NORWALK, Conn. – A relatively sedate forum for Common Council candidates was book-ended with drama Thursday night when candidates from District A and candidates from District E engaged in sparring that was quite debate like, especially the smoldering embers flying back and forth between incumbent Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) and incumbent Councilman John Igneri (D-District E).
Jabbed by Igneri for voting to raise Norwalk taxes, McCarthy responded by saying he expected to be called “mean.” Igneri said voters must decide (in 18 days) which approach they are looking for in Norwalk government: heated debates or action.
The City Hall community room was packed with politicos for the League of Women Voters in-district Common Council candidates forum, where each candidate was given two minutes to explain who they are and what they want to do in office, before being given another minute to add whatever sentiments they thought necessary as their turn came up again.
First up was District A, where Edmund Ryan was the first Republican to say that the Moccia administration has done the right things, citing improvement in city parks, road paving and “reasonable” taxes. Other Republicans followed suit as the forum went on.
Ryan then took a shot at incumbent Democratic Councilman David Watts.
“I’m committed to serving for the next two years if I am elected unlike my opponent who, I read in the paper that he plans to run for the Connecticut legislature in a year or so, and he’s filing papers to do so,” Ryan said.
Watts replied that Norwalk needs its fair share from the state via the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. He said he had gone to Hartford 20 times this spring at his own expense.
“I filed that (exploratory) committee and I am going to be open and transparent about it because we are getting $900 per student and $900 per student is not going to control taxes when 60 to 65 cents of every dollar goes to the Board of Ed,” he said.
Someone else may need to step up and go to the legislature and change that, he said.
After the debate Watts pointed out that Councilwoman Joanne Romano (R-At Large) ran against state Rep. Chris Perone (D-Norwalk) in the last election cycle, and then resigned from the council. If he did go to a primary against Perone and follow it with winning election in the fall, his term would start in January, he said, meaning that he would have served more than half his term on the council.
District B’s discussion included a spirited defense from Councilman Michael Geake for leaving the Democratic Party, becoming an independent and caucusing with the Republicans. Geake, who re-registered as a Democrat to vote in the primary, was endorsed by the Republicans as a last-minute addition to their ticket to fill an open slot.
District C’s discussion stuck to biographical concerns and District D featured Republican Councilman Jerry Petrini commenting on the “huge learning curve” involved in joining the council before touting the accomplishments made by the Republican caucus and the council.
We will post those videos over the next several days.
Igneri began the District E segment with a comment about dozing off, before giving everyone reason to wake up.
“The last two years have been difficult ones, with economic and political impasses at times on the council floor,” he said. “But I have refrained from heated debates or writing articles about issues which were really attacks on others. I did not participate in the heated blogs. Some have called me a voice of reason.”
That’s not what fired up the NoDoz.
Igneri turned to McCarthy and confronted him on the tax hike Norwalk received this year.
“You were talking about the difficulty the taxes are on our citizens and yet you voted for a 4.97 percent tax increase,” Igneri said.
Given the microphone back, McCarthy fired away in a raised voice, emphasizing the word “reasonable” in the following statement:
“Your comments about bipartisanship have fallen short when you have voted with the Democrats every time,” he said. “I have proven my abilities to work with other reasonable people to get things done via compromise, intelligent discussion and even some factual debate. Being a reliable vote for a party apparatus that does not seek to improve Norwalk but only its political standing is inexcusable and it’s not what we need in this city.”
Norwalk was facing a crisis in education while Igneri never said a word about what he would do differently, McCarthy said.
“I understand that my opposition is going to characterize me as ‘mean,’” McCarthy said. “If it’s mean to not let partisan game-players do away with doing partisan favors for friends, if it’s mean to make sure that only appropriate and reasonable things are done in our city and that we don’t cave in to those who yell among us, then call me mean.”
He got spirited applause from some members of the audience, drawing admonishment from moderator Lisa Thomson about applauding for individual candidates.
McCarthy looked toward Igneri when the Democrat got his chance to respond, seeming to expect barbs fired back in return. But Igneri never used the word “mean.”
“Our approaches and values are what differentiate us,” he said to the audience. “You have to decide that. Only you can decide that when you are at the polls. Do you want heated debates or do you want action? That is really what has to be decided in this election. I will continue to fight for transparency and civility in city government. It is time. It is the only way we are going to move forward.”
He ended his comments by saying “We need to work together” to tackle the difficult issue of next year’s budget, where money must be found to fund a pay raise for Norwalk teachers, as mandated in their contract.
Igneri got 1,697 votes in 2011. McCarthy got 1,785.
The LWV forum featured an innovative format: Each candidate had to submit written answers to questions in order to be able to participate in the face-to-face encounter with those who came to the community room Thursday. We will be presenting those answers to you over the next several days.
The league is presenting a Common Council At Large forum next week in the community room, at 7 p.m. Thursday.
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