NORWALK, Conn. — The tradition of the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee following the individual district’s wishes has outlived its usefulness, former Mayor Bill Collins said. While DTC Chairman Ed Camacho said he agrees, longtime South Norwalk Democratic leader Bobby Burgess said ignoring a district’s desires is not a good way to encourage people to come out to vote.
It’s a topic that’s in the news, with the DTC set to endorse candidates Thursday and one district chairman emphasizing that the DTC has no obligation to listen to district members, putting off their vote for two consecutive meetings. This, while Camacho has been talking of a need for “qualified” candidates, in reference to Board of Education discussions, and rumblings that party members may not be happy with District B’s recommendation that BoE member Migdalia Rivas be set up for re-election.
“We have, over the past two years at least, perhaps over the last four years, watched as the Democratic Party has been severely embarrassed by the performance of some of our elected officials on both the Board of Education and the City Council, some of those being at-large candidates where in fact the Town Committee did respect the wishes of the districts,” Collins said at Monday’s District D meeting.
DTC members are not required to respect the wishes of the districts, Collins said, echoing the assertions of District A Chairman David Watts.
There’s a difference between what Watts has said and what Collins said, according to Camacho.
“I suspect that what (Watts) might do in A is to completely disregard the will of the district with no overarching reason, at least none that he has articulated so far. I think that that is anti-Democratic … with a capital D and a small d,” Camacho said.
“The Town Committee has another job besides respecting the wishes of the district,” Collins said. “The Town Committee has to see to it that we, as the Democratic Party, produce the best candidates that we can for the city and the best candidates that we can for the benefit of our party. I think we have been derelict in that. I think it is time for the Town Committee to do its job and if it feels that recommended candidates from the individual districts are insufficient and that there are better candidates from elsewhere, nominate those candidates, because we don’t want to go through another two or four years of our party being severely embarrassed in the press – properly embarrassed in the press – by poor performance.”
“He’s right about that,” Camacho said Saturday.
People earn the right to vote at a district to recommend candidates by attending at least three meetings in the previous 12 months, and those three can include the meeting in which the voting is done. The recommendations are then sent to the DTC, a body of people who are elected to a two-year term.
That’s one of the most important votes a committee member can make, Camacho said.
“That’s not to be taken lightly in my view,” Camacho said. “Historically it hasn’t happened, which is not to say that there may not be a compelling reason why a member of the DTC of a given district may wish or may feel impelled to vote differently from the vote that was cast at a meeting ahead of the nominating caucus… You want to be mindful and you want to respect, and you do as matter of custom, the votes coming out of the meetings of (the district) to recommend candidates at a caucus, but there may be instances where one or two or maybe even a majority of the (DTC) may decide that they will vote in a different direction than the members of their committee.”
One reason to vote a different way could be that a candidate stacked the deck by getting their friends to go to two meetings and then attending the meeting where votes are cast, thereby giving the candidate a majority, Camacho said. Or, a DTC member could feel very strongly about a candidate, that that person’s view is more closely aligned to what the DTC member believes or feels is best for the city, he said.
“I think it’s got to be a pretty compelling reason, and I don’t know how you define that. Obviously, it’s by its nature subjective,” Camacho said, quoting a Supreme Court justice: “I can’t really define it, but I know it when I see it.”
Burgess missed Collins’ comments but heard about it, he said.
“I just don’t know where he is coming from, I really don’t. They shouldn’t do anything, really, until they change the bylaws,” Burgess said Tuesday.
He spoke of policy, attitudes and the will of the people.
“Power comes and goes to people, but they think they have the power,” Burgess said. “They can do anything … They change the rules in the middle of the game and don’t have any parliamentarian involved.
I hope when the mayor gets back (from vacation) he can put a stop to it before it gets out, because if it lets this get out of the box, it’s really too late for everybody.”
What about Collins’ comment that the performance of some elected officials has been embarrassing?
“I think that leadership is to sit down and discuss with individuals and especially districts, because the district always has a certain amount of autonomy,” Burgess said. “I remember a certain mayor tried to take the power away from district. Now they are getting back to that same point, taking the power away from the district. But if the district doesn’t have any power and they are trying to encourage people to come out and vote, they say … they don’t need the district. So I think they should stop and think of what they are doing and what the long-term effect will be if somebody doesn’t change their attitude.”