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.”