Opinion: Election may indicate a ‘sea change’ in Norwalk

Mark Chapman
Mark Chapman

Correction: Due to inaccurate information from another online source, we erroneous aged Councilman-elect Tom Livingston (D-District E) by 11 years. We have removed his name from the list of the Council over-60 “graybeards” and sincerely apologize.  (And full disclosure, the editor, 62, would qualify for that list)

Mark Chapman is NancyOnNorwalk’s editor.

Was it Mayor Harry Rilling’s coattails? Was it all about civility? Was it that the national Republican Party has tainted the brand for independents and the more moderate local voters? Part of an “out-with-the-older” movement?

Maybe it was “E” – all of the above.

Norwalk voters turned out in something less than droves – maybe dribbles – Tuesday to let the sitting city officials know their thoughts.

Remember when former New York City Mayor Ed Koch used to ask “How am I doing?” Norwalk voters answered that question for Rilling Tuesday, giving the Democrat a landslide victory – better than 62 percent of the vote – over the well-liked former Common Councilwoman Kelly Straniti. Rilling commented a number of times throughout the campaign about how Straniti ran a clean, professional, civil bid for his job.

Civility, or lack thereof, was on the minds of District E voters who showed outspoken two-term Councilman David McCarthy the door and ushered in the soft-spoken Tom Livingston in his place. McCarthy and running mate John Bazzano aggressively attacked Livingston and two-term Dem incumbent John Igneri. McCarthy , in particular, became aggressive over placement and alleged theft of campaign lawn signs, and accused his rivals of “elder abuse,” which drew a public rebuke from the elder who said he was not abused.

In District A, which has seen more than its share of controversy over the past four years, voters stuck with the Democrats after stating their case in the primary. Although Republican Rich Bonenfant once served on the Council in A, the district has become solidly Democratic and, from the look of the Council ballots, stuck with the party line. Incumbent Eloisa Melendez, a paragon of civility herself, was the top vote-getter, and the outspoken Steve Serasis, a former Councilman, was right behind despite slipping off the media radar when he was unavailable for debates and forums in the weeks leading into the election due to business commitments.

In normally reliably Republican District D, incumbent Republican Shannon O’Toole Giandurco had a close run to stay onboard, but Mike DePalma, a political newcomer and former star high school baseball player, captured the most votes and the open seat for the Democrats. DePalma, whose father was a two-term Councilman who once ran for mayor, outpolled Giandurco by almost 200 votes.

District C went with what it knew: the affably bi-partisan duo of Republican Michelle Maggio and Democrat John Kydes, both brought back for a second term, with Kydes topping the field with 1,887 votes to Maggio’s 1,616. Maggio’s total was well ahead of her nearest challenger, Democrat John Metsopoulos, who garnered 1,195 votes.

District B? Fahgeddaboutit! And that’s exactly what the Republican Town Committee did, choosing not to challenge incumbents Faye Bowman and Travis Simms, who survived a primary challenge from Manny Langella.

The GOP also chose not to run anyone for Board of Education B, where Erik Anderson beat incumbent Dem Migdalia Rivas in a primary. Anderson, who is openly gay, was seen by the Republicans as a solid BoE candidate who need not be challenged in the heavily Democratic district. But party leaders did say that, had Rivas won the primary, Anderson would have been strongly considered to run on the Republican line if he were interested.

Republicans did not challenge Mike Barbis in the District E BoE contest, and inherited their District A candidate when the Democratic District A committee nominating process caused previously unaffiliated voter Joe Perella out of the field in onto the GOP ballot. That left fellow newcomer Dr. Yvel Crevecoeur to challenge for the Dem spot in the primary. He won, then won again Tuesday.

In District C, the buzz had incumbent BoE Chairman Mike Lyons a shoo-in against newcomer Lisa Nuzzo, a Democrat. After all, Lyons, elected chairman despite a 6-3 Dem majority the past two years, had been lauded by everyone from persistent online gadflies and newspaper letter writers to parents to Rilling, for his leadership.

But Nuzzo, an outgoing, energetic and friendly parent with strong PTO and youth sports leadership credentials, came so close that Lyons had to wait for absentee ballot results to be released before declaring victory. In the closest BoE race on the ballot, Lyons outpolled Nuzzo 1,483 to 1,417.

Was it Rilling’s coattails? The national “R” backlash (Lyons has not been shy about stating his stance on national issues)? Concerns from a largely silent constituency about how Lyons dealt with the Shirley Mosby racism claims?

In the District D BoE race, Republicans carried the day. Bryan Meek, who stepped up to fill out fellow Republican Jack Chiaramonte’s term when the latter resigned some eight months ago, handily beat Dem Haroldo Williams, making his second bid, 1,741 to 1,389. Williams, who is black and Hispanic, having been born and raised in Panama, ran as a big proponent of closing the achievement gap. He also ran on civility, restoring a calm and professional tone to the board.

Meek brought his strong background as a certified public account and conservative to libertarian viewpoint to the race, traits that played well in the district.

A closer look at the winners reveals another part of what has been described by some as a “sea change” in Norwalk’s governance – at least on the Council.

There are some new faces taking the place of some seemingly entrenched leaders. Nick Sacchinelli (D-At-Large-elect) is “pushing 32,” Mike DePalma (D-District D-elect) is 35, and Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman, 31, (D-District B), Eloisa Melendez, 21 (D-District A), and Shannon O’Toole Giandurco, 31 (R-District D) – who were re-elected – are part of what seems to be a youth movement.

New Board of Education member Erik Anderson (D-District B-elect) also is in his early 30s.

Norwalk government still has its share of graybeards – the mayor, after all, is 68, John Igneri (D-District E) is 71, Bruce Kimmel (D-At-Large) is 67, Doug Hempstead (R-At-Large) is 65, and Rich Bonenfant (R–At-Large) is 64 – but the new breed is gaining.

(Ages according to online sources)


17 responses to “Opinion: Election may indicate a ‘sea change’ in Norwalk”

  1. Tom Livingston

    For what it’s worth, I’m only 58!

  2. Erik Anderson

    For the sake of transparency I am 31, which is the early thirties. Seems to be a popular age in elected officials in Norwalk. Lol.

  3. Sarah Mann

    “Was it all about civility”? Not here in District C. This morning as I made a left out of Pequot Drive I noticed a newly placed, defaced Straniti lawn sign on the corner of Sasqua and 136. Why? To what end did someone feel the need to commit such an act? Is this behavior indicative of what’s to come or just a random nut job flexing his/her muscles? If it weren’t so sad it would be silly.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Sarah

      My guess, and hope, is it was a random act of idiocy, the likes of which we see every day. I cannot imagine, especially given Kelly’s personality, demeanor, and professionalism, that it would be. Political, any more than the earlier egging In the same district.

      (Apologies for addressing this to the wrong poster. I was reading several and got Wineshine stuck in my mind!)

  4. Mike Mushak

    Sarah Mann, I agree with you that it was an uncivil act for someone to deface one of Kelly Straniti’s sign on your corner. Just tragic, really. But for you to suggest as you did that the entire campaign in your district was uncivil by that one random act is a real stretch, don’t you think?

    I will also assume that you agree it was an uncivil act for your friend and fellow RTC member David McCarthy to harrass an elderly gentleman over his decision to dare to place a lawn sign for McCarthy’s opponent on his property, prompting McCarthy to bang on the guy’s door and bother him, and then not even listen to the answer that he was given but to then go public with a bunch of false assumptions and accusations. This included sending out an email blast to the press that his opponents were guilty of “elder abuse” when it was he himself who was doing the abusing, by dragging this poor man into McCarthy’s completely fabricated drama to try to win votes from seniors, an act which clearly backfired when the truth came out.

    Surely you find that kind of behavior from a two-term councilman equally as “uncivil” as someone defacing a single Straniti sign that you find so appalling? Just wondering.

    Editor’s note: Mr. McCarthy’s email blast was not to the media. It was to several individuals and only one media outlet: The Hour. The email was passed on to us by a concerned recipient.

  5. John Bazzano

    @ Mark chapman- i have two issues with this article Mark: 1) the use of the word attack is inappropriate. Stating facts about how Mr . Igneri handled (or didn’t handle) positions is hardly an attack. And never once was a comment made about Mr. Livingston. I expect good things from him…. And a retraction from you.

    @ Mushak. It’s hysterical how anyone from the DTC throws accusations of “uncivil -acts”. This from the party that gave us a fight in the city hall parking lot, unsubstantiated racial claims from Mosby against a true gentlemen and leader in Mike Lyons, and name calling from Barbis.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @John Bazzano

      “Attack” is a word often used when one politician makes claims against another. Those claims are, frequently based on “facts” as seen and interpreted differently by the attacker and the attackee. Tone and phraseology has a lot to do with it as well. I stand by the word. Furthermore, the email sent to The Hour and the party chairmen was addressed to John Igneri, Tom Livingstorn and Mike Barbis. The email accused all of sign theft and alleged elder abuse. Not attacks? Not directed in part at Mr. Livingston? Just stating facts? Seriously? We, too, expected better of you after our interview.

  6. John Bazzano

    Where was my name on that email?

    Editor’s note: Mr. Bazzano’s name was not on or referenced in the email, nor did the opinion piece say Mr. Bazzano was involved in the email.

  7. @ Mike Mushak
    Mr. D’Alessio said nothing about Mr. McCarthy “banging on his door.” He said he had been walking by Mr. McCarthy’s house, and Mr. McCarthy asked him about the signs on his property. He then thought about it and went back on another day; Mr. McCarthy was not home so the conversation took place with Mr. McCarthy’s wife, Pamela Works.

  8. Mike Mushak

    @Nancy: Thanks for the correction. I obviously confused two stories, the other one I heard being about McCarthy knocking on doors asking people why they have his opponents’ signs on their lawns.

    @John Bozzano: I never said Democrats never acted uncivil. Read my comment again. What I said was how surprising it was for RTC member Sarah Mann to take the random defacing of one Straniti sign near her home and deduce that the campaign in her district was uncivil, while ignoring the major uncivil act performed by McCarthy, a member of her own party and fellow RTC member, that involved fabrication and personal attacks against his opponents.

    Which, by the way, was a long pattern going back years for McCarthy, which you may not have known about living in West Norwalk but certainly most of Rowayton was well aware of, which included secretly videotaping a past opponent, scheming against folks who were once his friends, and lying repeatedly about his own actions and the actions of others.

    Surely the traditional “congratulatory” text from McCarthy to the winner Igneri telling him he didn’t deserve it (which even got much uglier later on) should be revealing enough to you or anyone else about his uncivil character. Being a nasty sore loser is pretty revealing, no?

  9. Keep it Real 100%

    @ Mike Mushak,
    “Which even got uglier later on.” Come on Mike you can not leave that out there like that! Details?
    Do I need more popcorn?

  10. A_Miller

    Sea change?
    The same clique is still in charge of the Board of Education. They lost 2 of 3 chronic dissenters. Hardly the dawn of a new era.
    The Common Council might have a couple of new faces, but all the members are part of Norwalk’s party machineries. They wouldn’t have gotten on the ballot without someone thinking that they’d be loyal. Once again, hard to think that that’s a “sea change”.
    Some of the campaigns didn’t bother getting any new tricks for their efforts. These people stuck with what works in Norwalk- go negative, get personal, deny that you’re doing it and then take offense when someone does it to you. Once again, hardly a sign of a new “civility” in campaigns.

  11. Lori

    For the record, Steve Serasis contacted Nancy and Mark Chapman and requested a spot. He notified the LWV months in advance that he would be away Oct 18th. He was told by Nancy on Norwalk that there was not a time for him. He was available on many different dates. In the last week it was obvious he was shut out of debates on all sides. No worries, integrity and a heart for Norwalk is what won.
    Steve has been out with the people of Norwalk three nights a week gratis providing free concerts and everyone from the homeless, elderly, disabled, mainstream and all cultures came and were welcomed. Local musicians were the main groups. He spent hours for entire summers for years doing this and also was not gone for three weeks before the election. Oct 18th, do the math. He did not come back and go right to the Democratic headquarters party either. He was in front of Tracey School at 6:30 am election day and stayed until after the poles closed helping pick up all of the signs from the lawn with Dan Obuchowski.

    1. Mark Chapman


      Let’s set the record straight here. We are a two-person operation. We were never told dates that Steve Serasis was going to be available and when he was not. Mr. Serasis did not request “a spot.” In fact, we never said we would do a Council debate. It was suggested that we could to a District A debate with all 4 council candidates, and we considered it. Mr. Serasis was leaving the country. We were told by another candidate that the candidate’s schedule was locked, with no availability. We would not do a debate without all 4 candidates. Then there was the issue of location. When we did the two BoE candidates, we did it in volunteer videographer Harold Cobin’s living room. Hardly ideal, but the best we could do for a location. FYI, the interview dates and location came together less than 48 hours before the event. There was no way we could have coordinated, on short notice, a BoE debate AND a 4-person Council debate with a bigger space and spectators (we had a handful of guests, including both major party chairmen, from both sides at the BoE event). The LWV may have had Mr. Serasis’ exact dates of availability. That was never made clear to us. What was clear is that Dr. Yvel Crevecoeur gave the LWV his two days a week when he was unavailable, dates that affected his job and a classroom full of students. He did reschedule once — for the primary — only to see that debate canceled. He could not disrupt the class again, and the LWV picked one of the two nights a week he could not attend, while scheduling the Council debates on nights he would have been free. Given the reasonable expectation that it would be a close contest in a high-profile race for a 4-year term, we felt the voters should see the candidates side by side.

      If Mr. Serasis was “shut out” of a debate by us, so were the 10 at-large candidates, the other 15 in-district candidates, and four other in-district (C and D) BoE candidates.

      Lori and Mr. Serasis should acknowledge that NoN did a very in-depth interview prior to the primary and printed a story that was around 2,000 words, not two or three sentences as part of a roundup that he and other candidates got elsewhere.

      And for the record, Steve was the first person I saw when I walked into the Dem event after the election, about 30 minutes or so after the polls closed. He told me he had come straight from the airport. Perhaps I misunderstood… And perhaps Nancy, told separately a short while later, also misunderstood the same statement made to her.

  12. Steve Serasis

    Just to set the record straight, I made Nancy on Norwalk aware of my departure 10/18 and return date 11/1 from China at the round-up interview that was far ahead of the election. As well, the e-mail exchange in regard to a forum or debate between NoN and myself prior to my leaving, was answered immediately. I responded eager to have said forum, and/or debate only to be told there was no time. There is much more I can add to lend to my credibility, but I will for the record only recall what I said at the election night celebration. I saw you you first, said hello, and proceeded to tell you, as I told Nancy that I rented a car at Newark Airport upon my return to the US at 5am. I drove to Norwalk, unloaded, took a shower, and was in front of Tracey School all day, until the polls closed. I then helped picking up signage, and came to the celebration at 8:25pm. So basically, I didn’t just come to a celebration directly from the airport as NoN reported. Nor was I gone for three weeks, and had slipped off the radar. I was gone for 13 days, and some how Robert Koch of the hour managed to have a a phone interview with me from Tianjin, China. So basically I was always available, rock tour schedule allowing, to anyone making the effort to contact me.

  13. Steve, you may have mentioned the dates you were out of the country but it certainly wasn’t the first thing on my mind. I subsequently asked Lori when you were gone because I was still thinking it would be nice to arrange a debate, but it was one of those things you would like to do, not that you are committing to do.

    There was no email exchange between us in regard to a forum or debate.

    There was a text message in which I attempted to convey that I felt bad that no such debate would happen. You responded that my text was vague. Mark agreed, and I tried to set the record straight.

    I never asked you for dates. You did not say anything on election night about being out campaigning. You said something about coming straight there from the airport.

    I do not care that Robert Koch of the Hour had a phone conversation with you. We did our interview with you prior to the primary. Not one of the primary candidates got second interviews – the stories were about candidacies for office and sufficed to provide voters with the background information they needed. Just before the election we printed a voter’s guide directing people to the profiles.

    Your availability for a phone interview is incongruous in the context of your complaint about NoN not being able to set up a debate – what does that have to do with anything?
    If you have “much more to offer” to lend to your credibility, please do. We have nothing to hide.


    How funny you mention an altered sign, Sarah. I drive Winfield street all the time and saw Rilling Signage ripped from the yards everyday. Literally. You must have seen them as you pulled out of your luxurious street of Pequot.

    But you failed to mention those signs tossed onto Winfield.

    But one lousy sign defaced, you cry as if it were shocking and a surprise?

    How about the Straniti signs placed everywhere without anyone’s permission?

    Now, why anyone would put a Straniti sign out, defaced, following the election is beyond me.

    How was it defaced?

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