Opinion: It’s all about the traffic, right?

Mark Chapman
Mark Chapman

Mark Chapman is a 35-year veteran journalist and editor of NancyOnNorwalk.com.

NORWALK, Conn. – The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw the anti-mosque flyer being circulated in West Norwalk was, “What does a North Jersey refinery have to do with West Norwalk?” Then my eyes focused a bit and the next thought was, “Are you KIDDING me?”

The photo looks like a mosque beset by explosions, with glaring lights. It also has four minarets placed around its sprawling campus.

Oh my! THAT’S what we have to look forward to? “Don’t let Harry Rilling ruin our neighborhood!” is the blaring message over the darkened, light-glaring, sprawling mosque.

It is the Willie Horton of anti-mosque flyers.

The Willie Horton ad, run by the 1988 George Herbert Walker Bush presidential campaign under the direction of the late Lee Atwater and current Fox News guru Roger Ailes, is the touchstone for ads designed to play on people’s fears without coming right out and saying what they mean. In the Horton case, it was a scary picture of a mean-looking black man who had walked away from a prison furlough permitted by then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and committed rape and murder.

In addition to the subtly racist message with which the ad has become synonymous, it was misleading. The Republican governor who preceded Dukakis, Frank Sargent, instituted the furlough program that allowed Horton, a convicted violent felon, to have some time away. But the Bush people got it into people’s heads that the whole thing was Dukakis’ fault.

Now we have a flyer with what looks like a mosque in the middle of a war zone – or a New Jersey refinery, if you look fast – exhorting people to fight the mayor’s attempt to ruin their neighborhood, because that what first-term mayors want to do six months before they need to starting running for re-election.

“They are filling the public’s head with misinformation for political reasons,” Rilling said in a late Tuesday email response. “This is an issue the previous administration failed to deal with properly and it has become a huge mess. My administration is trying to offer up options and trying to resolve this in the best interest of ALL taxpayers [his emphasis], something I was elected to do.”

So, putting aside the fact that, over the course of the previous mayor’s eight years in office, nothing was done to the city’s zoning laws to protect neighborhoods like this, that the entire Zoning Commission was made up of his appointees, that the legal team that negotiated the settlement was hired by the previous mayor and took their cues on zoning issues from that mayor’s holdover commission chairman and vice chairman, and the fact that the nationally respected expert attorney said she thinks the settlement is “remarkable” for the city, let’s look at the picture.

This is all about traffic, right?

Be afraid. Be very afraid. There are traffic accidents lurking around the bend. Literally. There will be traffic jams, cars slamming into cars, making the neighborhood roads dang near impassible.

And this is illustrated by a really scary photo of a mosque half a world away that hardly resembles what West Norwalk would see if the settlement passes?


29 responses to “Opinion: It’s all about the traffic, right?”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    The emotions are running high on this one, many homeowners in Norwalk are watching their property values decrease, but they aren’t being realistic; the bubble creating thru frivolous lending is normalizing, the era of “unrealistic exuberance” as was stated by Allen Greenspan has come to fruition. So now, those that jumbo mortgaged, and find themselves underwater, are naturally apprehensive; they were duped.
    West Norwalk as allowed their main contribution to the Post Road to become a strip mall, as opposed to Darien, which is a walking mall area. A “Main Street” in the best sense of the description. Of course, Washington Street in South Norwalk is the best we can compare to this type of venue, but slowly that will change with the institution of higher rises, like the Ironworks.
    So things change, and the values ebb and flow, as well as the traffic, but this speaks to a broader issue; the emotional factor in this mosque debate has been further inflamed by the works of a few small minded individuals, ala, the flyer you posted here. We know these visuals are meant to inflame, just as an article in Paul Revere’s paper titled “The Boston Massacre” were meant to inflame the fence sitters in Virginia, now today we say this act was “using one’s powers for good” but King George didn’t find that to be the case, it was just another example of the ungrateful “insurgents” in the colonies trying to upend the British teapot and their endless need for taxaton.
    Didn’t John Hancock sign his letters to King George with “your faithful traitor”?
    Enough of that, the emotion has to be taken out of this argument, on both sides, just because there are well intended people who are really fearful of the traffic this will create, does not make them Islamophobes, and it doesn’t make them Islamophiles either. It makes them homeowners who thru unfair and dishonest lending practices, find themselves in the precarious situation of seeing their capital investment depreciated even more.
    Let’s be clear, the avoidance of a major financial drain on the city’s coffers, not to mention a bond rating change, which everyone in Norwalk seems to find as “manna from heaven” is a very real threat to the sense and sensibility of many homeowners.
    I agree that the advertisement used in this event was deceitful, and low rent, no question about it. But I will admonish both sides to be more skeptical of offerings, or in other words, caveat emptor, buyer beware.
    While there are many who have enjoyed the growth this city has offered over the past 30-50 years, they must now acknowledge, that Norwalk isn’t the same place it was 30-50 years ago, the middle class drain is evident everywhere, and there grows a bigger and bigger gap in the citizenry of this town. THAT’s the REAL issue, here, not the mosque, not the traffic, it’s about the value.
    And when you are experiencing the aftermath of a failed financial “dream” borne of irresponsible lending practices, that gave a anabolic steroid boost to a teetering economy, it’s only natural for one to be suspicious of a further drain on one’s own assets.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. John Hamlin

    The mosque issue is important for the neighborhood, but the rest of the city appears indifferent, perhaps because they don’t live in that immediate area. But the larger issue of Norwalk’s approach to zoning and the protection — or lack of protections — for surrounding property owners will remain even after the mosque is approved. You can blame all sorts of people, but the fault lies in the city’s view, reflected in its regulations and zoning administration, that property owners, like the owners of the new mosque, have an unfettered right to do with their property whatever they want, regardless of the imposition on surrounding properties, regardless of the blight they impose on others. This has been the approach of Norwalk for decades — so blame the mayor, the council, and the majority of the zoning commission for the last decade. Norwalk needs to start protecting the investment of its property owners. But I doubt the mosque episode will change anything.

  3. UN Envoy

    It seems likely that the author of this flyer was the same as the one that used Mayor Rilling’s name as well as others that was distributed in West Norwalk last year by Zoning Vice-Chair Emily Wilson, that called the mosque an “outside interest” that was threatening the “sovereignty” of Norwalk. That flyer was sponsored by the Republican Town Committee.
    The fact is the mosque is composed of 100 families from Norwalk who are part of the community, and the first flyer was so full of lies that the Corporation Counsel at the time, Robert Maslan, had to issue a statement repudiating the claims made on the flyer, which mosque representatives stated was entered as evidence of official discrimination in the federal court case.
    Emily Wilson distributed that inflammatory flyer while she was Zoning Chair and running for Common Council with her good friend David McCarthy, a race she lost. She will be voting on the mosque settlement on Thursday, a settlement she helped negotiate.

  4. One and Done

    Flyers aside, the OP should try to pull out of that driveway for himself one day. Do it around 8:30 or 9. See what you think then.

    1. Mark Chapman


      I agree about the existing driveway. The plan moves the access/egress up Fillow to nearly opposite the Stonegate driveway.

      The point of the piece is not support for the mosque. We have no position on that. We don’t live anywhere near it, we are not Muslim, and, frankly, we are not endorsing anything or anyone. I think there are legitimate traffic concerns. I think there is also fear mongering. The flyer is the point if the piece.

  5. LWitherspoon

    Kudos to the Mayor for finally speaking out on the mosque issue, if only to blame his predecessor. Mayor Rilling should expand on his comments. How exactly did the previous administration fail to deal with the issue properly? If we are to believe Marci Hamilton, the same settlement which the Mayor’s Corporation Counsel is touting as wonderful was only made possible by the prior administration’s decision to fight the lawsuit.
    During the negotiations, who decided that Al Madany’s terms were the best the City could reasonably hope to get, and that the settlement should go to the Common Council for a vote?

  6. Norewalk Lifer

    Dear UN envoy, it does seem likely that there are two “incredibly stupid” people living in Norwalk who can make flyers like this

    Norwalk Lifer

  7. Norewalk Lifer

    Dear Mr. Hamlin:

    You should know any investment is a gamble, caveat emptor, if you bought, mortgaged out the entire value and now find yourself underwater, you also have another person to “blame”, that would be the buyer who drank the koolaid of the real estate bubble.

    Norwalk Lifer

  8. Casey Smith

    My question is very simple. I keep hearing over and over and over again that the facility is for 100 families in Norwalk. Why do they need such a big facility?

  9. Suzanne

    First it was Stonewall, then the civil rights movement, now Willie Horton. Irrespective of these ridiculous fliers and comments, far less cogent from what you have reported than what has appeared on these threads, your examples are not subtle at all. This is not a racist issue for most that I have seen or read. It is about the neighborhood, the size and scope of the building and the traffic which, miraculously, for those 100 families, multiplies quite a bit when you consider visits five times per day at a dangerous intersection. These are legitimate concerns and have nothing to do with racism or the NIMBY phenomena you seem to believe, quite transparently, that this is about.
    Casey Smith above has a legitimate question – why so big if there are only going to be 100 families using the facility? The size and scope is a testament to RLUPA’s effect and the lack of Zoning Regulations that would restrict such development of ANY KIND that would be this large on that steep lot.
    Come back to Norwalk. This is not Stonewall, it is not the civil rights movement. It is not Willie Horton. It is an irresponsible development problem, not a religious or, as you insist, racist one. (And how is suggesting the latter through analogy really responsible or even accurate as a 36-year veteran journalist?)

  10. EveT

    Here is another thought experiment. Imagine you are a landlord with a 3BR apartment to rent. A family with 6 kids, ages 8-14, applies to rent it. The family members also happen to be very big; the parents are each over 300 lbs and kids are also very big. And they happen to be Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Israel.
    They pass the credit check, they have the security deposit money. In a nearby 3BR apartment is a Catholic family with 6 kids. In another nearby 3BR apartment is a family of very big people. The town’s zoning says nothing about how many family members can live in a certain size dwelling, nor how much they can weigh.
    But you don’t want to rent to this family because, you say, they won’t fit in the apartment. They’re just too big. These large people could pose a danger to other tenants if they bump into them. It’s not discrimination, you say. They should just go live somewhere more suitable.
    Under the law, can you refuse to rent to them? No, you can’t. Now consider RLUIPA.

  11. Scott

    EveT that’s the problem with America. Everyone thinks everything is discrimination. Maybe that landlord just thinks it’s too many people for the property. Is that against the law?

  12. Aga Khan

    Looks like the Republicans are at it again. If the flyer can be traced back to Emily Wilson or any of her backers this is a serious breach of her fiduciary responsibility.

  13. EveT

    @Scott, apparently you have never a landlord, or at least not since the civil rights legislation of the 1960s took effect. Otherwise you would know that yes, it is against the law to refuse to rent under this scenario.

  14. peter parker

    Flyer, or no flyer. This mosque should not be built at its current proposed size and on the proposed site. Agree or not with the flyer it is very truthful in its message; “Don’t let Harry Rilling ruin our neighborhood!” Harry Rilling is on course to ruin our city. He lacks the tanacity to fight the important battles, and let’s face it he has no viable experience in government. He can’t seem to take a stance on any controversial issue, so he takes the easy way out and rolls over. We deserve better representation from our Mayor. Rilling took this settlement because it was the easy way out and middle of the road, he appears to be skating. This mayor should take a stand, we are waiting Harry. If Harry Rilling can’t demonstrate real leadership he has to go in the next election. He is bad for Norwalk and its taxpayers.

  15. One and Done

    @Mark. If scare mongering were the goal, then why haven’t these force mentioned the mere fact that the Times Square bomber is a Muslim from Norwalk? That there were accomplices to 9/11 in the Waterbury mosques? Etc… What if any lights will be on the Mosque and at what hours? This flyer might be a near accurate presentation for all you know. What do you know about it?

    1. Mark Chapman


      We are aware of Faisal Shahzad’s two-year residency in Norwalk six years prior to the incident, and that he worked here for a few years after that while living in Shelton and Bridgeport. Hardly “from Norwalk.”

  16. PNolin

    Agreed the flier folks should have used your photo which is more accurate but plenty “scary” in terms of size and bulk. Also agree that real issue is traffic and the concern is the 100 family estimate is wildly inaccurate to the low side as demonstrated in Stonegate’s traffic study. The solution remains finding a better site for Al Madany to move to in Norwalk. Voting this “settlement” down will give everyone time to focus on that solution.

  17. One and Done

    PNolin is right about using the wrong photo. My point is, Mark, that this is probably just some clip art. That, if they were pushing fear mongering they would have pointed out various CT (including Norwalk) Muslims connections, direct and indirect, to attacks on our homeland. They didn’t. The focus needs to remain on putting a community center in the middle of a neighborhood fraught with bad traffic conditions and a lot too small for its intended use. Period.

    1. Mark Chapman


      That is where thee focus should be, and Mr. Nolin is making an eloquent and reasoned case. That does not negate the fact that the other stuff is out there and is why the law exists.

      Having grown up in the lower middle class part of Hyannis Port (my house and 2 others) during the JFK ascension and the explosive growth of restrictions and traffic — and later of homes — I understand the concerns all to well. I also watched Hyannis grow from a quaint seasonal town to a small city today with a crime rate that dwarfs Norwalk’s. But I’ve seen the other side of the equation in action, too. Enough said. We want to do what we can to help everyone to see everything that is going on so they can make their decisions based on facts, not politics or misinformation. And there is plenty of that flying around on both sides. We will have more later.

  18. West Norwalk Neighbor

    Thanks for you insightful article. This is largely an orchestrated effort by the usual suspects of the Republican Town Committee to blame the mosque on Mayor Rilling – they don’t care whether a mosque is built or not – it is all about smear politics and they are aided in their efforts by their buddy Chet Valiente at The Hour. This is about inflicting as much damage as they can to Harry’s reputation, even though the Republican led zoning commission screwed this up in the first place, never changed the zoning regulation, and now the same republicans have negotiated the proposed settlement with the mosque aided by the nationally-known lawyers that former Mayor Moccia hired.

    Since Nolin thinks that this is such a winnable case, he and his law firm should offer to take over the case for the city at no charge. When they win the case, they can recover their fees from the mosque. Obviously since it is such a winnable case, this shouldn’t be a problem for his firm to take on and they should be able to make so much money off it – seems like a slam dunk for them.

  19. LWitherspoon

    @Mark Chapman
    I remain interested in the question of whether the settlement discussions addressed the possibility of the City helping and financially supporting Al Madany in the search for a location acceptable to them which would not raise similar traffic concerns.

    1. Mark Chapman


      I am curious as well, but until the public hearing is done and the zoning and, if it gets past zoning, the Council votes, no one is talking details. We will explore that regardless of the vote outcome.

  20. Benthere Donethat

    Ahhh, Hyannis Port. A basket of deep fried calamari and French fries to die for. It was a little place located in a boat yard on the water. Baxter’s Fish N’ Chips. Sorry Mark.

    1. Mark Chapman


      Yes, I’ve been there , done that too. Used to be THE place for fried clams.

  21. John Hamlin

    Dear Anonymous Norewalk Lifer —

    So Norwalk’s zoning regulations should not protect property owners, like those in Stamford, Darien, Westport and other towns? Not a wise move if you want property values (and tax revenues) to stay high. No one will want to move here. And no one will be able to sell property. This is not about general fluctuations in real estate values, it’s about protection from the action or inaction of specific neighboring property owners. Basic zoning approach.

  22. Norewalk Lifer

    Dear John Hamlin:

    property values in the Fillow Street area were falling long before this mosque,

    Let’s not play games here.

    Norwalk lifer

  23. John Hamlin

    Norewalk Lifer is a clear example of why anonymous postings should not be permitted. Come out from behind your “game playing” curtain […]

    This comment was edited to comply with our policy against name-calling.

  24. Casey Smith

    @West Norwalk Neighbor –
    “Thanks for you insightful article. This is largely an orchestrated effort by the usual suspects of the Republican Town Committee to blame the mosque on Mayor Rilling – they don’t care whether a mosque is built or not – it is all about smear politics and they are aided in their efforts by their buddy Chet Valiente at The Hour.”
    “Wow, just wow! So this whole thing is a long term effort by the RTC to smear Mayor Rilling? Who’d a thunk it? Particularly since this whole thing started long before Mayor Rilling was elected. And here I was thinking that all the opposition was bipartisan rather than just the members of the RTC! I guess I’ll have to call my friends who live out that way and find out when they joined the RTC. I had no idea that so many Republicans lived along Fillow Street.
    But be that as it may — no one has answered my original question, which was and remains — Why do they need such a big facility for 100 families. I know of churches in Norwalk that had congregations of 100 families that worshipped in storefronts. There’s even a mosque in Bridgeport that I know about that is a storefront. And before anyone brings up St. Matthew’s, it’s my understanding that they have 6+ acres and congregation that is significantly larger than 100 families.
    Bottom line here is that the size of the building seems way out of proportion to the number of congregants and I’m deeply concerned about Fillow Street, which was never designed for the kind of traffic that the building size would indicate.

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