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Norwalk Democrats differ on DTC responsibility to ‘listen to districts’

Former Norwalk Mayor Bill Collins.

Former Norwalk Mayor Bill Collins.

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.”

9 comments

Yankee Clipper July 20, 2015 at 8:52 am

Rivas has been an embarrassment on the Board of Ed. How did District B re-nominate her? Our less fortunate students continue to struggle and fall further and further behind. What is she doing to help them? Does she realize how important getting these students to read at grade level is? Why has she not been demanding this? Why did she not push for the South Norwalk Community Center After School Program? All she does is complain about petty stuff …..

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell July 20, 2015 at 9:24 am

Qualified candidates should be expected, whether they bring in financial, HR, education or other skills. I would urge the DTC to look at what skills are needed on the board and put together a team that will respect each other and work together. We must stop shooting ourselves in the foot by electing people from the same party who don’t work collaboratively. In a city of 80,000 there must be enough well educated members of society to serve…

EveT July 20, 2015 at 9:45 am

What is Burgess talking about? “They change the rules in the middle of the game and don’t have any parliamentarian involved”?
DTC rules don’t say anything one way or another about the district committees voting to recommend candidates.
The reason Burgess is unhappy is that his longstanding role as an inside party boss is threatened.

Oldtimer July 20, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Right or wrong, Bobby Burgess has held a lot of power in the district for a very long time. It is probably well past time he retire. Until he totally steps away from politics, he will be the voice a lot of people listen to. A lot of people will vote for whoever Bobby backs, or stay home and have no power in this election.

Never underestimate the Mayor’s understanding of this process, nor his skill at reaching workable compromise.

Hugo Ramirez July 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm

In all of these articles I have not seen any mention of Hispanics running for office. Where is the representation?

Mark Chapman July 20, 2015 at 12:48 pm

@Hugo Ramirez

Eloisa Melendez, Migdalia Rivas and Haraldo Williams have all gone through the process to get involved. Are there others who submitted their resumes and letter of intent and attended district meetings to introduce themselves and make their intentions known? No others have come forward at the district meetings NoN has attended — at least as far as we can tell. DNA is not a typical resume or letter of intent entry, and we don’t ask.

J Corbett July 20, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Agreed that there should be a more equal representation of the city’s demographics in our elected offices, but it’s also important to remember that just because a candidate is of a particular demographic affiliation (hispanic/black/LGBT) doesn’t mean that they will make decisions to advocate for the residents who share that characteristic. While a more diverse city leadership is desired, we also need to look beyond the racial, ethnic, or linguistic background of a candidate. We must learn what they believe and how they will act once in office.

Hugo Ramirez July 20, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Who is Ms. Melendez? Rivas is a joke and isn’t Mr. Williams African American?

Editor’s note: Eloisa Melendez is the Hispanic Councilwoman from District A who has been written about in the local newspaper, on this site and in the Latino press and has spoken at numerous events representing the community.

And while we don’t see any checkboxes on Mr. Williams’ resume, we know he has Jamaican heritage but was raised in Panama. Warren Pena recently said: “He was raised in a multicultural, multi-ethnic country (Panama Canal Zone). I think he understands what is needed at the Board of Education level within our city. I think he brings a wealth of knowledge and background and perspective. I mean, his resume speaks for itself with all his background and experience, but he really and truly cares.”

After the meeting, Mr. Pena confirmed for NoN that Mr. Williams is, indeed, Latino.

Non partisan July 20, 2015 at 6:23 pm

Race based politics is disgusting. Voting based on race or gender is pathetic. We need the best qualified, best educated, best skilled members of our community to lead.

Back room selection of candidates equally disgusting. While there is zero disputing that there are members of the city council and bd of ed that are unqualified for their elected office, it is avarice and arrogance for party leaders to force their will on the districts, or for the district leaders to force their will on delegates.

That’s what primaries are for. Let them all carry petitions and let the best man/ women/ win.

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