Updated 1:29 p.m.: Comments from Jim Clark of the Golden Hill Association added, with an additional comment from Hal Alvord.
NORWALK, Conn. – Complaints about no communication from City Hall marked a press conference called Wednesday to urge Latino Norwalkers to vote for Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling.
Norwalk Department of Public Works employees showed up on Oct. 2 to tear up Cedar Street without warning any of the business owners on the street, said business owner Nathalia Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said she was speaking for other Cedar Street business owners — the restaurant owner, the tattoo shop owner, the graphic design shop owner — as she joined with immigrants from Ecuador, Columbia, Peru, Mexico, Venezuela, Nicarauga, Panama, El Salvador and Puerto Rico to stand united for Rilling.
Common Councilman Warren Peña led the group of Latino leaders, standing in Don Floro’s Restaurant at 75 Cedar St., where there is very little traffic due to the reconstruction of the Cedar Street bridge and the city construction crews working on a $1.8 million project that, according to DPW Director Hal Alvord, has been planned for 10 years.
“There has been absolutely no communication here,” Peña said. “There are many small business owners here that should have had some type of dialog. The mayor should have come down here himself to speak to the small business community and say ‘Hey, look, we’re going to have an interruption here, how can I help? How can we make sure that we are working together? So that way you don’t suffer from a closed bridge and clients not being able to come through this area. … Harry Rilling, the man that I know, is going to have an open dialog and will have better communication skills with the Latino community, our children and the community overall here in Norwalk.”
Gonzalez said business owners recognize that the construction projects are a huge opportunity but feel that communication is in order.
“We were never announced about the construction,” she said. “I think it is not fair to us business owners. That same day, when I called City Hall, somebody came down here and said somebody was supposed to tell you but that person is new at the job. So I think it’s unprofessional. It seems like, you know, we’re all Spanish business owners and we’re not getting anywhere. Some of us have gone to City Hall and nothing happens. No one takes us seriously.”
That response from City Hall – a worker visiting Don Floro’s – was it, she said.
“I had already left,” she said. “They spoke to (Don Floro’s owner). They were looking for me so they didn’t say anything else. Besides that we got no communication.”
Alvord said the project has been developed with the collaboration of the Golden Hill Association and the Cedar Street Merchants.
“We try to communicate to people in the most effective manner that we can,” he said. “In my view, this project was a model of the way a neighborhood group and a city can work together to the benefit of both. They helped us plan the project – they were involved in every meeting on the planning of the project. They were involved in the timing of the project. They wanted to make sure the work was done while the bridge was still closed so that we didn’t unnecessarily extend disruptions on the street and they offered to do all the communications with the merchants and the people in the area. That’s the ideal way. That’s more effective than us putting fliers in people’s doors and stuff like that. As far as we know the communication was being done by those groups and everything was fine.”
Jim Clark of the Golden Hill Association said the spirit of Alvord’s statement was correct but the specificity of it wasn’t.
Yes, the volunteers of the association were involved all along with planning the project and working with the merchants, who were consulted at the time the plans were made. Communicating with all the stakeholders is a big challenge, he said, and no matter how hard you try something that is unexpected will crop up, like a machine being parked in front of someone’s door.
“We’re not given that kind of granular detail,” he said. “We never specifically said we’re going to be giving street closing information, we never said we would communicate that. But having said that we could improve … As much as you try to communicate with folks you could always do a better job of it.”
Property owners were kept informed but perhaps those people didn’t pass along the information to the business owners, who appear to be tenants, he said.
Alvord said Peña scheduled a meeting with him Friday to discuss the complaints, but canceled it. He therefore had not had the opportunity to inform Peña about the involvement of the neighborhood association, the said.
The road construction will be done by the end of the year, Alvord said. The bridge is supposed to reopen by then, too, Clark said, but the Fairfield and Taylor Avenue bridges will then close for two years.
Rilling said a lack of communications from City Hall is common.
“This is not the exception in Norwalk,” he said. “This is the rule. Very little communications comes from City Hall to people who are affected by what’s happening.”
Peña said Moccia’s approach to the Latino community is “nil.” He urged Latinos to vote for Rilling, who said he spent two years in Puerto Rico when his daughter was a baby, having “wonderful, wonderful times.”
Nevertheless, Rilling and Peña said they realized Latino votes are hard to come by.
At last week’s mayoral forum in the South Norwalk Community Center, it was said that of 5,200 Latino registered voters, 800 voted in the last election.
“We have a problem in Norwalk with voter apathy,” Peña said. “The Latino community needs to understand that we need to come out and vote as a block together. Today I am calling on the Latino community to make sure that they stand with us, here united, for the benefit of Harry Rilling and the city of Norwalk.”
“If everybody in this room reached out to five people, who reached out to five people, who reached out to more, the Latino community would be heard loud and clear,” Rilling said. “They’ll be heard saying ‘We want a voice.’”