By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – The more the merrier, established Norwalk Democratic mayoral candidates say, when it comes to the number of people interested in running for mayor this fall.
Good thing, as there may soon be a fourth man vying for the Democratic nomination.
Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling is interested and has been thinking it over. A decision may have already been made – Rilling said he will announce within the week whether he will join the race.
That will make four potential candidates.
Vinny Mangiacopra, a Norwalk Democratic Town Committee (DTC) member, announced Tuesday that he had filed the paperwork to run for mayor, startling both former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel and Common Councilman Matt Miklave, who have also taken steps to become the Democratic candidate this fall.
Mangiacopra may have a problem with some voters: his support of Ernie Newton, a former Bridgeport state senator who served five years in federal prison for political corruption, was pointed out by two NancyOnNorwalk readers Wednesday.
Mangiacopra, president of Preferred Group Communications, produced a documentary chronicling the last days of Newton’s 2012 comeback campaign for state senator with a theme of “redemption and opportunity.” The film was shown in October in Bridgeport.
Newton has since been accused of new crimes. Newton, 56, was arrested Jan. 4 on a warrant charging him with one count of larceny in the first degree, five counts of illegal campaign practices and one count of tampering with a witness, according to a press release from the State of Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice. Newton, the warrant charges, falsified documents to obtain $80,550 from the state’s Citizens Election Program for his campaign.
Mangiacopra said his firm was hired to do communications for Newton’s unsuccessful campaign.
“I do not see it being an issue relative to the discussions we’ll be having here in Norwalk over the next 9 1/2 months,” he said in an email. “I was just as disappointed as everyone else when I learned of the charges, but the message of redemption and opportunity is bigger than one person or one politician; that’s why it was documented. To avoid distractions, at this time we are no longer promoting the film.”
Other mayoral hopefuls struck a similar note, saying they look forward to the discussion.
“Good luck to him,” said Miklave, who has formed an exploratory committee for the mayor’s race. “The more the merrier. We’re going to have a great debate about the issues facing our city and our future. Everybody that can contribute to that debate, I welcome it.”
Following Mangiacopra’s announcement, Garfunkel, who ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia in 2010, released a statement (published separately). He said, in part, “I’m looking forward to discussing the issues and presenting my plan for Norwalk’s future with the voters between now and Election Day.”
Rilling said, “The greater the selection, the better the ability to select the right candidate. It also allows for a robust discussion on the issues to see which candidate most speaks the values espoused by the party.”
Rilling had a meeting Wednesday night to discuss his possible candidacy. “We’ll see how that plays out over the next couple of days,” he said. “A lot of people are encouraging me to throw my hat in the ring – from both sides.”
Garfunkel said Tuesday night that the DTC is formulating a vetting process for candidates, with a questionnaire. “There’s a separate one right now for mayor and then it’s all candidates,” he said.
It’s “too early” to say if there will be a primary, which would be on Sept. 10.
“As a party I’m sure we’re going to work as closely as possible to try to avoid those kinds of things, but again, those can be healthy to the organization as well,” Garfunkel said. “That’s up to the executive board and the full DTC membership to try to resolve.”