NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Republicans stepped up to defend a widely criticized mayoral appointment Tuesday while Norwalk Democrats voted against that appointment, even if they knew if was futile.
The appointment of Republican Linda Kruk to the Zoning Commission to replace Democrat Adam Blank brought state Rep. Gail Lavielle and three other Republicans to speak in her support in to the Common Council, citing her intelligence and other qualities, and emphasizing that it is the mayor’s decision.
Every member of the Republican caucus voted for the appointment, while the three members of the Democratic caucus in attendance – Matt Miklave, Warren Peña and Anna Duleep – voted against it.
Kruk was one of five Republicans seeking four Board of Education candidacies. The news that she had dropped that quest – forgoing a potential primary – came out at about the same time that Blank’s term ended.
Blank said last week that Moccia had told him that his vote on a “big box amendment” was part of the reason he was not being reappointed. Republicans on the Zoning Commission said that he had been a good member, expressing surprise at his non-reappointment at the end of their last meeting.
Blank, an attorney, has since written a letter to the editor accusing Moccia of dishonesty.
The mayor first told NancyOnNorwalk that he wanted to appoint someone new. He is quoted in The Hour as saying that Blank’s firm was representing people who are suing the city on tax appeals, which strained relations with Associate Corporation Counsel Brian McCann.
Blank said in an email that, while his firm has represented a “handful” of Norwalkers in tax appeal matters over the past six years, it is not currently representing anyone with that issue. The tax appeals were taking place before his initial appointment, he said, and city officials were aware of his connection.
Moccia responded to the dishonesty accusation Tuesday evening.
“You can have disagreements with me about zoning, whether you should be reappointed,” he said. “But to have a person I’m not putting back on for various reasons, and have said as much – a misrepresentation no matter how many times you say it, does not make it the truth. I will end it at that.”
He also answered the allegation about the big box amendment, which had originally been proposed to cover both the areas on which Lowe’s and now BJ’s Wholesale Club subsequently requested permission to build. The amendment passed, but only for Connecticut Avenue.
“(Republican Zoning Commissioner) Emily Wilson voted for the same procedures or same restrictions on box stores, Lowe’s vs. Bjs,” he said. “As I said, my only consideration is that we’re being consistent. It’s not berating anybody for how they voted.”
Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said he had served on the Zoning Commission years ago, but Mayor Alex Knopp did not reappoint him because Knopp wanted a Democrat.
“You move on,” he said. “If you read the charter, there is no repetition with this. You get it for the grace of the mayor that is appointing and the council that is affirming.”
Critics have said that Blank’s skills as an attorney will be missed. Hempstead said there are no special qualifications needed to be on the Zoning Commission.
“When I read the constitution it says, it says ‘we the people.’” he said. “That’s where the qualifications end. Same for the same job that we run for. There’s no qualifications but willingness to want to serve the community in any which way. If you bring something else to the table it’s always nice. But you just have to live here. That’s all we ever have to ask anybody.”
Republicans who described themselves as Kruk’s friends sang her praises.
“She is a very qualified, articulate, well educated,” Peter Torrano said. He rhetorically asked council members to raise their hands if they would object if he was removed from the police commission should someone else become mayor. No one did.
Glenn Iannocone said he had worked on a couple of campaigns with Kruk.
“She is very dedicated and articulate,” he said. “I am certain she would be an asset to the city of Norwalk and the Zoning Commission.”
Lavielle said Kruk has an “exceptionally open mind, a willingness to see both sides of an issue” and an “exceptional ability to stay calm.”
“She is not going to bend to expediency but what she thinks is right,” Lavielle said.
Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large) said she knew she would lose but she was voting against Kruk.
“For me, it’s not so much whether a particular mayor in the past would have thrown someone off the commission, who tried to make it go the other way, but that at this particular time Norwalk is facing not one, but two, big projects coming in,” she said, referring to the Lowe’s on Connecticut Avenue and the BJ’s proposed for 272 Main Ave. “I don’t see the reason to replace someone who had been doing a good job and who had proven, upsetting our side of the aisle as well as yours, a propensity towards fairness. In addition, Mr. Blank is an attorney. He is somebody who, just because he was already in the role, had a little more time to get up to speed than Ms. Kruk will have.”
Moccia pointed out that Lowe’s was already approved. As for BJ’s, he said, “Not sure if Ms. Kruk will be allowed to vote on that or not.”