Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidates come out swinging

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.

130617_001 NDTC _02_01


13 responses to “Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidates come out swinging”

  1. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Thanks again to Nancy for bringing this event to the attention of those of us who did not hear about it in time to attend–and especially, thanks to Nancy for the audio portion.

    Once again (as many of us believe), all of our Democratic candidates deserve to be mayor. They are an impressive group. However, it is clear that right now at this moment in time, Norwalk needs a candidate who has the gravitas, the experience in serving the citizens of Norwalk, the visibility, the reputation of a public job well done for Norwalk, the regional and national reputation to make Norwalk’s voice heard throughout the Northeast–factors that will unseat the colorless and undistinguished leadership the Republicans have given us for decades.

    It is not yet time for an untried “fresh start” for the governance of Norwalk nor is it time for a catch up run for the office of mayor, nor is it the time for a blue skies bureaucratic reorganization of everything. The time has come for the man who has the visibility and the proven ability in serving Norwalk to get the votes that will end the inbred, unchanging, unproductive and almost hereditary leadership the Republicans have given us for decades.

    In my mind, for this moment in time, that man is Harry Rilling.

  2. NorwalkLifer

    If Harry Rilling has so much great experience, how come he never cites his accomplishments as police chief? He basically just says he’s been in city hall for 17 years, therefore he has the experience to run Norwalk.
    But how will he accomplish positive change if he wasn’t able to do it as a department head?

  3. Rod Lopez-Fabrega


    Just for starters, here are some professional facts for Harry–right from his own site:

    Professional Career:

    Enlisted in the United States Navy in 1967. Served as a communications specialist with a Top Secret Special Category Security Clearance.
    Joined the Norwalk Police Department in September 1971
    Promoted to Deputy Chief in 1987
    Promoted to Chief of Police in May 1995, served under three different mayors.
    Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice at Norwalk Community College from 1996 to 2004.
    Compliance Manager in the private sector, 2012 to Present
    Awards & Distinctions:

    Recipient in 2013 of CALEA’s Egon Bitter Award
    Recipient in 2012 of the NAACP’s Rev. John P. Ball Leadership Award
    On-site assessor and team leader with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
    Chairman of the Mid-Fairfield Substance Abuse Coalition (MFSAC).
    Past President of both the Fairfield County Chiefs of Police Association (FCCP) and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (CPCA).
    Connecticut’s representative to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
    Taught a course developed by Michigan State University and the Department of Homeland Security titled “Leading From the Front – Weapons of Mass Destruction Awareness for Law Enforcement Executives.” in various cities around the country.
    Life member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police
    Board member of the National Committee on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs a committee of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

    If you want actual case histories, those are not (to my knowledge) available to the general public.

  4. 0ldtimer

    Being Chief of Police is a far cry from being “in City Hall”. Under Moccia’s administration, Harry met with the police commission, including Moccia, for a half hour or so every week. Most of the time, usually well over 40 hours each week, was spent managing a police department. Making sure the various divisions had enough of the right people and equipment to get the job done, within the limits of his budget. In the course of a day he was everywhere. He used an unmarked car and stayed out of the limelight, but his people knew he was there for every major investigation and even for funerals of active and retired officers and their family members. I have even seen him directing traffic.
    We were never allowed to hear the arguments he made for more people or equipment. We seldom heard of the grants his dept obtained. We did hear of the crime rates going down and the best efforts of his anti-gang initiative. We must judge by what candidates have accomplished, not just what they say. There are four good men, all claiming to be well qualified, asking for our votes. My money is on Chief Harry Rilling.

  5. piberman

    Voters anxious to know how the candidates would control burgeoning municipal employee salaries, benefits and property taxes were once again disappointed by the “exchange of views”. Maybe these items are not on the Democratic agenda for mayor.

  6. Bruce Kimmel

    Mr. Berman is wrong, he knows it, yet he keeps repeating the same thing: Benefits are not increasing. The city and its unions have moved from a defined benefits plan to a defined contributions plan (similar to 401k). That will save lots of money. The city and its unions have introduced health savings accounts as an option for medical coverage. That will save money. The city and its unions have increased employee contributions to health insurance. That will save lots of money. How on earth does this amount to “burgeoning” benefits costs?

  7. Tim T

    Rod Lopez
    When you originally posted a few months back you said you were simply a neighbor of Rilling. It seems that is not the case as you seem to know everything about him..Why not admit that you are one of his political operatives. Also the question you were asked is what were his accomplishments as police chief? You went on and on about his Resume but failed to even state one accomplishments as police chief…

  8. 0ldtimer

    You have it all wrong. Rilling is NOT Moccia. Rilling is a consumate pro. He learned, in the military and in the police Dept, you don’t have to like the superior officer, but you MUST respect the rank. For this reason alone, we never heard of differences between the two men. Now, circumstances are changed, Moccia is no longer Rilling’s boss, no special respect for the mayor’s rank is required. Moccia knows this and has his minions running scared and writing letters for him. Rilling knows too much and is a lot smarter than Moccia. Anyone but Rilling he is confident he can beat. He has no idea what Rilling may reveal, and he doesn’t want to find out. Rilling’s record as chief is as good as anybody’s, but could have been better with greater support from Moccia and his “rubber stamp” police commission. Any debate between them should be an eye-opener for everybody who thinks like Tim.

  9. Tim T

    Well Old Timer I am in agreement with you in regards to the rubber stamp police commission and Moccia the Moron. However I am not in regards to Rilling. But hey the great thing about this country is we can agree to disagree.

  10. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Tim T: Sorry, but I am not an “operative” for the Rilling campaign–just someone my wife and I have come to know over many years as a very decent human being and have admired for his accomplishments during his entire career. We think he is the right man for the job right now in this time and place.

    However, if the campaign asks me, I’d be happy to comply.

  11. LWitherspoon

    @Bruce Kimmel
    I seem to recall reading that a key reason for the recent tax hike was a dramatic health care cost increase. That doesn’t seem to square with your statement above to Peter Berman. Is it the case that City employees are receiving the same health care plans they always have, but the cost of those plans has gone up?

  12. Tim T

    Rod Lopez
    Odd as I have neighbors that I haves lived next to for years and would never be able to list a resume that you did for Rilling with so many exact dates and positions.. How would you possibly have so many exact dates and positions for Rilling just from conversations..Do you take notes when you speak to Mr Rilling??? I bet no one could do that for just a neighbor……Sounds like a political operative to me..You know the old saying.. If it looks like a duck and walks/quack/flies etc. like a duck, it is a duck.

  13. Piberman

    Once again Mr Kimmel needs a municipal finance lesson. An incisive comment in the Arbitration Report was the negative effect on Norwalk’s property values from its higher taxes needed to fund our teacher’s salaries – 5th highest in the state. With City employee costs averaging almost 6 figures and large numbers well beyond that figure together with substantial numbers of $150,000 administrators Norwalk’s municipal employee costs are well above the ability of our modest incomes. We rank only 17th in the state on incomes and have a substantial population on public assistance.
    Norwalk is not as the NFT proclaims “one of Americas richest cities”.

    Mr Kimmel chooses to ignore the serious issue of taxes and City employee costs. As do Democrats generally in Norwalk. What to do about it ? Cities in similar positions reduce staffing levels, use outsourcing when possible, vigorously seek caps on positions, bring in more capable managers when possible, pay strenuous attention towards reducing benefits, improve pension fund mgmt. and take full use off the arbitration process. The BOE arbitration award was a hallmark for the City.

    It’s especially noteworthy that Norwalk increased its budget and taxes during the recent Recession. Most municipalities across America reduced their budgets.

    The issue is not that the current administration is failing but that more could be done. When Democrats ignore or fail to give major consideration to taxes and City labor costs everyone understands the consequences. Art Scialabba’s moment after the Hour’s debate was right on the money – Democrats will raise taxes he said.

    It’s especially helpful to ask why haven’t Norwalk’s property values participated in the national housing price boom. Look up the figures on Zillow’s. Its not rocket science, just basic municipal finance – tax more than surrounding communities and property values suffer.

    During the Hour’s debate there was no mention of excessive taxes, property values and municipal labor costs. Even with 4 candidates ! That’s pretty amazing and illustrates how far the party has moved from bread and butter issues. Is there any other city in CT where the out of office party would ignore taxes and labor costs as legitimate campaign issues ?

    We live in a world where benefits costs for lower paid municipal workers can exceed their salary payments. And it takes real hard work to tighten up on the City’s labor costs. Our best hope for progress is for both parties to focus on reducing labor costs. But Democrats aren’t at the able here. According to Mr Kimmel “it’s all ok” at City Hall. Funny thing is that the leading members of the administration and GOP take labor costs at City Hall seriously. But more could be done if Democrats took a serious interest. Or at least mentioned City labor costs on the campaign trail.

    Maybe the Democrat game plan is “pennies from heaven” whereby a friendly face at City Hall will have business folks standing in line to get an audience. That’s how we grow the Grand List to fund more spending.
    Glory be.

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