NORWALK, Conn. – A flier that was distributed by Norwalk Republicans could cost the city millions of dollars as it supports the position taken by the Al Madany Islamic Center in its federal suit against Norwalk, Democrats say.
Democrats say that Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) and District E candidate and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Emily Wilson left the “dirty politics” flier Sunday on doorsteps of the Stone Gate condominiums, adjacent to 127 Fillow St., where Al Madany had been hoping to build a mosque. The controversial application was turned down in June 2012. Al Madany sued in federal court, alleging discrimination based on religious preference, a violation of the Religious Land Use Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
“Mayor Moccia is pressing the legal fight to defend the city against this group’s lawsuit,” the flier says in bold type.
It says, “Mayor Moccia, the Republican caucus of the Common Council, and Zoning Commission decided that the fair and just concerns of the residents of West Norwalk are worth fighting for,” and slams Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling, a zoning commissioner, Common Councilman Warren Peña (D-At Large) and Democratic zoning commissioners Mike Mushak, Nate Sumpter and Adam Blank.
“Politicizing an issue that is still tied up in courts and has not been settled can jeopardize the city’s position in the appeal process and potentially cost taxpayers $2-3 million of dollars,” Peña said in an email.
“It misrepresents the truth,” Mushak said. “It’s a whole list of misrepresentations of the truth. Its really disturbing that the Republican Party would jeopardize the city’s position in the current appeal that is going on by sending out a flier like this.”
Neither McCarthy nor Wilson replied to Monday evening emails requesting comment. Moccia did not respond to a Sunday email.
Rilling voted in favor of settling the lawsuit, the flier says. What is left out is that Wilson also voted in favor, Mushak said. In fact, every zoning commissioner except one voted in favor of settling the lawsuit, according to minutes of the meeting in question.
The minutes do not say who that one person was. Mushak said it was Joe Santo.
“Harry Rilling was following legal advice given to him and the rest of the commission by a lawyer that the city had hired to protect city taxpayers from liability,” Mushak said. “For the Republican Town Committee to make this a political issue and jeopardize the city’s position in the middle of a federal appeal, a case that is being investigated by the Department of Justice, is completely inappropriate. It is just plain old dirty politics. It also crosses the line into slander. For Emily Wilson to be distributing a a flier that makes misrepresentations about other zoning commissioners calls into question her ability to continue to serve on the Zoning Commission.”
Rilling released a short statement on the matter.
“I promised to run a positive campaign based on the issues,” he said in an email. “We have done that since day one and will continue to do that. It is disappointing that others are not doing the same.”
The flier says Pena “spoke in favor of the mosque, calling it an ‘opportunity’ for the city.”
At the April 12, 2012, Zoning Commission hearing on the mosque, Peña said, “Building this place of worship is no different than building any other. With this project comes a community center. We have a big crime issue here in Norwalk, and I think this will help create some programs and initiatives to keep our kids off the streets. I think it also gives our community the opportunity to build a better relationship with our Muslim friends in the community that contribute so much to Norwalk.”
Minutes of the meeting are attached below.
“My reaction is that when you go negative, you are doomed and desperate,” Peña said in an email. “Also, I think it’s a political maneuver to discredit someone’s character, which is often what you see from their chairman (Art Scialabba). Frankly, a distasteful tactic by the NRTC.”
The flier says Mushak voted in favor of the mosque.
Mushak voted against the resolution, not for the mosque, he said.
“The record shows that I did not vote for the mosque, I voted against the resolution to deny the mosque for various reasons including the fact that the resolution was not the resolution that was approved by the Zoning Commission, but was presented by Corporation Counsel at the last minute,” he said. “It was not the resolution that we approved. So I voted against the resolution.”
A story written by this reporter for The Daily Voice confirms that, as well as the minutes of the meeting, attached below.
Nate Sumpter was the only commissioner to speak in favor of the mosque. Blank voted against the resolution but said he felt the proposed Islamic center was too big for the property and that the application did not comply with Norwalk’s special permit requirements, according to the minutes, attached below.
The comment in the flier that the Republican caucus decided along with Moccia and the Zoning Commission was refuted by Corporation Counsel Bob Maslan.
Asked via email, “Does the Common Council have any role in authorizing the city to defend itself from the lawsuit filed by Al Madany Islamic Center?,” Maslan replied, “No.”
Mushak thinks the flier could be an expensive blunder.
“In most cases where politicians go negative it’s because they don’t have a strong position on the issues or a strong record to run on,” Mushak said. “I think the Republican Town Committee and Mayor Moccia owe the taxpayers of Norwalk an apology for this flier for jeopardizing the city in this appeal process that we are in the middle of. That could potentially cost Norwalk taxpayers millions.”
Correction, 5:28 p.m.: Stone Gate condos, not Fillow Ridge