Norwalk’s silly season is getting underway

Mayor Richard Moccia city-provided Ford Edge sits outside City Hall. Moccia chose the Edge to replace the city-provided hybrid shortly after his 2011 re-election. Now the question is who will be driving it after next November's election.
Mayor Richard Moccia’s city-provided Ford Edge sits outside City Hall. The question is who will be driving it after next November.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s silly season in Norwalk, otherwise known as election season.

Because of the short terms – mayor and Common Council members serve for two years – it is almost always election season here, and, by extension, silly season. And the deeper we go into the process, the more things are heating up.

It never ceases to amaze me that politicians and media don’t often learn from the past. Candidates pay lip service to change, the media navel-gazes and self-flagellates for not looking more critically at the candidates, and then they all go out and do it again.

This season began with a Kumbaya moment, with the idea that the four Democrats running for mayor would play nice, not publicly diss each other and present a united front to unseat the incumbent Republican. We already see fissures developing in this plan.

Some of the candidates seem to be running scared because of the New Kid on the Block. Vinny Mangiacopra is young, full of energy, has strong financial support from east of Norwalk and is an experienced campaigner. Mangiacopra also has no governing experience and carries his own baggage, but his upside – a 180-degree change from the aging incumbent – is not lost on the rest of the D’s. His has been the most aggressive campaign so far.

Common Councilman Matt Miklave has taken a low-key approach and has been quite deferential to his fellow campaigners. Miklave’s problem is different than Mangiacopra’s – he has plenty of experience, and his Common Council performance is being parsed and used against him. This is the same thing that happens to Congressmen who run for president. Pols make decisions and compromises that they have to make to do business, and that record is used against them. In the case of Norwalk’s sitting Dem councilmen and women, they cannot have much impact in the existing Republican-dominated political environment.

The other two Dems – Harry Rilling and Andy Garfunkel – have been strangely quiet so far, aside from a few focused political events. Garfunkel’s candidacy may be in trouble because of lack of funds and because of the developing scandal in the Town Clerk’s office that dates back to his days running that department.

That makes two scandal-tainted candidates, considering Mangiacopra’s association with Bridgeport pol Ernie Newton, the former state senator who who served four years for political corruption. Mangiacopra was heavily involved in trying to rehab Newton’s reputation when the convicted felon decided to run again for office. Newton is again facing charges as a result of that race.

There is no evidence of either Garfunkel or Mangiacopra being involved in any wrongdoing, but, in many minds, you are known by the company you keep – or supervise.

And then there is Rilling, the career cop who served many years as Norwalk chief of police. Rilling, a slightly younger contemporary of the incumbent Richard Moccia, is painted by some as a carbon copy of the mayor he served for so long. But Rilling has said he has never been a Republican, and eschewed political affiliation as a police chief so as not to politicize the post. He publicly played good soldier to his boss, and that has given his detractors plenty to work with. Add to that a certain institutional wariness of police in general – seemingly more pronounced on the left – and it would seem Rilling, through his relative media silence, is in danger of letting his opponents on both sides define him.

Then again, Rilling has been in the race the shortest time of any candidate R or D, and has raised the most money.

When it comes to all of the Democratic candidates, there has been lots of “we need a change,” “we need to do better” and “we need to enhance” various programs – “enhance” meaning “spend money” – but little in the way of “and this is how I propose to do it.” What we do hear, in addition to the obvious references to the current administration, is surrogates and sometimes the candidates themselves taking veiled shots at each other. Mangiacopra’s “fresh” approach is a swipe at his long-entrenched rivals. Rilling, Garfunkel and Miklave surrogates harp on Mangiacopra’s youth and lack of relevant experience, not to mention his Bridgeport past.

As for Moccia, the message he delivered at his kickoff announcement and on his website let his followers know pretty much where he stands – the same place he has stood for the past seven years. We don’t know much more because the mayor does not communicate with media folks – or anyone, really — who asks tough questions. While we always request his input, requests go unanswered.

What we do know is that the statement on his campaign site refers a few times to “taking back our government,” a phrase most commonly associated with the Tea Party (strange, because the mayor does not seem to be aligned with that movement). It speaks of responsive leadership and, in the past, getting our taxes under control, increasing police resources and improving the schools. Responsiveness to the public, problems in the schools, public safety and rising taxes are all areas Moccia can expect to have to defend this summer and fall.

Now, with the game underway, let’s all sit back and watch to see if the Dems can keep from self-destructing while Moccia tries to convince the electorate that everything is just fine as long as he is left in charge.

(Mark Chapman is a Norwalk resident, a longtime journalist and editor of NancyOnNorwalk.)



17 responses to “Norwalk’s silly season is getting underway”

  1. Joe Espo

    “We don’t know much more because the mayor does not communicate with media folks…”
    Mark: do you really, REALLY wonder why the Mayor won’t talk to Nancy?

    1. Mark Chapman

      Joe Espo:
      No I don’t wonder. Unlike those on the outside who make assumptions, I have had a front-row seat to the situation. I know exactly when and what led to the mayor’s decision to cut off contact. The fact is that, unlike some media outlets, we will not be intimidated into not asking questions about tough subjects, and we will not be intimidated into not writing about certain topics. And that does not play well with some people. I doubt it will play well with the next administration, either. It’s a sad fact I have found over the decades, but news-makers are only happy with you until you write something they don’t like. That’s why we don’t worry much about who likes us and who doesn’t. Our responsibility is to the readers. And the readers can take the information we provide and make their own decisions. Some choose to shoot the messenger and that is their right.

  2. LWitherspoon

    Here’s a question I’d like to see asked – what portion of the substantial sum raised by Mangiacopra’s campaign will be paid to the video production company that Mr. Mangiacopra owns? Are there any rules in place regarding paying campaign funds to a firm owned by the candidate?

  3. SB

    Vinny may have campaign experience with other candidates (mostly losers.) His Common Council candidacy lasted less than a month. The only candidate who apparently has leadershp experience and name recognition to attract voters is Rilling.

  4. NorwalkLifer

    Vinny has worked in the public sector and has governing experience — he served as economic and community development director for monroe, he’s been a clerk in the largest probate court in connecticut, and he has worked in multiple mayor’s administrations. Not to mention he has a master’s degree in public administration. Read his website… He has experience.

    And by the way, how come no one mentions that Rilling already donated $1,000 to his own campaign? Is he going to fund his campaign with his tax payer supplied pension?

  5. McFadden Biancatesta

    Now I’m just one voter. I don’t think my friends will change their votes because of my opinions. But I would like to feel that all the candidates think that winning my vote is important. Let’s see who asks me for my vote.

  6. ScopeonNorwalk

    Lwitherspoon…expenses are open to the public. You can go get the report from McQuaid’s office and see that $0 dollars have gone to his video production company. I would like to see who Miklave and Rilling will be paying.

  7. ScopeonNorwalk

    I need to go to the Town’s Clerk office to look up Rilling’s expenses. He was the only Democratic candidate not to report his cash “on-hand” amount.

    1. I have that info. I’ll try to post it this evening.

  8. Carlos C

    Carpet Bagger Vinnie’s so called accomplishments are on paper only. The Monroe Economic Development job was short lived, he was fired and his boss disowned him. Don’t believe me? http://monroe.patch.com/articles/does-the-town-need-an-economic-development-coordinator

    A clerk in a Probate Court? That is a marginally higher than minimum wage position with no requirements and no “governing” experience, for sure.

    Multiple mayor’s administrations? Mayors of Bridgeport and New Haven maybe, but he can barely find Norwalk City Hall, he gets lost once he is off his own street. The only reason he has attracted any attention is that he married into a prominent Norwalk family and he has money from outside Norwalk. Any Dem who votes for him is voting for Bridgeport and New Haven type corruption. He reeks of it.

    Harry’s expertise and life and retirements have been built in Norwalk.

  9. Tom

    Hey Lifer: Rilling – who Nancy proved only gets ONE pension – earned it. Are you saying people should NOT have pensions? Also, what is wrong with investing in your own campaign if you believe you are the right person? Did you see Miklave’s quarterly report. BOTH he AND his wife donated $1,000.00.
    Now read Carlos C’s comment and click on the link – quite interesting that Monroe officials acknoowledge that with young Vinny “they had the wrong guy”. Wonder if Norwalk is ready to make the same mistake??? Maybe Ernie Newton will be his assistant.

  10. Tim T

    Thanks for the laugh
    “Rilling – who Nancy proved only gets ONE pension – earned ”
    You make it sound like Harry did a good job as chief. I and many in Norwalk see it different. What we see is shooting after shooting all unsolved. Killing after killing all unsolved. The few that were solved were solved by outside agencies and not the NPD. The current failure of the Norwalk police department is a reflection of Rilling’s time as chief.
    Also in regards to Harry proving that he only had one pension. “My pension amount was frozen at my 2001 salary level and did not increase due to the fact I stayed on as a consultant”
    Is that saying for all the time harry was chief we actually did not have a sworn chief of police?
    Definition of CONSULTANT
    1 one who consults another
    2 one who gives professional advice or services : EXPERT
    Also Tom I am not a fan of Vinny but you constantly bring up Ernie Newton would be like me bring up LT Cummings, Officer Santo, Officer Ouellette and so on in regards to Rilling. See how foolish that is?

  11. LWitherspoon

    Thank you for answering my question. I saw the list of expenses in Nancy’s report, and as you said there’s no mention of payment for Mangiacopra’s web site or videos.
    Are the web site and videos going to be reported as an in-kind contribution?

  12. BARIN

    Mark you hit the nail on the head, in both article and reply.
    Ginormous thanks to you, Nancy and Eric for keeping us informed with no holds barred journalism.

  13. ScopeonNorwalk

    I think it’s only fair that from now on if you are going to mention scandals that neither Mangiacopra or Garfunkel have anything to do with besides place of employment, you must also mention the scandals that occurred at the Norwalk Police Department while Rilling was employed there.

    1) The Cummings scandal:

    2) The Domestic Abuse cover-up

    3) The Pastor “Kidnapped” by police and then payed $20,000 not to sue.

  14. Tim T

    Actually the ones you list are only the tip of the iceberg. The NPD had so many issues over the past 4 to 5 years its actually frightening as they seem more like the criminals than the police department at times.

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