Norwalk political notes: ‘New’ Zoning commissioner, Peña & election scenarios

Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Rod Johnson.
Norwalk Zoning Commissioner Rod Johnson.

NORWALK, Conn. – There are no new Norwalk zoning commissioners in sight, but one newbie is getting more power.

The expected elevation of Rod Johnson from an alternate to a full-fledged zoning commissioner is just one of our political notes today:

  • Ballot order set – Dems on top
  • Peña and Simms make up
  • Peña looks to inspire Latinos for Melendez
  • Did Fair Rent set a record?
  • No bookcases expected for community room

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

That didn’t take long – Mayor Harry Rilling is looking to make Rod Johnson a full-fledged member of the Zoning Commission just six weeks after Johnson was confirmed as an alternate.

That’s the only appointment on the agenda for Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.

This follows the bruising rejection of Rilling’s appointment of Nora King to Zoning. The Commission is currently short two members; there are five full commissioners when there should be seven.

The three alternate slots are filled, but that should change Tuesday.

There’s not much on the Council agenda in general, just Johnson’s appointment and a vote on the legal settlement on Bartlett vs. Norwalk. That’s a move to issue $1.2 million in bonds to cover the city’s end of the $1.475 million purchase of 68 and 70 South Main St., being done in conjunction with the Redevelopment Agency.

That stems from the construction of the Norwalk Police headquarters, and is therefore appropriate as a capital expense, former Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said.

The city took property by eminent domain and the owner of 68-70 South Main St. sued, claiming that the value of that commercial property was diminished because parking had been taken away.

The settlement inspired a 40-minute discussion behind closed doors to end the last Council meeting.


Ballot set up

A drawing was held Friday to figure out where the candidates will be located on the ballot for November’s election.

Positioning on the ballot is considered an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on how things work out. There were some concerns about how that would work  in the District B Democratic primary, as unendorsed incumbent Councilman Travis Simms was posted below the other candidates. But, considering that Simms won with no problem, maybe not so much.

A lineup posted Friday on the registrar's office in City Hall.
A lineup posted Friday on the registrar’s office in City Hall.

Democrats have the top line because Gov. Dannel Malloy had the most votes in the last gubernatorial election, but positioning beyond that is done by a drawing in Norwalk.

In order, for the Council at large race, on the top line reads Corsello, King, Kimmel, Stewart and Sacchinelli. Line two, the Republicans, reads Santiago, Hempstead, Iannaccone, Bonenfant and Feigenbaum.

As for the rest of it, might be best to just look at the photo at right. That’ll give you the idea.

Some of the results are subject to change if Monday’s recount changes the primary results.


A reconciliation

There was an odd moment Wednesday at the Banc House as certain Democrats celebrated the results of the primary – Simms walked in, jubilant in success, and was congratulated by former Common Councilman Warren Peña.

Common Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) hugs South Norwalk Community Center board Chairman Warren Peña on Wedneday in the Banc House.
Common Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) hugs South Norwalk Community Center board Chairman Warren Peña on Wednesday in the Banc House.

Simms stared at Peña, who smiled back at him.

“You know I’m a good dude, deep down inside,” Peña said to Simms. “I’m happy for you.”

After a minute or two the ice melted, Simms grinned and hugged Peña.

In May, Simms said Peña had done illegal things in reference to the South Norwalk Community Center.

“Basically he is just the chairman of the Board, but he operates in the capacity that he is the executive and the president and the chairman of the board,” Simms said then. “It’s a nonprofit organization and it’s illegal what he’s doing.”


Peña looks to rally Hispanics

Now that the primary is over and supporting Eloisa Melendez for re-election as District A’s Council representative will not offend anyone, Peña says he’s thinking of forming a Political Action Committee (PAC) on her behalf.

“I think this is where you’ll probably see a little more of me being active and making sure she secures her seat come November,” Peña said, after explaining that he had been “thankfully” busy with work and unable to help Melendez previously. “Ideally, what I think I am going to do over the next two months is start to activate some of the folks that have followed me, that I have been tight with over the past few years, who have really been active in voting and also coming out to be part of the process.

“My idea is to form some type of campaign specifically for Eloisa,” he continued. “I think she has proven herself, I think she has gotten an opportunity to go out there and grow and understand exactly what this process entails.”

It’s part of his duty, he said, and he will work in District B to make sure BoE candidate Erik Anderson gets a high voter turnout and extensive support from Latinos.

“We continue in the mission of activating the Hispanic voting block,” Peña said. “That’s my mission in this particular voting cycle. I am way removed from it all today… but now it’s about her.”


Fair Rent keeps security guard up

You think the Common Council works late sometimes? The Zoning Commission? Well, the Fair Rent Commission seems to have outdone them.

The Aug. 5 meeting began at 7:17 p.m. and ended at 3:10 a.m., according to the minutes and accounts from people present.

Most of the meeting concerned Marva Belle vs. Lorraine Dawkins, but there are no details about that in the minutes, except that the hearing began at 8:30 p.m. and proceeded to 1:05 a.m., when a 12-minute recess was called.

Word is candy was passed out at that point. When the meeting reconvened, Commissioner Nabil Valencia was thanked for her service, which has ended as she is going to London to earn a master’s degree in Latin American development at King’s College, and then the hearing was discussed.

A City Hall security guard said there were four people in the room as the meeting continued to 3 a.m., and that he stood in the door watching. Good thing he didn’t need to go to his other job, he said.

The minutes indicate the four included Brenda Penn-Williams, Fran Collier-Clemmons, Johnnie Mae Weldon and secretary Sharon Soltes.


No hidden treasure

The renovations planned for the City Hall community room will not, apparently, result in bookcases along the walls of what was once the Norwalk High School library.

Majority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) had been hoping to find “hidden gems” behind the pinboards, but that didn’t pan out.

“We have hidden gems behind all those little pinboards that are in there. Those are actually bookshelves. You’ve got to remember that was the high school library,” Hempstead said in March. “… I think it’s a golden opportunity for us to display some of Norwalk’s historical stuff, behind glass in those bookshelves. I have been in enough town hall community rooms where they do a lot of that and we have none of it.”

Two of the panels were recently removed, but the only thing behind them was air.

Rilling found out about this on Aug. 19 when he walked into the community room for a Zoning Commission meeting and found what looked like vandalism.

“What happened?” he asked.

Hempstead quickly came over.

“We heard there were bookcases,” Hempstead said. “Doesn’t look like it.”

“The panels were removed so that we can see what is behind the panels,” Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said in an email. “No work is anticipated in the near future.”

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, right, talks to Jim Feiber on Aug. 19 in the City Hall community room.
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, right, talks to Jim Feiber on Aug. 19 in the City Hall community room.


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