NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said Thursday night that he isn’t going to “talk to an empty chair,” but minutes later he was, indeed, responding to claims made by his various Democratic challengers.
Moccia asked for “unity” in his off-the-cuff speech at the Republican Town Committee monthly meeting, promising to support all of the candidates who are nominated, whether he votes for them or not. He seemed to seek to reassure the membership that things were fine with the most important race in town – the one concerning his incumbency.
“Some people on the other side of the aisle have had a couple of debates,” he said. “They have four people who are interested, fine people and I’m not going to say anything other than I think until they fill that chair with one person, and I know who that candidate is, I’ll be prepared to handle that. In the meantime I’m not going to pull a Clint Eastwood and talk to an empty chair.”
Moccia is enduring Democratic criticisms with four times the bandwith as he approaches the end of his fourth term in office, with four Democrats vying to get their party’s nomination to run against him. Although there are Deomcratic fears of a circular firing squad, so far most of the candidates’ shots are at the mayor.
Their claims are erroneous, Moccia said.
“The city they see obviously is not the city I see and I think most of the residents see,” he said. “I’m proud of what we have accomplished together over the last few years. I intend to support each and every candidate that is nominated by this party. If that is the candidate, whoever he or she may be, I might vote for someone else but I will support them. I know in the past every candidate that has run on the ticket with me has supported me.”
In this, pizza party season, he has gotten a feel for the mood out there as he has visited all the schools to dine with the children, he said. People are “more comfortable” with the Board of Education, he said, as the city moves to restore positions.
“I think that candidates who run for office, who are not in office, try to be all things to all people,” he said. “There are times you have to make hard choices. I also tell the kids when I go to the schools that one of the hardest things I have to do as a mayor is, sometimes I have to say no. Because just financially or other reasons we can’t do it.”
He is taking some heat over City Carting and the switch to single stream recycling on July 1.
“You have to take into account that there are some people in this city that just don’t like change,” he said. “They want progress but no change. They want new businesses coming in but they want their kind of businesses. They want us to improve our garbage pickup but they don’t like the change in garbage, or, ‘The recycling bins are too big. I can’t push the recycling bin out. I’d rather lift the old bin.’ It’s hard sometimes but you have to make tough decisions.”
Then he moved on to his Democratic challengers, all with an even tone of voice.
“I could walk out there and say I’m going to put 30 cops out on the street,” he said. “I could walk out there and I could say, ‘I’ve got a better plan, after 10 years on the council.’ Or I could walk out there and say, ‘I’m going to build a trade school for kids that don’t go to college.’ I could walk out there and say that I shouldn’t pave roads on election night, and make it sound like it was intentional. The point is, if you want to be a candidate, then tell us what you want to do in realistic terms, what it’s going to cost, how you’re going to get it done. I’ve had to do that for seven and a half years through the worst economic recession we’ve had since the great depression.”
The unemployment rate in Norwalk was 6.7 percent in April, he said.
The Connecticut Department of Labor confirms that. CDOL reports that Norwalk’s unemployment rate in May was 6.8 percent. In January it was 7.6 percent; in February 7.4 percent, in March, 7.2 percent.
In April 2011, before the last municipal nominating conventions, it was 7.4 percent. In November 2011, it was 6.5 percent.
BJ’s Wholesale Club, Lowe’s and other businesses coming in will bring “hundreds of jobs,” Moccia said.
“Some people say it’s not the right kind of job,” he said. “Go tell the people that will line up for the jobs, and get those jobs, that it’s not the right kind of job. A job is a job is a job. If they want to work we’re going to try bring those businesses in to get those jobs, which will also help stabilize our tax base.”
Moccia said things on the council have improved since he announced his intention to run for reelection with the words, “This year has been a tough row to hoe.”
“It appears that people on the other side of the aisle have tempered in the last year, we work well together and I appreciate that, I really do,” he said.
Then he responded to a statement made repeatedly by Norwalk Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Amanda Brown.
“The chairman of the Democratic Party said the most important thing in this election is not to have Dick Moccia as mayor,” he said. “My answer to that is the most important thing in this election is to elect the right person to run this city, not just to not have somebody in. That’s the most important thing. For the people to choose who is going to be the best candidate.”
Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling has said in his mayoral campaign that he would bring civility to municipal government. Moccia responded to that as well.
“You know, I stomp my feet occasionally, and then Michelle Maggio tells me to smile more,” he said. “Then she brings me some cookies or something, I don’t know. Michelle is getting us all heavy in the caucus… but it’s worked well.”
He finished with another comment about the Democratic mayoral presentations.
“Let’s stay united,” he said. “Again, the four people on the other side, God bless them, I respect their wanting to be mayor of this city, and for them to put themselves forward. We look forward to only having one of them. As I said, if they had invited me to the debate the other night I would have taken them all on. I wouldn’t have any problem with it.”