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Norwalk Republicans vie for Keegan’s Council post

Common Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D), April 12 in City Hall. Keegan voted Monday at a virtual Council meeting while attending a Norwalk High School band event. Republican Town Clerk Rick McQuaid said District D has always turned out good Council people, a tradition that needs to be respected.

Updated, 2:19 p.m.: More information.

NORWALK, Conn. – Tom Keegan is leaving a bit sooner than planned and has settled in on a destination: Venice, Fla. The fate of his Common Council seat is less certain.

District D Republicans on April 19 voted to replace Keegan with former Board of Education member Bryan Meek, but that vote was invalid because Keegan hadn’t resigned yet, Republican Town Clerk Rick McQuaid said.

Matthew Merluzzi had indicated interest in the seat but withdrew, leaving Meek to compete with Carl Dickens for the post. Now, Merluzzi’s back in. And there may be other candidates.

Keegan was first elected in 2019 and has been the only Republican on the 15-member Council since then, taking over the unenviable role of sole opposition party member held by Doug Hempstead for the previous two years. In that time, there have also been no Republican Board of Education members.

Keegan said last week that his last day will be June 24, one week earlier than planned. “I will finish out the committees and council meetings for June and then submit my resignation to Rick McQuaid,” he wrote.

District D members of the Republican Town Committee make the appointment to replace Keegan, McQuaid said. Some have said the public can vote; McQuaid said that’s not true.

The Democratic Town Committee follows the same process to appoint replacements for elected officials.

Republican Town Committee District D Chairman John Romano, March 28 in the Norwalk Inn.

Several people are contemplating running for the seat, District D Chairman John Romano said.

“Carl may be back in, also Matt Merluzzi,” Romano said. “And someone may come out of the background as the time draws nearer and there is also always the possibility of a nomination from the floor.”

“I’ll be putting my name forward when the vote is held,” said Merluzzi, who is on the Conservation Commission.

Dickens isn’t trying again. Given that the public can’t vote, it’s up to the same RTC members who chose Meek over him, 12-6, and he can’t see that anything has changed, he said.

“Bryan is Bryan and he looks at things differently than I,” Dickens said, adding that he was surprised District D went in that direction.

On April 19, Meek promised to “put a fork in the Mayor’s eye,” should he be appointed to replace Keegan.

“I’m not going to act like that. I’m not that kind of politician,” Dickens said, adding that when he was Keegan’s running mate in 2019, “our goal then was to reach across the aisle. And he’s done a good job of doing that. I have done it, I think, in what political encounters I’ve had. And I want us to come together and move the city forward as I want us to come together and move the nation forward.”

Conservation Commission member Matthew Merluzzi, April 19 in the Norwalk Inn.

In backing out of the original vote, Merluzzi wrote to RTC members on April 18 that he was afraid he was making a mistake but, “I have a greater fear that I will not carry the torch for Keegan in the way necessary to be the only republican representative in Norwalk.   The hours, and specifically the timing of the hours, are daunting for a single man such as myself.”

When he spoke to District D, Meek said he had learned from a mentor that a “high-level” approach would suffice in the role and it didn’t need to be a full-time unpaid job. Every issue comes through the Finance Committee and that’s the meeting you need to be at, he said, adding that maybe the Ordinance Committee would also be helpful.

Meek didn’t reply Wednesday to an email asking for a response to having a competitor in a second contest. On Thursday, he wrote:

“Should I have the same amount of support as was the case with my decisive straw vote victory a few months back, I am looking forward to serving as the voice of the minority party.  While one seat on a body politic of 15 may seem insignificant, there are plenary powers available to each individual under Masons rules that have largely atrophied over the years.  This isn’t to say that working collaboratively with colleagues on the opposite side isn’t commendable, but we can do a better job at raising opposition and getting our voices heard for the public record and the press when they are interested.

“When I was first told about the hasty need to replace Mr. Keegan, I was taken aback on short notice.  Seeing there were no viable options stepping forward, I decided to throw my hat in the ring.  I have too much of my life vested here to be satisfied with playing for the Washington Generals.

“The city is in a cycle of rapid transformation and while I’m not opposed to progress, there needs to be some balance in the discussion.  There doesn’t appear to be much of that going on anymore.

“Other than Matt, I’m not aware of anyone else’s intentions.  Had Matt been interested in the position in April, I may well have thrown him my support.  But since then, I’ve literally had 100s of people contact me to thank me for stepping up and I feel I can’t let them down now, so I am going forward.  I like Matt, but my combined 10 years on the BOE and NPA, familiarity with parliamentary procedures, and deep understanding of the budget process makes me immediately qualified to provide some value here over the next 16 months.

“Currently, this Common Council is not running by any set of rules from what I can tell.  They tabled the vote to adopt rules at the formation meeting last November and it looks like they forgot to vote on it the way I read the available minutes.  I could more firmly state a platform once I see what rules they are operating under, but I don’t think it will impact my number one objective of having oversight of the budget.  Traffic and overcrowding and safety are also big concerns of mine.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to serve.”

 

Norwalk Republican Town Committee member Bryan Meek, April 19 in the Norwalk Inn.

The vote may be closed to the public. Romano had said the April 19 vote was closed but allowed NancyOnNorwalk to enter at the last minute.

Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission public information officer Tom Hennick said political town committees “are not subject to the provisions of the FOI Act, so yes they can refuse public access to their meetings.”

Romano said Wednesday that a rules committee will decide whether the vote is closed or not. Given the date of Keegan’s expected departure, it will probably be held the week of June 27.

McQuaid’s news that April’s vote was invalid may have come as a surprise, but last week he said that he had informed two Republicans that District D couldn’t vote to replace Keegan until he officially resigns.

Town Clerk Rick McQuaid,a Republican, outside City Hall, at the swearing in ceremony for him and Mayor Harry Rilling.

“If they don’t respect the Town Clerk, I don’t respect them. Plain and simple,” he said. “… Bryan Meek was well aware.”

At the District D vote, Meek spoke for six minutes, explaining what he’d do if he were on the Council and criticizing the way the city is being run. Then, he said, “I’m going to make a motion that we table this vote for a couple of months. Because we don’t need to fill this position, we can find the best candidate, whether it’s me, Carl, or someone else; doesn’t have to be filled tonight. The fact is, most vacancies don’t get filled until after they’re vacant.”

Romano said that if the vote weren’t held that night, it would need to be done in May when Republicans would be busy choosing candidates for the State House.

Seats are only filled “after the fact” when someone dies, he said. It was “fortunate” that Republicans could pick someone who would then have time to shadow Keegan.

Oak Hills Park Authority Vice Chairman Carl Dickens addresses Norwalk Republican Town Committee District D members, April 19 in the Norwalk Inn.

Dickens said he should have the same opportunity to speak as Meek did, and Meek withdrew his motion.

Last week, McQuaid said his office is very busy, with “2400 dogs to do today, we’ve got probably five, six weddings a day” and an upcoming primary. He isn’t going to reach out to explain processes but will answer questions if asked.

“I’ve been to two Republican meetings in a row now that they’ve mentioned that I didn’t tell them. I’m not going to – why say anything?” he said.

As for replacing Keegan, he said, “I honestly believe there’s going to be others come along in District D.” He added that he has to be impartial, like “Switzerland.”

Many candidates come to McQuaid for advice, including Democrats and independents.

McQuaid likened the District D Council seat to Mount Rushmore. He called Doug Hempstead, who served nearly 30 years on the Council, an “icon” and said Kelly Straniti and Shannon O’Toole Giandurco had been “extremely good.”

“I mean, over the years, you go back in the history, there’s others too,” he said.

Former Norwalk Common Council member Doug Hempstead, during a March 28 Republican Town Committee meeting in the Norwalk Inn.

District D turns out good Council people from both parties, people who have the good of the city in mind, he said.

“You want to live up to that,” he said. “… We can all be that, little cubs of Doug Hempstead” but trying to be “the wolves in the world” is “not going to work up in District D. It’s just the respect of the ones that have been there.”

On Thursday, former Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton alleged in a comment on this story that Meek is facing “insider resistance, double dealing & collusion” due to his “attempt to bring accountability to the Rilling Administration” because “Harry’s local Republican Party in cahoots with the same folks in the local Democrat Party.”

Brinton is an unaffiliated voter who was endorsed by Republicans as their Mayoral candidate in 2019. Meek was her campaign treasurer.

Merluzzi, in another comment, said “Lisa Brinton is heavily opposed to me taking the seat and strongly in favor of Bryan Meek.” He explained, “I didn’t start dipping my toes into local politics because I wanted to make friends. I got involved because I think the city is being overcrowded at the peril of the local environment and the town character/feel. I’m a republican, so I’m involved as a republican, but if I end up with the seat I will work as best I can with fellow Democrats and Independents to move the needle forward in Norwalk.”

7 comments

Lisa Brinton June 9, 2022 at 5:39 am

And there you have it Norwalk. Any attempt to bring accountability to the Rilling Administration whether it’s a District E DTC election or District D Republican council replacement is met with insider resistance, double dealing & collusion. Just keep calling elections until you get the result you want. 🤣 Bryan is a CPA and can read budgets & balance sheets – but we can’t have any of that on the common council. So long as you are not a threat & will not challenge the mayor – you’re in. There is only one party in Norwalk – and it’s Harry’s. Won’t get those appointments to boards or commissions unless you kiss the ring – huh RTC? Absolutely no conviction. Why have the last ten years in Norwalk resulted in overdevelopment, tax credits for developers, unethical behavior from city employees and an accelerated decline in the school system? Look no further than Harry’s local Republican Party in cahoots with the same folks in the local Democrat Party. If the last two ‘closed’ party ‘elections’ haven’t convinced you of the need for a third party and real opposition – nothing ever will.

matthew merluzzi June 9, 2022 at 9:16 am

You left out that Lisa Brinton is heavily opposed to me taking the seat and strongly in favor of Bryan Meek, and I’d bet heavily that you spoke to her yesterday also.

Strangely, I agree with Lisa on many issues so I am disappointed she was so opposed to my interest in the seat when I chatted with her online yesterday; while she was in vacation in Italy.

At the end of the day I got to remind myself that I didn’t start dipping my toes into local politics because I wanted to make friends. I got involved because I think the city is being overcrowded at the peril of the local environment and the town character/feel. I’m a republican, so I’m involved as a republican, but if I end up with the seat I will work as best I can with fellow Democrats and Independents to move the needle forward in Norwalk.

Piberman June 9, 2022 at 11:37 am

Venice Florida is really nice. We all should be so fortunate. Walking on the beach in the winter. No more big heating or electric bills. Kudos

Nora King June 9, 2022 at 2:42 pm

Of course, Harry wouldn’t want Bryan. Bryan will call him out on all the things that he has no accountability for. Sorry but the Republicans need to pick a candidate that will start questioning what Harry is not doing. Transparency and accountability are good things. The handling of this and how the old school Republicans are dealing with this is why new blood is needed in the city. Doesn’t matter what party – same old same old games. The two-party system is broken.

Patrick Cooper June 10, 2022 at 4:47 pm

I’m on the outside, just looking in, but some observations:

Rick McQuaid is a straight shooter. He follows protocols to the letter of the law, and knows fairness is about holding everyone – regardless – to the same standards. He’s been invaluable to the local Independent Party, too.

I believe the initial vote was done with the intentions of getting out in front of this issue. Let’s face it – 1 CC, zero BOE, what else do they have? And District D – they like to play.

I believe Matt personally has nothing but the best intentions. It’s obvious how he feels, as noted in his comment. Daniel Miressi also has nothing but the best intentions. What these two share is a lack of experience, specifically related to Norwalk’s messy labyrinth of political spiderwebs. What is also clear – is Daniel was both terribly mislead and horribly advised by the GOP leadership. I feel the same is happening to Matt.

Motivations are often latent. This leads to speculation. But when there are patterns to actions, the ability to obscure the objective becomes increasingly difficult for the illusionists. Initial fuzzy pangs of paranoia about who is on what team and why become focused and sharpened: there is little doubt anymore about the real treachery inside the castle.

I don’t speak for Lisa Brinton; she’s quite capable of articulating exactly what she believes. But I do believe Matt is missing the point – this opposition is rooted in her deep understanding of the disease currently afflicting our city: crony & townie, not party politics. It’s not personal. Bryan Meek is by way of skill-set, proven competency (BOE – just compare), and overall knowledge & experience with the local cesspool, the better prescription for what ails us, NOW. Norwalk desperately needs a colonic.

The entire Norwalk RTC should be laser-focused on the district D process. You had better get it right. This representation isn’t just about republican’s – it’s about the 83% of the registered voters who didn’t vote for Harry (8,592 vs 53,000 registered voters). This is not a commitment to be made frivolously.

I support any representative who will demand greater transparency and accountability. I happen to believe – Bryan Meek can and will deliver on this requirement.

Ron June 11, 2022 at 5:53 pm

Bryan Meek would be great for the job as he was for the BOE. I hope what is right for Norwalk prevails, that is Bryan. Thank you for those who stepped forward but Bryan has the experience needed to start day one running.

Tysen Canevari June 12, 2022 at 7:59 am

Cmon RTC dont cave to the Harry Mob squad. Bryan Meek is just what you need to expose the wizard of oz behind the curtain called Harry!

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