Norwalk councilwoman: City sheriff role could be so much more

Norwalk Duleep 092013 099
Common Councilwoman Anna Duleep is not running for re-election. She would like to be city sheriff, and take the role to new heights.

NORWALK, Conn. – A “lame duck” Democratic councilwoman would like to bring her passion to a non-voting elected office, redesigning the sheriff’s role to include a fair amount of public service.

Anna Duleep is not running for re-election to her council at-large seat. She is instead running for city sheriff, a mystery to many voters.

Duleep said her background as a rape crisis counselor and as a very visible victim of violence – her dog Scrappy was shot to death in her back yard in 2008 – as well as the trust she has gained as a common councilwoman will allow her to be the bridge between the people she meets when serving papers and the social service providers who would like to help those people. She said the connections she has made with the Newtown Action Alliance and Serving All Vessels Equally will help her develop new programs to help people as well.

“I think that city sheriff has been basically an un-utilized opportunity to essentially function as an unpaid public safety advocate for the city,” she said.

There are seven constables and one sheriff in Norwalk, she said. There are also people wondering why she would give up the right to vote for things as a councilwoman, and they don’t know what a sheriff does, she said.

“Some think it is a law enforcement position, which it is not,” she said. “Some people think you get to wear a Texas hat and a badge, I can’t tell you how many people who have offered to buy me a turquoise stetson.”

A sheriff basically has the power of a marshal, she said. The sheriff is paid $150 a year by the city to occasionally serve special notices, and can earn substantially more by charging attorneys to serve papers.

“That’s been great for the people who have run for city sheriff before, but I think this year it really ought to be about what can that position do for people of Norwalk,” she said.

Duleep has served a total of three years on the council, as she was elected by the Democratic Town Committee to complete the unfinished term of Douglas Sutton in 2009. Duleep is running against Republican Nikitas Handrinos for the sheriff position. The winner will replace Republican Efstrati Papadakos, who was named last year in an indictment charging conspiracy to distribute cocaine, oxycodone and marijuana.

She said that, when she was working toward her degree in psychology from Harvard University, she was co-director of a rape crisis hotline. Many years ago, she worked in client intake at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) when she was interning for a summer with Connecticut Legal Services.

She said there has been an “ever increasing gap between Norwalkers in need and people who want to provide those services” ever since the Norwalk Department of Social Services was shut down, which, she said, was in 1983. When the city defunded the position of director of youth services she was aghast, she said. The city has funded Jason Getner’s position on the Juvenile Review Board, which is good but not enough, she said.

“I felt that rather than run for another term on the Common Council I really wanted to have the opportunity to focus on issues involving public safety. … Things changed with Newtown,” she said.

Duleep spoke of the Norwalk Gun Safety Legislation Forum she organized in January, where David Bernstein, a forensic psychologist and founder of Forensic Consultants LLC, educated state legislators, Norwalk officials and about 30 members of the public as he spoke at length about threat assessments, the reasons why young people turn into mass murderers and the things that can be done to prevent carnage.

Bernstein made connections at the forum that led to him speaking to the legislature, she said. He is under consideration by governor to be appointed to firearms review board, she said.

“It is my understanding that if Dr. Bernstein were to be appointed, he would be the first mental heath professional to serve on that board,” she said. “Can you imagine how important it would be to have someone who understands what it means, to know if that particular person ought to get that permit or not?”

She likes to think she played a role in getting Bernstein that opportunity, and maybe have a small impact on the legislature, with her forum.

“I think that is one example of what I could do if I had the time to focus on that one role,” she said.

Ah, but where would she get the money to create forums if she were sheriff?

She is pledging to donate $1,000 of what she would earn in a year as sheriff to the cause, as well as the $150 she’d get from the city. She would ask each of the constables to donate $50 a year. That’s a total of $3,000 for the two years.

“That’s enough to be able to put together grass roots events with the domestic violence crisis center, with our community police officers, with people from Newtown Action Alliance, things that will help to connect people in need with the people who want to provide services to them,” she said.

She’ll meet the people who need services as a course of the job, she said.

“I like to think you are in the ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ role in somebody’s life,” she said, of the sheriff. “You play an incredibly minor role in what could be the signature day in someone’s life. You are delivering very important news. It could be the first indication that someone’s spouse maybe isn’t so happy. Or that someone’s child, who they think is leaving for school, isn’t getting there. Or even more rarely, it could be happy news.”

Her background is an asset to the role, she said.

“I think because my story has been so public, and I think because people have gotten to trust me over the three years that I have been their councilwoman, they know that I have no problem standing up to the mayor when I feel that he is doing something disrespectful to a woman, I think people might approach me and then I can work with them,” she said.

Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling said he has never heard of anyone with a vision like that.

“I think we can all agree that Anna is going to take this position to a level that it has not seen before in Norwalk or perhaps anyplace,” the former police chief said. “She is passionate about it. I think she’s got some good ideas. She is very deserving of everybody’s vote.”

“I think that as city sheriff I would be in a position where I could use the power of influence,” Duleep said. “I wouldn’t necessarily need a vote on anything but I can think that I can influence people to make the right vote.”


10 responses to “Norwalk councilwoman: City sheriff role could be so much more”

  1. Norwalk Spectator

    I’d be interested in knowing how the City Charter defines the role of Sheriff and also how the State of Connecticut defines it. Is this a political advocacy role or one of a legal adjunct serving legal summons?
    Regarding the Newtown tragedy and firearms permits, there have been several other tragedies since then, the most recent being the Chicago park shooting where 13 people were shot and miraculously, none died. Chances are good that when they identify the shooter, he will not have a gun permit, since Chicago has the toughest firearms laws in the nation.
    That was preceded by the D.C. Navy Yard shooting where 12 died. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/16/us/dc-navy-yard-gunshots/index.html
    These happened within the last week alone. The Huffington Post has an interesting graph of the last year in terms of mass shooting deaths. You can find that here….
    So, yes, things have changes since Newtown. And according to a very recent Harvard study, those changes are not necessarily for the better…
    And Buzzfeed had this interesting article…
    Bottom line, I don’t think this is a cut and dried issue of deciding who gets gun permits and who doesn’t. And I’m not necessarily in favor of having a sheriff who is “influencing” legislation through the position. It sounds like Ms. Duleep is looking for more of a social work position than one with the title Sheriff.

  2. M Allen

    First, I think most people probably understand so little about the roles of Sheriff and Constable because these are roles from a bygone era. Well dead, in the ground, bygone era. The fact they continue to exist at all is pretty staggering. But…
    Is there anything she is trying to do with the position of Sheriff that she is somehow unable to perform equally as well as a private citizen? Wouldn’t she just be better off asking the Mayor to appoint her to a special, unpaid role that lets her promote her cause without her being Sheriff Duleep?

  3. Anna Duleep

    @M.Allen: You’re quite right that what I’d like to add to this role is what I’ve done as a Councilwoman and would do as a private citizen. By running in a citywide election on a specific platform -including aspects of public safety like traffic management, gun control, and domestic violence- I would have an indication of public support for my ideas. If I win, I would be able to testify in Hartford on a variety of issues as an elected official who had specifically campaigned on those particular issues. That is more persuasive than if I speak only for myself or even as a special Mayoral appointee.

    Also, even if our next Mayor appointed me to fill a similar role, I highly doubt the City would have any available funds to help with hosting events, public outreach, etc. It seems fitting to take a role that, historically, has benefited the City Sheriff financially, and use it as a source of funds to be spent for the public good. I suppose I could pledge the same $1,150 per year from the money I make as a math/test prep tutor. But whoever wins the title City Sheriff will win the ability to charge attorneys a fee for serving papers, just as our current Sheriff Papadakos did in 2011. I consider it a gesture of goodwill, an indication that as Norwalkers, we’re all in this together, to pledge money from a source that would only become available to me because the voters put their trust in me.

  4. D(ysfunctional)TC

    She wants to use the bully pulpit of a local Sheriff’s position. This really takes the cake. Too bad she wasn’t nearly as passionate about attending her council committee meetings. She might just have had some positive impact if she only understood the responsibilities of the job. Apparently the scope of any job is up to the discretion and interpretation of this ambitious young woman. Good luck to her.

  5. M Allen

    Perhaps, were you to win election as Sheriff, you could testify in Hartford in support of getting rid of such a antiquated role that is in many cases nothing more than a lucrative income generator for the person elected to the position.
    I suppose any elected official can use their role as they see fit in promoting an agenda. “Hello, I am the elected (insert title) from such and such town.” I don’t know that is carries any weight, but hey, its a title. What concerns me is that I am highly skeptical that anyone elected as Sheriff is elected based on a “platform” or that such a platform is evidence of a mandate to use the position for public advocacy. Rather, because of its highly obsucre nature, it is a line item position that is merely checked off one way or the other based on party affiliation, name recognition or worse (complete and utter ignorance). Especially in a municipal election where voter turnout is at its lowest.
    Don’t get me wrong, if you have issues you would like to promote, it’s your right as a citizen to do so. I just don’t think I would take any victory in this election as a mandate for you to represent this city, or its constituents, in some official capacity on matters outside your scope. It’s an inventive use of an obscure role, I’ll give you that. But I don’t believe the people voting will know they are voting for the role of Public Advocate.
    Then again, I could be completely wrong and perhaps we should be making better use of this ridiculous position than just letting someone collect payments from attorneys like it was 1913 instead of 2013.

  6. LWitherspoon

    “The sheriff is paid $150 a year by the city to occasionally serve special notices, and can earn substantially more by charging attorneys to serve papers.”
    How much is “substantially more”? How much are attorneys charged by the sheriff to serve papers, and how many times a year does it happen?
    What do the seven constables do? How much do they earn from this position?

  7. TLawton

    @Anna Duleep,
    What is your position on our gun laws? And as a rape crisis counselor does that afford you any special insight into gun ownership?


  8. Oldtimer

    I think a turquoise Stetson would be a nice touch.

  9. Joe Espo

    A sheriff as social worker? Just a tad delusional, don’t you think? And the irony is if she undertakes the duties of a sheriff, similar to the duties of a constable, she’d need to be packing a piece for protection when she serves civil arrest warrants, tax warrants and needs to dispossess people of their property. Yet she shuns firearms and has been active in convincing the legislature to outlaw owning firearms. Does she think that singing kumbaya is enough?

  10. Anna Duleep

    I am not against gun ownership. My extended family in India includes many military veterans and recreational hunters. I support common sense gun safety legislation. Accidental injury and death are far more likely in homes with guns. The risk is especially high for women. Having lost a dear friend to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, I think it’s very important to be aware of the dangers of having weapons around when someone is suicidal. Just as we accept certain responsibilities for cars (licensing, insurance, following the rules of the road), we must consider how to address the public safety epidemic of gun violence within the bounds of the Second Amendment.

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