr. Petrini and Mr. Hempstead regarding caucus and Council business.
“Yesterday afternoon, I worked out a scenario with Petrini that I believe will resolve the McCarthy issue; that is the reason I attended last night’s caucus meeting. I had no idea McCarthy would not be at the meeting until it was mentioned to me by Petrini. I would have attended even if he were there.”
On Tuesday, Hempstead tried to cool tempers, saying he’s been in politics for a long time and knows people get angry.
“I get it, but if we can move forward at least with the rest of our term, kind of at least keep our conversations civil, kind of listen to all sides and all people, we are all guilty of this one or the other way from time to time, just keep it to the business before us and let’s focus on the business of the city more than anything else,” Hempstead said. “Other things should be focused on behind the scenes.”