NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk is not a place to live if you are in your 30’s or 40’s, one man said. Putting a kid in private school was a poor way to spend money, so it was time to move to Wilton, another man said. The city has been playing games instead of helping him with a utility problem, a senior citizen said.
Those were some of the sentiments that greeted Democratic mayoral hopeful Vinny Mangiacopra and Common Councilman Warren Peña Thursday evening at the Greek Festival, where attendance was light on opening night, perhaps because of the stormy weather earlier. Common Councilman Matt Miklave, one of Mangiacopra’s three competitors in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, was also on the scene at St. George Orthodox Church at about 8 p.m. He headed home with his wife before NancyOnNorwalk could get the chance to see what he was up to.
Mangiacopra was hoarse, which he said was the sign of running a good campaign – he has been doing a lot of door knocking in his drive to be mayor.
It’s a privilege to be able to shake hands with people and start a conversation, said Mangiacopra, who first said hello to the Rev. Nicholas Dassouras and then found the pastor’s son, 11-year-old Dmitri Dassouras, in the gyro booth.
Dmitri already knows Mangiacopra, as he has had Mangiacopra’s wife, Kelsie Fedor, as a teacher at Cranbury Elementary School.
Then it was on to Milton Kyriakides, a Republican, who was slicing meat. Kyriakides didn’t have much to say, but when the two candidates walked away, he indicated that, given the right choice, he might vote against incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia in November.
If the Dems present Mangiacopra or former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling, he’ll vote Democrat, he said. If it’s Miklave or former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel, he’s voting Moccia.
“I have my reasons,” he said.
Pressed for what they might be, he said, “I’d like to see the younger generation get into office and start cleaning up the mess.”
But Rilling is only three years younger, right?
Kyriakides smiled. He would vote for Rilling, he said.
Mangiacopra spent much more time talking to Iannis “Yanni” Papakosmas, who said he was born and raised in Norwalk but moved to Wilton five or six years ago.
“I love the school system there,” he said.
It made more sense to spend money on Wilton property than Norwalk private schools, Papakosmas.
“That’s what we’re seeing,” Mangiacopra said. “People of our ages, when they make that decision, that’s what they end up doing,”
There was much more. The mill (tax) rate is much better in Wilton, Papakosmas said, and Norwalk is “beating the hell” out of the roads. Utility companies do work and then put in a temporary patch, he said, but it takes much too long for someone else to come along and do the permanent patch.
Small businesses have a huge problem in Norwalk, he said.
“You can’t find or rent a space in Norwalk without giving blood,” he said. “You have to cut your arms off.”
Leonard Paschalidis, who has lived in Norwalk for 45 years, said Connecticut Light & Power broke his sewer line when the company was doing other work on the street, and he has been getting a “run-around” ever since. “The city doesn’t pay attention,” he said, adding that he didn’t have sewer service from December to July and yet got charged sewer tax.
Paschalidis said he pays $120,000 a year in property taxes on multiple properties.
“I might vote for him,” Paschalidis said of Mangiacopra.
George Cross said there is a lot of waste in city government. He asked why deputy corporation counsel Jeffry Spahr gets paid nearly $200,000 – Spahr was paid $140,019 in 2012, according to documents – while his boss, Robert Maslan, gets paid much less ($82,315).
Mangiacopra said Maslan is part time, to which Cross said, “Why not outsource the legal department?”
Pena had that answer: That would require a charter revision.
“These guys will not open up the charter,” Peña said. “If they do, they know there’s going to be a lot that comes out.”
Mangiacopra agreed it needed to be done. Fellow candidate Andy Garfunkel has made charter revision a central issue in his platform.
At this point, though, no one will take a leadership role, Peña said.
“It’s not necessarily D vs. R, sometimes, there’s a lot of generational gap,” Peña said.
Cross said he votes Republican in the presidential election. Half the guys his age don’t vote, he said. “They’re so frustrated.”
He asked where Peña and Mangiacopra fall on the spectrum.
“I never knew that until I was in office. They call me a fiscal conservative and a social liberal,” Peña said.
Why are he and Mangiacopra Democrats?
“We know we’re not Republicans,” Mangiacopra said.
Cross said Norwalk is not a good place to raise a family.
“This is a place to live if you’re in your 20’s or 50’s,” he said. “This is not a place to live if you’re in 30’s or 40’s.”
After they walked away, Cross said he didn’t know who he would vote for.
Mangiacopra said Thursday was “seven months to the day” since he started running for mayor. The conversations had a familiar tone.
“We hear those all the time. Frustration. Nothing gets done, the same old, same old,” he said. “When we meet citizens who say they’re excited for a fresh start, young blood, however they frame it, it’s gratifying because they believe in what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Most people haven’t been following the electoral politics, he said.
“I don’t think there’s a buzz in the general population that there’s a primary here,” he said. “I don’t get the sense that people are engaged to that magnitude. I think the insiders are extremely engaged.”
People become interested, he said, when they are greeted by a candidate.
“When you’re campaigning out here and you’re raising the awareness of the election, they become very interested,” he said. “They become motivated to do what they can to help. That’s what we found – we’re not only campaigning for ourselves but we’re campaigning collectively, for a lot of people that feel that they haven’t had their voices heard.”