NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Democratic mayoral candidates hurled thinly veiled zingers at each other and had many harsh words for Republican Mayor Richard Moccia as they prepped for the coming primary electoral fistfight with a lively Democratic mayoral forum Monday night in City Hall.
The questions came strictly from moderator Richard Friedman and Norwalk Democratic Town Committee members attending the forum, to which the NDTC’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting was devoted.
NDTC Chairwoman Amanda Brown repeated earlier requests for party unity before the forum began.
“We are going to have a contentious primary,” she said. “I already see it coming and if you don’t see it coming you should really take off the rose-colored glasses. We know it’s going to be hard and we know it’s going to be heated.”
The first zinger came in the opening remarks.
“I’m a working guy,” former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel said. “I didn’t go to school to become a politician. I didn’t go to school to become a leader of a community. That’s something I have earned through the organizations and the groups I have worked with over the years. …. this is the relationship that I have forged, not because I planned to, but this is the relationship that was forged for me.”
The target of that comment, District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra, seemed to take aim at former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling minutes later when he said the primary would be about “who is going to bring the best contrast to the current administration possible in order to give the Democratic ticket the fighting chance it needs, in order to have better days for Norwalk.”
Common Councilman Matt Miklave missed the opening comments, as he had a special meeting of the Common Council’s Planning Committee to attend. Miklave came into the forum about 20 minutes after it began.
Garfunkel came out swinging on the first question, his fiery response the unveiling of a stark contrast between the candidate this year and the candidate who ran against Moccia in 2011.
Friedman mentioned that Moccia had won that year by about 800 votes and asked how the final candidate would make up that deficit.
Garfunkel became animated.
“Let’s set it straight right from the beginning,” he said. “This is my 800-vote deficit. Not my opponent’s, my 800. They’re starting from scratch. They’re starting to win 7,000-8,000 votes. I’m going out there, working hard, to get another 1,000 this time, if not more.”
Mangiacopra threw out that he had only lost the 2011 city sheriff race by 76 votes. He would get more people involved by re-engaging folks, he said. His campaign would be the most organized, he said.
Rilling said his campaign had already started to close the vote deficit, “Simply because we have a candidate with tremendous name recognition, who has built a reputation in this town for being fair, honest, a person of integrity, a person who has been inclusive and transparent.”
That exchange is attached below as an audio file.
Another exchange highlighted the futility of the forum and of the nominating convention on July 16.
Friedman asked a question submitted by Sam Disraeli: “You are all here asking for the support of the DTC yet you have committed to take this to a primary. Why are you committed to a primary instead of joining the team in an alternative role like the Common Council?”
Garfunkel said jumping down to the council would be difficult since the under-ticket will be nominated at the convention, which also nominates a mayoral candidate. Besides that, there are 85,000 people in Norwalk and only 35 on the NTDC, calling it a “small universe,” he said.
“I took it on the chin for this party last year,” he said. “I put myself out there. I left a career that I probably could have sat in, and my father is still kicking me now…. This party needed direction, needed leadership. I was willing to take that shot. I came very close to doing it. I’m looking for the support of this party. I will go to a primary. There are true and loyal Democrats out there that do support me.”
Mangiacopra said he had been supporting Norwalk Democrats for four or five years, but if there is a primary, “so be it.”
“I want this job,” he said. “I don’t really care about the title. I don’t care about the ribbons to be cut. I don’t care about the parades to be walked. I want to go out here and bring my passion, my vision, and my enthusiasm for the future of this city to the table.”
Rilling said the candidates need to show they are capable of winning. The primary is “something that we are looking forward to. It’s going to be vibrant. It’s going to challenging. As Andy so aptly put it, let the city decide. Let the registered Democrats decide who they want to bring forward to lead from this point forward.”
Miklave said it was a chance for a good debate.
“I have always believed in a debate about ideas,” he said. “Not about pedigree, not about resume, but ideas. We are the party of diversity. We celebrate the diversity of our race, our creed, our national origin, our sexual orientation, our religion. We need to celebrate the diversity of ideas as well.”
Ed note: You’ll be able to see most of the forum on this website. We’ll be posting videos for the rest of the week.
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