Moccia, Rilling answer questions from public at East Norwalk candidates forum

NORWALK, Conn. – Republican Mayor Richard Moccia and his former police chief and now Democratic challenger, Harry Rilling, met Wednesday night to discuss issues in front of about 50 people in East Norwalk in their first one-on-one meeting of the Norwalk mayoral campaign.

The only sign of any animosity lurking below the surface between the two was a few facial tics, though Moccia raised his voice demonstratively several times.

Moccia and Rilling sparred a bit during a civil question and answer period marked by the big issue of the day – BJ’s Wholesale Club (see separate story) – and comments about crime, education and development, all organized by the East Norwalk Association in the East Norwalk Library.

Moccia spoke of Norwalk’s AAA bond rating, while Rilling touted his record of public service.

“I was first person to put resource officers in the school,” Rilling said. “We have a lot of outreach programs in the Norwalk Police Department and I am proud to say I started most of them.”

Moccia had a quick comeback to that.

“I was the first mayor to fund school resource officers, based on a recommendation from the chief ” he said. “… He was a good chief, never take that away from him.”

Mayor Richard Moccia, right, greeted former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling, left, with friendly conversation before the East Norwalk Association meet the candidates night. They parted on a joke.

There were no “gotcha” questions. East Norwalk Business Association President Win Baum, who moderated the event, said the purpose was to get to know the candidates, to hear from them “why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Baum kept strict time on the answers, as the mayoral candidates each got 7 1/2 minutes to explain why they were running and what they plan to do, then five minutes to say what they expected to see accomplished during their two-year term.

“My next two years, when I am mayor again, I want to concentrate on the kids, from their education, early childhood, to their safety,” Moccia said. “There is no more important job an elected official has than to take care of the young people, whether they’re your kids, your grandkids, your nieces or your nephews, any kids you know in your neighborhood. That’s my goal.”

Rilling said that as a a former police chief, he had the children’s safety foremost on his mind. Then he took the opportunity to criticize the mayor’s record with school superintendents, implying that former Superintendent Susan Marks was thrown under the bus by Moccia.

He had said in his opening comments that he is “really, really thrilled” by the selection of Manny Rivera as the new superintendent.

“We (need to) give him all the support we can give him so he can do his job, not so he decides he’s not getting the support and he leaves,” he said. “We’ve lost so many superintendents in the past couple of years. It’s amazing. People don’t leave because they want to make money someplace else or more money, they leave because they’re not getting the support.”

That was followed by five questions from the public, with each man getting a minute to answer.

Diane Lauricella, a member of the Democratic Town Committee, asked a question that seemed tailored to Rilling’s stated goal of bringing civility to Norwalk’s government.

“What are your views on public participation and making sure people feel welcome at City Hall?” she asked.

Moccia spoke instead about transparency.

“It’s usually the people who don’t agree with you always say you’re not transparent enough or you’re not accommodating,” he said.

People will find mistakes in agendas and minutes, he said, showing a list of all the boards, authorities and commissions that need things posted on the website.

“Occasionally you’re going to make a mistake and then people say, ‘Oh, you’re trying to hide stuff,’” he said, going on the explain that “99 percent” of the emails and phone calls he gets he answers.

“If people want to become involved they can become involved,” he said.

Rilling said he would start by inviting people from all backgrounds and all parts of the city to serve on boards and commissions. When somebody goes up to the podium at the Common Council and they have their three minutes to speak, you let them speak,” he said. “If they disagree with you that’s fine. That’s what this is all about.”

South Norwalk resident Brad Schmidt wanted to know if they were both open to new ideas to prevent gang violence.

The easy answer was yes. Both men said it.

Rilling reminded Schmidt that they had worked together several years ago on a coalition “that unfortunately did not get supported or funded.”

About 30 people had gone to Boston on a bus to hear new ideas, he said. But without funding to buy cell phones, two-way radios and other things, the “dedicated group” fell apart, Rilling said.

“New ideas are always the answer to trying to find a solution to a problem that the old ideas are not fixing,” he said.

Rilling rolled his eyes when Moccia set about defending himself from that story.

“I was aware of that program, but all along that program was hopefully going to be funded by private foundations and funders,” Moccia said. “There was never going to be a request made to the city to fund it.”

He went on to mention the camaraderie he had shared with Rilling, recalling meetings about gang violence. The parents whose children had the most problems were the ones complaining about the city, he said.

“New ideas are fine but I think we need to continue to reinforce that parents have a responsibility,” Moccia said. “Government cannot do it all. When I see 12-year-old kids walking on Westport Avenue at 11 o’clock at night, there’s a problem.”

(Check back over the next few days to see what the At-Large and District C candidates had to say during their portion of the program.)


14 responses to “Moccia, Rilling answer questions from public at East Norwalk candidates forum”

  1. Bruce Kimmel

    Regarding Susan Marks leaving Norwalk: I would suggest that in the future all candidates should be very careful before assigning blame on who was responsible for her leaving. There is plenty of blame on the Democratic side; with principals, who are active in the party, repeatedly challenging her every move in public. There was also plenty of backroom nonsense among some members of the BOE. Remember also: When the Cambridge Report was issued, it covered a period when the Democrats had a nine to zero majority on the BOE.

  2. John Frank

    The HOUR reported Rilling thinks we should market the City better. Moccia said we can’t, it would be a violation of ethics. He did not explain what Tad Diesel, his director of marketing and development does.

  3. M Allen

    “Rilling said he would start by inviting people from all backgrounds and all parts of the city to serve on boards and commissions.”
    Can’t imagine Mike Mushak and the others who have called out the experience and technical backgrounds of almost every commissioner on every commission, except Mike, are too happy with that. In case you weren’t aware, Mike is a licensed Landscape Architect while the rest are… something less than that in his view.
    But really, is Harry indicating he will be seeking to have more women and minorities on the commissions, as he did at the NPD, or will he be seeking experience and backgrounds relevant to the positions? His response was very much the former and not the latter.

  4. M Allen

    @JF – Rilling made reference to the specific marketing of the BJ’s property. Hence the Mayor’s response that the city can’t market a specific piece of property without calling into question some section of the Code of Ethics related to favoritism. It was not related to marketing Norwalk in general, which is what Tad Diesel is supposed to do (among other things). And yes, I was there.

  5. dianelauricella

    For the record, I attended the event as an interested citizen, and have always been interested in public participation and open government matters…so did not tailor anything for anybody.

    If I am going to be identified as a DTC member, then I would appreciate if NON would also identify those from the RTC who were there in force…lol

  6. M Allen

    You’re absolutely right Diane. But did anyone from the RTC ask Mayor Moccia or Chief Rilling (I still call him Chief out of respect) a question? Since I don’t know many members of any town committee, I don’t know if any of the other 4 people to ask questions, or even the one person who made a statement at the end, was a member of either TC.

  7. John Frank

    If the City can’t market specific properties because that would be an ETHICS violation, does that explain that big vacant lot at West Ave, south of the tpke ? What a ridiculous statement from a man who has been in office 8 years.

  8. EveT

    Moccia has clearly improved both the style and substance of his public speaking since previous election years.

  9. EastNorwalkChick

    @EveT-But he still had the usual smirk on his face and got in a couple of his usual digs….some people eat that stuff up, but others find it very off putting.

  10. Mike Mushak

    M Allen , you are really misrepresenting anything negative I have ever said about other commissioner’s experience. There have been and still are great commissioners from all walks of life. I have simply pointed out that I am the ONLY design professional (architect, landscape architect, engineer, or urban planner) on the ZC, and I think on the Planning Commission as well but since staff won’t let the two commissions communicate with each other (another bizarre Greene idea that he uses to control the commissions), I’m not sure of any of the Planning Commissioner’s professional qualifications. I often bring that up because of the unique insight I offer into planning and design issues, and I get frustrated when the GOP leadership of the ZC ignores my requests for experts or policy initiatives, as Chair Emily Wilson most recently did when I requested independent peer review of the BJs application as a $500k study recommended, without any evidence to back up her refusal.
    Considering examples like this, I have complained about Moccia’s appointments often being party hacks who vote whichever way the mayor tells them to, as much evidence supports. Thats why Adam Blank, one of the best commissioners we have had in years, was not reappointed, because he defied what the mayor told him to do behind the scenes. Do you think that the mayor should tell folks on land use commissions how to vote? If you do, that is a shame.

  11. M Allen

    Mike, I’m not going to go back and sift through every last piece you’ve written to find the examples of where you got heated and made comments about this commissioner or that and compared their backgrounds and experience to your own. “I’m the only…” is basically saying “They are all not qualified.” Who knows, maybe I was just dreaming.
    As to your second part, I live in reality. And the reality is that when a political appointee is selected, I’ll bet that in more cases than not that appointee comes from a particular political persuasion: that of the individual who appointed them. Maybe a few get on to show some balance, but I don’t think it works any differently from one party to the next. Hence why I’m not all that surprised with how Chief Rilling would seemingly make his appointments. Whether a Mayor would lobby (use whatever word you’d like) commissioners to vote a particular way, as long as there is no illegality or impropriety involved, I think that is up to him. Last I knew it wasn’t illegal to lobby. I believe all appointees vote one way or the other based on a wide ranging number of thoughts that roll through their heads. Some of which may be political or ideological in nature and others may be completely neutral to the code. But unless someone is making an accusation of illegality and/or official impropriety in attempting to sway votes to not adhere to the code, then people should tread a little more lightly here. Has the mayor even come close to the line of illegality? Has he forced the hand of a commissioner to vote a way not consistent with current zoning codes or regulations?

  12. Bruce Kimmel

    Interesting discussion on appointments. Over the years I’ve been in a number of discussions about being mayor, and one thing that is always stressed is that a mayor needs to have strong confidence, if not control, over the major land use agencies. That can be interpreted anywhichway, but there seems to be a consensus among members of both parties.

  13. Tim T

    Bruce Kimmel
    “Over the years I’ve been in a number of discussions about being mayor”
    Oh Please you’re not even sure what party you belong to. You say you are a Democrat but you seem to criticize each and ever Democrat in Norwalk. What does this say about you???? Why not just become a Republican..Could it be that they don’t want you full time and only as their flunky.

  14. Piberman

    Neither candidate offers any program for reducing our punitive property taxes financing the highest paid municipal workers of any Ct city. Nor do they offer promise of ending stagnant property values and Grand List. Taking credit for our AAA credit rating ignores that most residents in our residential City work outside Norwalk where the good jobs are located. No matter who is elected the real victors next November are the City’s employees. And the Big Boxes.

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments