This year’s local Norwalk election cycle is shaping up to be an interesting one with a lot of outstanding questions. Is this Mayor Rilling’s last campaign? What’s the deal with Lisa Brinton’s new Independent Party resurrection? How are the personalities going to evolve (or devolve) the sensitive BOE vs City relationship? I’m genuinely curious: is our community destined for a new dawn of political personalities that could reshape our discourse? And, what will that discourse be like?
I think every community member who engages in these matters, no matter the political stripe (or lack thereof), is, fundamentally, seeking a government that works for its people. Stepping out of the inflamed social media bubble where it’s all too easy to poke each others’ virtual voodoo dolls, it’s clear most of us have a few clear demands:
- A transparent leadership structure with checks and balances on authority. This isn’t necessarily divided between R and D, in my opinion, but more so the bravery and outspokenness of the individuals. I will respect an individual that defends an informed position passionately, even if it’s one I disagree with.
- Truly representative representatives who show up, listen, and act accordingly. People who look and sound like our neighbors, who attend public events, make eye contact and consider their constituents’ needs, and go back to their leadership post and shape policy informed by that information.
- Candidates decoupled from grander aspirations. These are the worker bees of politics; the ones that are motivated by empathy and desire to smartly use tax dollars, do the homework and learn the details of the matters in which they’re responsible for, and work to improve the welfare of their community.
Thinking about these above items led me to wanting to meet with Jenn McMurrer and Tyler Fairbairn: two candidates running for Common Council seats in District C (full disclosure: I am a District D resident). I wondered what else was out there to potentially recreate the climate of the Common Council so that it worked better for us, particularly informed by the three bullet points above: transparency, representation, and motivation.
We sat down together over coffee, along with my friend and fellow community engager, Sarah McIntee. I recognized Jenn from her engagement in parent and education matters (an issue I consider one of the most important) in the city, and I recalled Tyler from some social media discussions on the same topic, but I was largely going in green.
Jenn and Tyler both spoke passionately, earnestly, and frankly. I caught that immediately. And quite honestly, that is something I’m particularly sensitive to. There was zero politico-speak: no shading or meandering around issues, no answers I felt were designed to create a rickety foundation for a future job goal, no promises to secure a fetid political endorsement, and no ideas seemingly created for headline purposes. Whether they had a particular set answer on any one item, I found a humanity about them that was gravitating and grounding.
When I speak with people like this, I’m immediately put in a mindset where I feel a sense of collaboration. Whether you agree with them or not, people like Jenn and Tyler are the kind of people you want on a local legislative body. They create an aura of listening and learning, of engagement and compromise. The bottom line of the takeaway is this: An idea I disagree with is going to come out, and be managed, much differently from one of them than it would be from someone who doesn’t operate, or have the values, that they do. This, to me, is refreshing. As a citizen, I don’t need to be placated by telling me what I want to hear. I recognize that my centrist-meets-relatively-progressive-laced-with-a-dash-of-libertarianism won’t always be met by my city’s leadership goals. It won’t always fit into my belief structure. But, I do want to feel I am heard and that my feelings are actively considered by my representative and married with the hard data, so that an intelligent decision is ultimately made. Decisions they can defend with both their heart and their brain.
To be sure, Jenn and Tyler are Democrats. Two of their main agenda items are Democratic tent-pole items: strong investment in public education and fair and equal affordable housing. It’s the former that drives my own motivations as a community member, but for Jenn and Tyler, it’s one of several considerations informed not exclusively by party, but by community. My sense from them is that they are going to do what they feel is appropriate and right for those that they represent, and to do so, they’re going to engage fervently and directly with their constituents.
In the end, Norwalk has a real opportunity here. We can keep marching along and taking our government for granted, accepting what is just is, and what isn’t just isn’t possible. Or, we can say that just isn’t acceptable: not because any other candidate is unqualified or not well-meaning, but maybe because there are people better suited to do the work of our community. People who will participate, who will respond to calls and emails, and who will look you in the eye and uphold the same values they hold with loved ones as they do making their decisions in City Hall. People with a sense of empathy, not a sense of destiny, in their political roles. People who, regardless of a party affiliation next to their name, will passionately do what they feel is prudent and right.
I enthusiastically support Jenn McMurrer and Tyler Fairbairn for District C Common Council, because I think they’re right for the job.