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Opinion: For some, $250’s too much, and thousands are not enough

NORWALK, Conn. – With the race for mayor sprinting toward the Nov. 5 finish line, it is not surprising to see attacks popping up over certain hot-button issues. The proposed Al Madany Mosque is one of those issues.

Democratic candidate Harry Rilling, who was appointed to the Zoning Commission by Republican incumbent Mayor Richard Moccia, has had to keep a tight lip regarding his feelings about the project. He was not on the commission when the project came before the board, so he had no vote. Now, with a federal lawsuit filed by the mosque against the city, he is not talking about the project, he says.

What is known is he voted, along with all but one commission member, for the following resolution:

“Subject to an agreement on the terms and conditions of the final settlement agreement, we consent to a resolution to allow for zoning approval for the mosque and accessory use building.”

That vote has been used by his opponents despite the fact that Zoning Commission Chairwoman Emily Wilson, who authored the resolution, and fellow Republican Jill Jacobson voted the same way. The vote was 6-1 in favor, with only Joe Santo voting against.

Also cited as evidence that Rilling supports the mosque being built on Fillow Street in West Norwalk – a $250 campaign donation from Farhan Memon, a Norwalk resident and spokesman for the mosque.

Individuals are allowed to give up to $1,000.

Commenters on this site and elsewhere have excoriated Rilling for taking the money and have assured readers that, should Harry Rilling be elected mayor, it means the mosque will be built.

Maybe Rilling should give the money back. As he has said about the perception that Norwalk is an unsafe city, perception becomes reality even when not borne out by facts. If people feel they are unsafe, there is a problem. So, too, if people think a $250 campaign donation buys a mosque, then maybe he should not take the money.

Now let’s flip that coin.

Moccia has, according to his campaign’s report:

  • Accepted $1,000 from Jessica Fogg of Spinnaker Real Estate, which has business in front of the city, including 95/7.
  • Accepted $1,000 from Carole and Stanley Seligson of Westport, with business before the city, including Waypointe.
  • Accepted $1,000 from Robert Maggard of New Canaan, president, New York Bituminous, a paving company doing business with the city (two contracts worth $260,000-plus for sealing cracks in city pavement, approved in June).

In Moccia’s 2011 campaign finance report, these stood out:

  • Accepted $1,000 from Carole Seligson of Westport (Waypointe)
  • Accepted $1,000 from Michael Ferro Jr. of Stamford, owner of City Carting
  • Accepted $1,000 from Anthony Terenzio of New Canaan, sales executive at City Carting
  • Accepted $1,000 from Robert Oxer of Darien, president of City Carting

That’s $3,000 from City Carting executives. Eight months later, City Carting was awarded a controversial 10-year contract for trash hauling and extended through 2023 contracts for recycling and the transfer station. The Common Council OK’d the contract 9-6, with all council Republicans plus Michael Geake and Bruce Kimmel, current Democrats who are running in November on the Republican ticket, voting in favor.

The merits of the contract can be debated. By some accounts, the city will save $17 million over the life of the deal. By other accounts, the savings are all on paper and the contract could be a wash or a loser. Time will tell.

But what is indisputable is the appearance of impropriety. City Carting executives hand over $3,000 and, months later, get what has been called an unprecedented (for Norwalk) 10-year contract.]

Some people have dismissed the Moccia donations as normal, something to be expected. The same people slam Rilling for accepting $250 from a city resident who is the spokesman for the mosque. This smacks of hypocrisy.

Now, let’s go there.

During the 2011 campaign, Moccia was asked during a debate about how closely outside vendors bidding for major contracts with the city were vetted for ties to organized crime. Moccia refused to answer and attacked the question, claiming it was aimed at raising questions about him and organized crime because of his Italian heritage.

In a story that ran July 3, 2004, in the Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y., it was reported that City Carting and Recycling of Stamford, which owned City Carting of Westchester, had originally been denied an $85 million contract with the county because of concerns over past ties to organized crime.

Read the story here: City Carting story Westchester Journal News

According to the report, City Carting owner Ferro was among six garbage haulers and 19 individuals charged by the Connecticut attorney general in 1988 with illegally dividing territories. Ferro said the charge against him was dropped, although Bruce Berger, executive director of Westchester’s Solid Waste Commission, said Ferro paid a $50,000 settlement to the state, according to the Journal News.

Joseph Fiorillo Jr. and Carl LaCavalla were to run the Westchester operation, the report said. Both had been vice presidents of Suburban Carting of Mamaroneck or a subsidiary company, the report said, when company president Thomas Milo admitted to participating in an illegal system that gave extensive control of northern New York City suburb trash hauling to the Genovese and Gambino crime families.

Milo got a three-year prison term and paid $3.2 million in fines and restitution in connection with his tax fraud conviction; Suburban paid a $5 million fine, $800,000 in restitution and was put under court control.

Fiorillo and LaCavallla were not charged, but their association was questioned by Westchester authorities. Greenburgh legislator Thomas Abinati called Fiorillo “part of organized crime’s corruption of the waste industry,” according to the newspaper report.

Ferro removed the two from City Carting of Westchester, but said Fiorillo would continue as a consultant for the parent company in Stamford. Removing the two men from the Westchester operation was enough to convince the county to pass the $85 million contract.

Fiorillo continues his association today in Norwalk and is a principal in Meadow St. Partners, which owns the real estate used by City Carting in Norwalk.

Comments

29 responses to “Opinion: For some, $250’s too much, and thousands are not enough”

  1. The mosque will be built if Rilling is elected…count on that.

  2. D(ysfunctional)TC

    Sure, let’s gloss over the fact that all these other projects make perfect sense and the taxpayers of the city welcome these developments.
    .
    Only a lunatic would think that a 100 car parking garage and 27,000 foot building would be good for the tiny lot where they want the mosque. See the difference?
    .
    To the mosque, go out and buy a multiple acre lot like St. Matthews or the temple. This lot is too tiny, the corner is too dangerous, and no one wants it there. Except maybe Mr. Rilling? Who knows?

  3. rburnett

    Typical mud-slinging by Tricky Dickie who lives in a glass house!! Thank you NoN for bringing this issue out in the open. Three thousand dollar donation shortly before receiving a ten year contract…smells like garbage to me!!

  4. Jerry Mitchell

    Lets not lose sight of the fact Moccia was “Taken Care” of by some shady mobsters! These guys had Moccia in their pockets and magically awarded the trash hauling contract! Please read the article again. Thousands of dollars from out of Towners with mob connects or a mere $250 from another guy with connections to a Mosque. Rilling will be fair and knows what is good for the city. Moccia is the one that should rethink his shady tactics.

    Jerry

  5. M Allen

    Wait, am I getting this right? Anonymous posters on a small website ridiculously bring up a $250 campaign contribution from the spokesman of the mospue group. These same anonymous posters on a small website rightfully inquire about a mayoral candidate’s view on supporting the legal fight against allegations of religious discrimination. In return, as part of a “news” story, said small website rightfully points out campaign contributions to the incumbent made by developers totaling $3,000 in the current cycle. But then the story says the incumbent’s 2011 campaign accepted $3,000 from executives at City Carting, 8 months before City Carting was awarded a contract, implying there is the potential that some sort of quid pro quo existed. For $3,000. OK, all’s fair in pointing to campaign contributions. But then the same news story goes on to tie the incumbent to City Carting and it’s potential ties to organized crime. Have we gone completely off the edge here? Anonymous posters carry such weight that they drive the author to a hatchet piece that ends with Moccia, City Carting and crime? Protect your children? And that Mark is why some people have this inkling that the site might be a little biased. A handful of anonymous “commenters” bring up a silly $250 contribution and ask where a candidate’s voice is on a meanigful issue facing the city, and the response is to come down heavy by linking Moccia in a story about organized crime. Come on man, you’re better than that. Unless of course you actually think there is a tie. Then I’ll give it a pass that you’re making a fair attempt at investigative reporting to show Don Moccia is helping to fund his paisans. Otherwise, it’s using a sledgehammer to beat down morons over $250 comments.
    .
    I suppose if anyone, on either side, believes that a Mayor, this one or any other, can be bought for $250 or $3,000 to his campaign, they need serious help. I’ve heard intelligent people on this site make the claim that the $20,000 donated by Lowes to the City, not a campaign but the City itself, bought them zoning changes and a development approval. $20,000? We are talking peanuts here people. Perhaps you think that our elected officials are so cheap they can be bought for such amounts. I’m not sure what I have more of an issue with: that they can be bought at all, or that they can apparently be bought for so little. We’re Fairfield County, damn it! We need to step up our game for bigger bribes.

  6. Suzanne

    It’s an entertainment: here is an article that mentions a $250 donation to Mr. Rilling from the Mosque spokesperson and the fact that Mr. Rilling voted for the establishment of the Mosque in West Norwalk. That issue is in court being worked out on the basis of some type of discrimination based on religious grounds (I think.)

    Next, we have the mention of a total of $3,000 dollars (see that? A MUCH bigger number) to Mayor Moccia for associates and administrators of City Carting. A long, detailed and factual description follows with a clear track record of fines paid, indictments and settlements in Westchester County by the principals of City Carting.

    Cut to Norwalk: same players, different years. An unprecedented 10 YEAR contract for city services granted to the same people or associates for the Westchester County illegal operations, the same people who donated $3,000 to the Moccia campaign.

    Waypointe, granted extension after extension, money to Moccia. Spinnaker, money to Moccia. New York Bituminous, money to Moccia. While a quid pro quo cannot be proven, one has to ask why a mere few thousand attains some of the most favorable contracts to these people.

    In the meantime, everyone pays: that gorgeous bombed out field stays that way, Spinnaker does nothing, we have City Carting 10 years, good or bad with as yet to be seen $17 million dollars in savings over as many years, substandard repairs to our roadways that have led to big and unanswered questions from the Department of Public Works over the quality of our roads and sidewalks (New York Bituminous.)

    And the people commenting here are focused on one thing and one thing only: $250 to Harry Rilling for a mosque. I don’t know. I think a few thousand more might buy that mosque, a la Moccia, but somehow I don’t think Mr. Rilling can be bought in the same way. I see no track record of such behavior and if there is any, the same treatment of his character and actions should be exposed.

    Right now, Moccia doesn’t look good. And this is the Mayor of Norwalk. Add it up according to this article: donations of $1,000 buys you an informal nonperformance clause or, at least, a contract with dubious conditions attached. This can be denied from now until the cows come home but the facts are there to be mulled over and, in this case, create a high suspicion of how Moccia does business.

  7. Jerry Mitchell

    The article shows Moccia engages in back room deals! These “Carting” guys donate to Moccia’s campaign, they don’t reside in Norwalk and in fact have ties to crime families … Not to mention $3,000 is a lot when the limit is $1,000 each.

    ((this comment has been edited)

  8. M Allen

    I know, I know. I’m alone in thinking our officials aren’t being bought. And I apologize for even having questioned it. It’s truly sad where we as a society are headed. If we have so little faith in our elected officials, there is really little hope. Making trolling comments is one thing but if we really think that influence can be bought for so little, it’s just a sad day.

  9. BFD about nothing

    I don’t care if it is a dollar or 10,000 or what people want to fantasize about in terms of corruption. What is Mr. Rilling’s position on the mosque without going on about some nonsense that he can’t fairly comment about a legal proceeding. Did a judge give that order or is he just trying to duck the question? Voters deserve to know before the election. And I would guess most voters would agree $250 doesn’t buy the influence necessarily, but there is no excuse for hiding your position.

  10. BFD about nothing

    Oops. Please excuse my oversight on last post, re; policy.

  11. Suzanne

    BFD, in this case, I do not believe Mr. Rilling is being political. I think he is being legal. Remember the flier that was posted just last week by Council candidates that gave inaccurate information about the Mosque issue? There was extreme concern on all sides that this could bias the appeal. I think it needs more research before Rilling is thrown under the bus: if he can give an opinion, of course he should. But if he is limited by legal proceedings that could potentially undermine the existence of that Mosque on Fillow or not, I would appreciate him keeping his mouth shut. I, for one, do not want a legal proceeding undermined for a political gain (or loss depending upon how you look at it) that would allow that Mosque to be built. It would not only be foolish, it would be adversely affecting the entire Norwalk neighborhood. So, I guess we are all at that point: can he or can’t he say anything about the Mosque without jeopardizing the legal proceedings? Mark or Nancy?

    1. Mark Chapman

      Suzanne,

      Any time there is a legal proceeding, the responsible thing for people involved in the proceeding to do is refuse comment. That is frustrating to those of us whose job it is to get people to talk. However, whether it is on legal advice; whether it is years of experience and eduction in legal matters; or whether it is something else, Mr. Rilling has refused public comment on where he stands on the mosque being allowed on the Fillow site. He has expressed concern for Norwalk’s taxpayers getting stuck with millions of dollars in legal fees and potentially losing the suit as well. In this businesses, sometimes we know things we can’t say for one reason or another, so we can relate…

  12. Father Guido

    Hatchet job? Lol. No, its called journalisim. Just not used to digesting, real, journalisim. We havent seen any real journalsim in this town, well, ever. Nice work NON. Please crank up the juice and shine that light, brighter. No organised crime and corruption in Norwalk? Lol Yeah ok. Haven’t lived round here long, huh? Maybe its time to open your eyes.

  13. Ark

    Mark that is nonsense and you are clearly covering for Rilling. Nothing stops Rilling from making the same statement Moccia has made that he intends to vigorously defend the Zoning Commission in the legal case brought by the Mosque. Rilling clearly has decided not to commit to such defense but does not want to say so publicly.

    1. Mark Chapman

      Ark
      I am telling you what he told us in the context of what my experience is. Each politican makes his or her own choice and let the chips fall where they may.

  14. Joe Espo

    Having had my prior post rejected, let me state it another way: what’s in this story are Rilling campaign talking points. Plain and simple. What Rilling won’t say because he’s ducking the issue is being said here. This is about as neutral an assessment I can give.

  15. M Allen

    How many more anonymous posters with deep-seeded cases of paranoia can we have. Father Guido appears out of nowhere and now the City of Norwalk is Jersey City.
    .
    That is what journalism has come to. It leads people down the path of simpleton answers to bigger issues. Hide you kids everyone. Mayor Moccia is in bed with the Sopranos. It’s sad.
    .
    As for hiding behind the fact that a lawsuit exists, nobody is asking for details regarding the merits of the suit or anything to do with the suit. They would just like to know if a candidate Rilling believes that a Mayor Rilling might carry on the City’s legal defense. Now how, what or why. Just yay or nay. It doesn’t jeapordizze anything. But people should take it for what it is because a non-answer may just be the only answer you’re going to get. Besides, there are bigger issues than the Mosque, lawsuit or campaign contributions when it comes to the direction of the city going forward.

  16. M Allen

    and sorry, I meant “deep-seated”, not deep-seeded. Fingers move faster than brain sometimes. But you all now that of me by now.

  17. Don’t Panic

    @ MAllen,
    .
    Agreed. There ARE bigger issues than the Mosque, lawsuit or campaign contributions when it comes to the direction of the city going forward.
    .
    But to your point about a yea or nay on the defense of the suit, it would not be prudent. Candidate Rilling does not have the benefit of the legal guidance that Mr. Moccia has received, nor has he seen all of the related paperwork or participated in any strategy discussions.
    .
    If he says he would pursue the defense, he is taking a position on the mosque itself, because he doesn’t have the information to make the decision on the lawsuit. That would be taken as a bias against the mosque.
    .
    Similarly, if he says he would drop the defense, he is taking a position on the mosque itself, and the other side would simply wait for the election to be over, drop the suit and reapply. He would be jeopardizing his ability to defend if he actually came to a different conclusion once he became Mayor and had access to more information.

  18. Suzanne

    M Allen, I don’t think I have deep-seated paranoia. I do have experience, though, in the construction and development business around here. When you are naive enough to be “taken” as I was on behalf of my clients, it’s called “getting Sopranoed.” I thought this was ridiculous until the person who owned the business with whom I was working which, by the way, had a sterling reputation for the work that they did, was indicted and imprisoned for money laundering, I had to think twice about my perceptions.

    I then had another experience in a neighboring town where the area, a private community, was controlled by one “group.” I got three competing bids for a job and took the lowest one. The contractors were reluctant to bid at all but I thought I was getting the best deal for my client. Turns out, one of them DID accept based on their work quality and price and were subsequently beaten, the project undermined with construction equipment and nearly ruined and sand was put in the gas tanks of the people I had hired. They finished the job but it was a tough sell.

    These are just two examples: I had to learn fast because our business depended upon it. I am still a bit amazed that this “element” exists out here but my experiences show irrefutable proof that they do.

    The fact that City Carting principals were legally cited in Westchester County as detailed above and Norwalk is now doing business with them? Where was the due diligence to prevent this by the City of Norwalk? Why was Moccia angry about these types of questions regarding this contract instead of honestly admitting to their background as a matter of public record?

    It IS sad when we suspect our elected officials of corrupt activity but I have learned to pay attention. This “element” exists and they do business with all kinds of people all of the time (just ask the Italian Center in Stamford.) That Moccia might be involved with them? To me, that is sadder and a reason to not have him in office any longer. But, as you say, they are many more reasons not to including the lack of professional staff at high levels of Norwalk town government.

  19. Suzanne

    Thank you, Don’t Panic, for that clear explanation. I have had my doubts about Rilling’s stand or non-stand and, at last, I feel like I have a reasonable explanation as to why he is not addressing the Mosque issue. It helps.

  20. Suzanne

    One last comment: it is a good thing that people are “calling out” Mr. Rilling in so far as the constituency is engaged. At least the people who are writing on this thread are showing that the process and the results of the Mosque matters to them. My guess is this: if Rilling comes out for the Mosque, he will have a tough fight with the constituency. They have already shown that with data and loud voices (whether you agree with the groups or not), as with BJ’s and Oak Hills, voters can get things done in this town. This gives me hope for Norwalk and it makes me proud that my neighbors, friends and fellow citizens participate, including NON, to clearly state their objectives about what kind of town they want to live in.

  21. Don’t Panic

    @Suzanne,
    Glad it helped. Let us hope evryone is seeking ro have their questions fully answered before they decide.

  22. Oldtimer

    As I recall, the contracts with City Carting were voted on, and approved, without anyone on the council seeing any of the contracts. There were verbal assurances about their content, but no contracts were made available to the council. Some council people were very supportive of the concept of outsourcing and, in the process, eliminating a dozen City employee jobs. Nobody was fired the day the contracts took effect, but 12 jobs were eliminated and the people working on the garbage trucks were reassigned to lower paying jobs. To this day, I don’t know who has read the actual contract documents.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Oldtimer

      I have. I checked to see if the bail-out language was as it had been portrayed and, as far as my untrained eye can tell, it is. The city can end the contract at any time without penalty. I will not pretend to be able to figure out the financials.

  23. Tim T

    Rilling accepting $250 from a city resident who is the spokesman for the mosque shows just the type of bad judgment that we do not need in a mayor. One would think or at least hope he would know better after all his years as police consultant.

  24. M Allen

    Anyone know if those employees who were reassigned actually took a pay cut in their reassigned positions? I’ve heard that before, but no confirmation. I’ve always chalked it up to people just saying it because it fit the anti-outsourcing agenda. Like the whole $250 comment. It’s just something people say. Did they or did they not take a real pay cut in their base salary? And I don’t count OT if they went to a position that now has no OT. I mean lower base salary.
    .
    And as for things people didn’t read before signing… ACA. It happens all the time with politicians of all persuasions on laws both big and small.

  25. RU4REAL

    You Rilling bashers lost on the 250 dollar bet to hurt his campaign. hypocrites, why would you do that, didn’t you think someone would check what YOUR guy received in donations?
    I’m really beginning to believe you folks are trying lose the election.
    Why would you continue to distribute campaign flyers with lies on it, with no care in the world.
    Rilling should put all of you on his campaign staff, you sure are making him look better than the other guy.
    Dick you better tell them all to clam up until after the election!

  26. Norwalk Lifer

    The laughable thing is Jodi Rell, only gave Moccia a 100 bucks, now that speaks VOLUMES to me.

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

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