Norwalk firefighters: Rilling is our man

Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling is backed by members of the Norwalk firefighters union as he announces their endorsement of his candidacy Monday on the steps of the old City Hall on North Main Street.

(Updated 12:03 a.m. Tuesday with new material including a response from the Mayor Richard Moccia campaign)

NORWALK, Conn. – Democrat Harry Rilling used three words over and over Monday – civility, respect and inclusiveness – as he spoke for the firefighters standing behind him on the steps of the old Norwalk City Hall.

Those words, he said, are the reason the firefighters’ union is endorsing him in his run for mayor instead of the incumbent Republican they endorsed in the last, Mayor Richard Moccia.

Moccia did not return a request for comment.

The firefighters did not say much. Union President Elefterios Petrides tried to avoid commenting during the press conference. Asked about the importance of the new firehouse, constructed under the Moccia administration, he said it would not make them better firefighters.

“What we need from a leader is someone who will sit down at the table with us and not send in his hired guns,” he said in reference to contract negotiations that took place in the past year. “That’s what we need, to be treated fairly.”

He is quoted in a press release as saying it was about respect.

(Story continues below the video)

“We’re very proud to announce that we are endorsing Harry Rilling for mayor,” he said in the prepared statement. “Harry understands that firefighters are professionals and as mayor he will treat firefighters with respect. He will be an open and hands-on mayor that will always ensure that firefighters have a seat at the table and are able to give input into how Norwalk’s public safety is run.”

The union endorsed Moccia in 2011. In that statement, Petrides said of Moccia, “He understands the needs of Norwalk Fire Fighters and has worked well with the union to ensure that our members have the resources needed to keep the citizens of Norwalk safe.”

Many Norwalkers say the union, Norwalk Professional Fire Fighters Association IAFF Local 830, is a primary reason Moccia became mayor in 2005. The union endorsed Moccia over incumbent Democratic Mayor Alex Knopp. Moccia won by 176 votes.

Councilman David Watts (D-District A) was Knopp’s campaign manager in that election.

“The fire union, they are an active group,” he said. “I think that was one of the factors that led to Alex’s loss in 2005. I was campaign manager at that point. They were clearly the most active group and the most vocal. … There was a lot of things wrong, but they did have an impact and they will have an impact in this race. It is definitely a valued endorsement. It would be disingenuous to say it isn’t. They put their lives on the line.”

Watts said he wasn’t comfortable speculating about the mayor’s relationship with the firefighters, why they are now talking about respect and dignity.

“I think a lot of the mayor’s problems are a direct result of the personnel director,” he said, referring to James Hasselkamp.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Art Scialabba said the endorsement wasn’t surprising.

“Am I surprised that they endorsed Rilling after getting a new Fire HQ and signing a new contract? No – it’s politics,” he said in an email. “Obviously, the mayor had a choice to make – make promise to the union to get an endorsement, or look out for the interest of the Norwalk taxpayers.”

A four-year contract with the firefighters was approved by the Common Council in August. It provides for an 8.5 percent raise over its term.

“The mayor did the right thing and obviously had to say no to some of the union’s demands,” Scialabba said. “Mayor Moccia makes his responsibility to the taxpayers of Norwalk a priority.

“The real question is – what did Harry promise and how much could it cost taxpayers?”

“I promised nothing other than I would listen to them, nothing other than treating them with the respect they are due, Rilling said Monday night. “That’s all they wanted. We have wonderful city employees and we have to treat them with respect.”

The contract is for four years. The mayor’s term is for two years. Whoever wins in November will have to seek re-election before being involved in another contract with the firefighters.

“They can say what they want, but the bottom line is the firefighters felt they were not treated with dignity and respect under the Moccia administration,” Rilling said.

The union did not endorse anyone in the 2007 and 2009 elections, according to its website.

In the Monday afternoon press conference, Rilling cited his 17 years as police chief as one of the reasons the firefighters chose him.

“They feel that I have a true understanding and respect for what they do on a daily basis, how they go to work every day, they’re ready to put their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of the citizens of Norwalk,” he said. “They have an understanding that as a manager of a public safety agency for 17 years, that I appreciate truly what they do and that I am the person who will include them in decisions that affect them. I will make myself assessable whenever they need to discuss things with me. I will treat them with civility and with the respect to which they are entitled.”


34 responses to “Norwalk firefighters: Rilling is our man”


    Firefighters. No?

    (Editor’s note: Yes. Many thanks.)

  2. Bill

    Glad Rilling appears to be winning and glad he got the support of the firefighters, but lets hold the line on salary increases for all city employees please. We cannot have outrageous salary increases that are not inline with grand list percentage increases. If salaries continue increasing and tax base shrinks, we will become Detroit.

  3. D(ysfunctional)TC

    Civility, like when you support (by not condemning) assault of 80 year old people because it is politically expedient for you to do so.

  4. Tim T

    Of course the firefighter support Rilling. They can see the out of control overtime the police are getting and they figure they would get the same if Rilling became Mayor…HOLD ONTO YOUR WALLETS …

  5. RU4REAL

    I didn’t see anything about a salary increase.
    Are you still talking about the brawl at city hall, move on and speak on the issues facing Norwalk please.

  6. Momma

    And how does Rilling have anything to do with others losing composure? Suppose none of us never lost our composure for a second, huh? Can we stay focused on the issues, please? Congratulations Harry, on yet another endorsement and an important one. And a hat tip and thank you goes out to our 830 crew. Thanks guys, for your vision to move Norwalk Forward, for real and for keeping us all safe.

  7. Joe Espo

    Firefighters; Hey, Mayor, thanks for the brand-spanking new digs, better than the Taj Mahal. We were cool that you didn’t agree with Mat Miklave and call it a monstrosity. But, what? We should be grateful? Nah. Not unless we get more.
    Firefighters: Hey Nowralk citizens, thanks for spending $16 million on the firehouse. We love the shiny new kitchen, the new hotel-like sleeping quarters and the new fire pole. Thanks for the health benefits, too. And Thanks for the pension. Sorry 98% of you can’t health benefits and retire at age 45 like we can. And thanks for letting us live out of town. Your money; not ours. But what? We should be thankful? Nah. Not unless we get more.

    Firefighters: Hey, Harry, we want more. Can we have time-and-a-half now? Better say yes or we won’t help you get elected. What? You say yes? Bingo! Rilling is our man.

  8. Mike Mushak

    Congratulations Harry!

  9. R(obot) TC

    This is definitely a game changer and maybe an end to apathetic lazy Republican rule in Norwalk.

    Looks like the wheels are coming off the Moccia Express.

    Congratulations Harry!

  10. Asa H.M.

    Wow…that is certainly a slap in Moccia’s face. But do these firefighters really know what they want? Endorsed Moccia to get rid of Knopp in 2005, Endorsed Moccia again to get their new firehouse in 2011, and now flip to endorse Rilling for whatever they want next. And I am wondering,(as The Hour has written) despite the “50 unanimous voters” that supported him at a union meeting, how that less than 4% of the 1400 voting members signifies their total support. Just another farce…

  11. michael foley

    Congratulations Harry !

  12. LWitherspoon

    Firefighters perform important work, but let’s not kid ourselves. When Public Employee Unions endorse, it’s always about which candidate is most likely to give them more tax money in the form of salaries and benefits. It was the case when the Firefighters endorsed Moccia in the past, and it’s the case here. Union leader Petrides said as much himself with his statement that Firefighters weren’t “treated fairly”.
    This endorsement didn’t go to Rilling because the Firefighters were offended that the Mayor didn’t personally handle the contract negotiations. It went to Rilling because they didn’t like the end result of the negotiations. Of course they won’t say that in so many words, but it’s clearly implied in their statements in this very article.
    As for the comment that the Mayor should have personally negotiated with the firefighters, elected officials rarely are personally involved in negotiating Public Employee Union contracts. They shouldn’t be – that job is best left to professionals. What Union leader Petrides refers to as a “hired gun” is most likely a professional negotiator who was brought in to get the best possible deal for taxpayers.
    Again the question for Rilling is, what specifics can you share with us? What would you have done differently in the negotiations?

  13. jimbo

    Asa, The article in the hour said there was 140 members,not 1400 members. 50 members voted at a union meeting unanimous in favor of supporting Harry Rilling. I would think there was at least 40 firefighters working protecting the city and unable to go to that meeting.

  14. rburnett

    @ASA HM – please read again – there are 140 voting members NOT 1400 so it was 36% of the voting members. Many of the others could not be at the meeting as they were on duty protecting you. Of the fifty members present it was UNANYMOUS so I would imagine there is a groundswell of support for Rilling.

    And shame on all you people who insult our firefighters by alleging this is about more money. You have no idea as to what has been done to them by Moccia and his henchmen. I know many firefighters and they have been frustrated with unilateral changes in working conditions without the courtesy of being invited to the discussions. Rather they just have them thrown in their face. Ask them about the number of grievances they have had to file. Has nothing to do with promise of increased salary and benefits.

  15. LWitherspoon

    What changes in working conditions were ‘unilaterally’ imposed by ‘Moccia and his henchman’?

  16. Daisy

    They’re obviously opportunists, out for whatever they can get. That’s the danger of unions. Never enough and never think about anybody else. AND – like the NFT, Administrator’s union, also Police – majority of them don’t live in Norwalk and don’t have to worry about Norwalk taxes, so all they have to do is whine about what they DON’T have. So – go work for the Shelton Fire Dept. Oh, sorry, they don’t pay half as much.

  17. rburnett

    Changes in retirees medical benefits without discussing it with the union for one. the change will cost the retirees more. they should have at least brought them to the table to make them aware of what they wanted to do and let them try to work out viable alternatives. Retirees are living on fixed incomes – some very near the poverty line. You may want to ask also about the number of grievances the Fire Union had to file due to the other unilateral changes. their morale is in the tank because of the way in which they are treated. Ask them.

  18. Sheesh! My god, at least they are getting benefits when they retire!!! Off of our taxes – meanwhile, us, in the private sector, gets squash.
    They should be happy with what they have and expect no more (including teachers and policemen).

  19. EveT

    Congratulations, Harry! Looking forward to election day and a landslide victory!

  20. LWitherspoon

    What you’re saying confirms that this was in fact about benefits.
    I would love to know more details, but the information you’ve presented so far suggests that the administration was trying to drive a harder bargain on behalf of the taxpayers, and contain the exploding cost of benefits, and the Firefighters didn’t like it and endorsed the Mayor’s opponent.

  21. D(ysfunctional)TC

    The term “civility” is nothing but lip service when you stand by your party leaders who condone physical assault of octogenarians. Some would like to move on, but believe me it is still a major issue in this campaign. Our next mayor should hold his party to a higher standard than we do our school children, especially when he has been given a mandate by his party’s voters to lead them. The fact Rilling has not condemned this behavior and gone on to spout civility at every turn when all we are talking about is dialog is pretty telling.

  22. Lorie

    Ding Ding Ding. Its that time again. Yes, its FACT CHECK time. OK far as the firehouse goes, 1)Is there anyone that was NOT aware of Volks structural deficiencies, for decades? The what foot and a half drop off from the walls to the foundation caused by the pilings settling in the fill soil Volks was construcked on? We all knew that right, long long time right? 2) How many studies were done and options considered, (speedy doughnuts)permanently redoing the repair shop former Wheels Bus depot? The shop that was there temp station for the duration of construction. Over how many admistrations since this process began in what the 80’s the orginal study correct me if I am in err. It is not fair to credit Moccia, with the socalled taj mahal monstrosity, as some off the grid comments have insinuated and have described this purly utlitarian facility with many uses. How many admistrations had a hand in this project? How many councils? How many BET members? Now, what did Moccia not GIVE the union? Specifically, its ok boys, safe here using anon. What did Moccia, or his hired guns not negotiate. We desrves to know, do we not? Far as Rilling promising huge increases and triple time, lol, cmon, really, thats the best ya got to throw. Poor pitch, very poor, er ah hm, Rilling has a record to run on, managing soundly, fairly and responsibly a multi million dollar budget.
    Far as the ot for our boys and girls in blue, apparently someone was on extended leave and mustve missed the numerous memos that went out. The vendors (Contractors) pay the OT and for use of city vehicles. Not to mention its the law to post first responders with instant communications at dangerous projects with lots of traffic. So can we please lay off our boys and girls in blue working extra. Would you pass it up if it was there? I mean think about it, dont have to respond to calls, accept emergencies as needed, dont have to break up arguments from feuding folks, dont have to worry about traffic quota, no opening doors for some that lock themsleves out of there cars AND forget where they even parked. No beligerent intoxicated folks to deal with, vomiting on their uniforms and in the prowl car. Just stay alert, pay attention and put in your shift. Cmon, Let’s be real. If we could, we all would jump at some of those extra work assignments if they ever arise. We want better infrastucture and we want more money comming into town, nothing wrong with making a decent living. At least boost the holiday and college funds, maybe safer tires, pay off that nagging debt, etc etc. So OT is OFF LIMITS. It’s a non issue that pitched to distract and is attempting, lamely might add, to manufacter non exsistent issues. Why would someone, manafacuture non issues? To distract from real issues perhaps? Or a pitiful record, perhaps. Hmmm My, My, the artist of manipulation is running on empty. bArt Simpson has lost his magic.
    This goes out to ya bArt http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixZDdc4I65U
    And looks around, shhh. here is one secretly recorded undercover and probably illegal tape of the Mayor during contract talks with the firemen union rep. Enjoy and remember, you didnt see it published on NON. shhh. MA rated.

    And a warm heartfelt congratulations to our new Mayor Harry Rilling. Just be yourself, you’ll do great Harry. Your a natural and a native. You have done good, and time to do some more good. Its tough to not freeze and stumble on cam. Relax, loosen up, just be Harry. Its almost over and than you can get back to work. Running a great issue focused campaign, thank you sir. Refeshing very refershing, indeed. Rest assured our fellow Norwalker, we got clips lined up for you. Now you have no choice but to hit that dunk tank next summer. Thanks for standing up to serve again and having the confidence to ignore the noise.

  23. TLawton

    Would anyone have any idea exactly how many of the NFD members actually live in Norwalk?

  24. Tobias

    It’s always easy to support the guy who promises the world… Of course, between the roads, sidewalks, firefighters and Google tablets; the only thing that’s for sure is that Taxes will go up even more. There’s only so many ways to stretch a dollar and the buck should stop at the Mayor’s desk no matter whose in charge.

    I’d back the guy who would get my neighbor to stop playing loud music at 11 PM at night… but with a few of Norwalk’s finest sitting down having the beers with him, that ain’t gonna happen.

  25. Joe Espo

    I guess with the firefighters union it’s follow the money So I guess it would benefit me if I have wads of cash to dole out if my and my neighbor’s house should catch fire at the same time. It’s what have you done for me lately.

  26. Suzanne

    Um, Mr. Espo: it is kind of insulting to say that firefighters base their rescue efforts on the amount of money someone has. That just isn’t the way it is – and I bet I can say that that is true anywhere in the United States. I personally am glad they get benefits to keep them healthy and living well after they have given their lives in service to protecting us. When they are called to duty and are racing to a fire to put it out and protect anyone or anything, they are not counting dough on the way over. They are getting organized to do their job saving lives and property to the best of their abilities. For that, I say we should be thankful.

  27. Tim T

    I have to laugh how any taxpayer would support Rilling. Just where do you think the money for all his lofty ideas will come from…TAX INCREASES…HOLD ONTO YOUR WALLETS.

  28. Tim T


    You make some very good points ,especially the part about “but with a few of Norwalk’s finest sitting down having the beers with him, that ain’t gonna happen”.
    This is a reflection of the lack of discipline Rilling allowed when police consultant as we seen scandal after scandal at the NPD.
    Just this past week we had Newtown schools on lock down because of an unstable Norwalk cop. It seems this will be yet another cover up at the NPD as he was not arrested, even with the state police having to respond. Also the NPD has not released his name which is concerning as we the people should know, so we can be assured that yet another unstable cop is not returned to the street. If this were anyone else he would have been arrested and his name would have been headlines.

  29. Suzanne

    People who are suicidal are a danger to themselves and rarely to others(although they can be). They are sick. They need to be hospitalized not arrested. The name of the individual, released in print already, is not so important as the treatment he needs to recover.

  30. The Deal

    You never know anyone’s level of intelligence, or lack of it, until they speak. Chew on this. At full strength the fire department roster is 132 members, that’s 33 per shift. The City prefers to carry some vacancies, it actually saves money. 50 firefighters voted to endorse, 33 were on duty, the rest may have been spending time with their families. L With was correct on one point, the City does hire a professional to negotiate their side of contracts instead of doing it civilly in City Hall like in the past. Some contracts can take up to 1000 hrs to work through this way. The City, taxpayers, pay $350.00/hr for their negotiator. You do the math, it’s not hard. Espo, Asa, Daisy, Irishgirl, et al; The recently settled firefighter contract was a 4 year deal with an 8.5% increase over the span, meaning 2.125% per year average. Individual insurance copay and coinsurance, what each one pays out-of-pocket, increased significantly. Their maximum retirement pension benefit, which they contribute to on a weekly basis out of their pay, was reduced by 10%., meaning they make less in retirement. Please note the City is supposed to contribute to the retirement fund as well, however they have not done so in many years. No one can retire from the FD at 45 years old, that’s just wrong. Yes it’s true some live out of town however some are actually moving into town because of the housing value correction of the last few years. You can blame whomever you like for that. If you’d really like to point a finger aim at the Fire Chief Denis, yes that’s how it’s spelled, McCarthy. He’s from Peabody, Mass, worked initially in Westport and lives in Fairfield. Pay raises and benefits for him and his assistant? Any taxpayer should be outraged. The firefighters didn’t endorse Moccia in years past to get a new firehouse, that’s ludicrous. Although a new firehouse was a necessity, what we all see on Connecticut Ave is Chief McCarthy’s doing. It wasn’t his money he was spending, it was ours. Remember also Moccia gave him free reign. The firefighters are hardworking, well trained, dedicated members of our community so the next time you’re at a birthday party, family barbeque, sitting down at thanksgiving dinner, or opening presents on Christmas morning please try to remember they’re on duty for us.

  31. Mr Norwalk Ct

    Actually Suzanne when that mentally unfit individual carries a gun and badge they are a danger to all of us. I would also like to know the name of this officer as to be assured that he is not returned to duty like so many others have been. You say his name was published in print but I can not seem to find it. If this actually exists please provide a link. Thank You

  32. Suzanne

    Mr. Norwalk CT, Initial reports in The Hour mentioned the gentleman’s name. I did not retain it – I think it was kind of a “Police Blotter” report. They may have pulled it for obvious reasons. In any case, I am not the person to ask for a link to this: I believe in protecting ill people and allowing them recovery. There are strict protocols in place for mentally ill individuals, how they are treated and how they are returned to society (that is assuming the mental illness was diagnosed in the first place.) I would imagine this person’s ability to “carry a gun and a badge” days are over but I don’t know. Either way, a vendetta against anyone because of this man’s misfortune IS none of your business and whether every member of the NPD or surrounding police forces are perfectly mentally healthy? I have no idea but I do believe, given the vicissitudes of daily life, this could on the list titled “Last of Our Worries.”

  33. RU4REAL

    Thanks for the info Deal.

  34. The Deal

    One clarification if you please. The “assistant” I referred to was not Assistant Fire Chief Reilly, who is highly regarded in the fire service, but rather Chief McCarthy’s assistant in the Office of Emergency Management Michelle Deluca who went from a low paying part timer to a salaried full timer with an office and city supplied vehicle (a new SUV) …

    (This comment has been edited to conform to our policy)

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