Updated, 11:49 a.m. May 5 with comment from Amanda Brown.
NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s youngest candidate for mayor laid out three components of his developing platform Saturday, unabashedly taking swings at incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia as he stood near a landmark of recent bad news.
Vinny Mangiacopra, one of four Democrats vying to be Moccia’s opponent this fall, drew about 50 spectators to Fera Park — across the street from the closed Norwalk YMCA — for what was billed as an official campaign kickoff, although Mangiacopra held his first campaign event in Norwalk on Feb. 7 and has had other fundraisers. He announced his candidacy when he filed papers on Jan. 22.
Those spectators heard the candidate promise to bring a Boys and Girls Club to Norwalk and start a Department of Economic and Community Development at City Hall. He also said he’d put more police on the streets and “walk with our police officers on the beat in an effort to have our public safety officials more present out in the community.”
Mangiacopra was a bit less specific when it came to how he would pay for his initiatives, saying the money would come from cuts in other areas to be determined later.
Mangiacopra was introduced by Common Councilman Warren Peña, who credited the candidate with recruiting him into politics two years ago.
“I’ve known him to be a leader. He has always exuded those qualities in our Democratic Town Committee,” Peña said. “Leadership has absolutely nothing to do with age. It’s about character. It’s about vision. It’s about the commitment to bring change to better our community.”
Other prominent faces in the crowd included Councilman David Watts, who said he wasn’t ready to make an endorsement yet, and Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Amanda Brown, who didn’t make it to the kickoffs for either Councilman Matt Miklave or former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling.
“Both Harry and Matt had their kickoff events on days where I was committed to be at other previously scheduled events,” Brown said in an email. “Both of them were aware of the conflicts.”
Fairfield County Young Democrats President Jonathan Winkle said the 31-year-old Mangiacopra would bring the change Norwalk needs.
“The voice of young people in Norwalk’s leadership has typically been unrepresented,” he said. “Obviously, Vinny is a total 180 from that sort of representation. Plus, I think when he gets into office, as we heard from his speech today, he’s going to really make a lot of changes that this city really needs.”
Mangiacopra seemed to stick faithfully to his prepared text. His zingers at Moccia started with the Dec. 31 closing of the YMCA.
“Mayor Moccia said it was just a sign of the times and it was unfortunate. I couldn’t agree more, it’s another unfortunate sign of the times under Mayor Moccia and it’s time that we choose a better way,” he said.
His greatest task as mayor would be to lead Norwalk’s education system, he said.
“The problem comes from the top down,” he said. “The superintendent search has garnered national attention from many applicants. But let’s not forget we have had five superintendents under Mayor Moccia, with another one on the way. The lack of consistency is unacceptable and I blame the mayor’s lack of vision. … As mayor I will not treat our teachers as budget busters but rather the people we entrust with the future of Norwalk every single day.”
The entire speech is printed in a separate story.
After his speech, he said he would recruit “the best and the brightest” for a Norwalk Department of Economic and Community Development.
“We really want to centralize where prospective business owners and people who want to do business go when they come to town hall,” he said. “Right now there’s no continuity and it’s commonly known in the development world that our departments don’t necessarily talk to one another all the time. I’m not talking about creating a $3 million department, I’m just saying let’s have somebody that’s dedicated with a vision set from top in the mayor’s office to facilitate our development process so that we have some smoother transitions than we’ve been having, try to create some continuity.”
As for the Boys and Girls Club, “We have some connections in the state of Connecticut and nationally as well,” he said. “I’m not going to overstep my boundaries right now, but I think it’s a great idea that we advocate and the next mayor make a concerted effort to bring the Boys and Girls Club to our community so we start having some positive opportunities for our kids out here.”
What about the price tag?
“We’ll be developing all these different pieces of our platform and talking about them individually so that they have a net zero within our budget because right now what we want to do is we don’t want to raise people’s taxes,” he said. “We’re not looking to spend more than we need but we do want to get new eyes on the dollars that we do already have allocated and see if there’s other ways that we can go about doing our business to be more proficient or more effective.”
Mangiacopra dismissed notions that the other three Democratic candidates have the advantage in terms of name recognition and roots in the community. Rilling, for instance, drew twice as many people for his kick-off event.
“Harry’s been an officer and been a police chief and he’s served for a long time, but that’s certainly not representative of anything that’s of consequence in this race,” Mangiacopra said, pointing out he has lived in Norwalk for eight years. He has been married to lifelong Norwalker Kelsie Fedor for five years, and has known her for 15. He said his great uncle was a former president of the St. Ann Club.
“Norwalk is not an unfamiliar place for me,” he said. “I didn’t just pop in here.”