Opinion: Nope, ain’t no negative campaign going on here…

Mark Chapman
Mark Chapman

NancyOnNorwalk editor Mark Chapman is a 37-year journalist who has worked for newspapers from weeklies to metros, from Cape Cod to the Carolinas, Florida and Boston.

NORWALK, Conn. – Last fall, David Watts was working in support of Vinny Mangiacopra in the latter’s primary bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor at the same time he was running for re-election to the Common Council. Watts would complain, on and off, about negative campaigning.

When an unnamed candidate took aim at Mangiacopra for using Cranbury Elementary children on a flyer – Mangiacopra’s wife is a teacher there – he complained lustily about “The dirty campaigning, anonymous bloggers, just a bunch of behind the scenes dirty techniques and standing with people who are known for dirty campaigns,” he said. “Norwalk rejected dirty campaigns last year when they sent out negative mailers on the state senate.

League of Women Voters primary election guide

“People don’t like dirty campaigns, they don’t like negative campaigning, they want people to talk about the issues,” he continued. “Instead of talking about or debating what was on the flier, by saying ‘I disagree with this issue,’ and put forward their education plan, they want to attack the kids, the parents, the mailer. I think people don’t want to hear from them. They don’t want to hear this, they want to hear about what their plan is for the future.”

When Watts decided to reveal, off the record, that he would be running against Chris Perone for state rep in the 137th District this year, he talked about the expected dirty campaigning, pointing to the people working on Perone’s campaign.

He also frequently complained about people posting mean comments on NancyOnNorwalk. Sometimes he was right. People attacked his parenting, his weight, his attire. Those things are, we feel, off limits.

And people attacked the fact that he is consistently well behind on his property taxes, has no regular job and was moving into the 137th just to run against Perone. Not off limits, we believe.

Watts told us he would not engage in negative campaigning. The people don’t want it, he said.

So when the above Tweet went out accusing the Perone campaign of dirty campaigning, it was a bit of a surprise. But only a bit, as there had been what appeared to be an orchestrated campaign attacking the Perone campaign’s integrity regarding its campaign filings earlier in the week.

Story continues after picture

Chris Perone mailer.
Chris Perone mailer.

Then came the flyer that complains about the Perone campaign flyer raising questions about Watts’ unpaid property taxes.

The tax question is an issue. It has been raised time and again in the comments on this site by several people, on other sites and in conversations all over town.

But Watts chose to make raising the issue an example of negative campaigning. The above flyer was accompanied, on his Facebook page, with the words: “Meet the group of people responsible for the nasty flyers! Reject their politics and vote for the endorsed democratic candidate. I believe in issues not digging into peoples personal life. Say No to the Perone-Geake ticket!”

Mary and Mike Geake are working as treasurer and assistant treasurer on the Perone campaign. Neither is running for office. The line was reminiscent of Councilman David McCarthy’s (R-District E) letter to the editor of another outlet referring derisively to the Rilling-Knopp ticket.

Kevin Coughlin of DNA Campaigns in New Haven, who is overseeing the campaign of Perone and Bruce Morris – and who ran Mayor Harry Rilling’s campaign – responded with Tweets. He also sent us these responses:

From Perone:

“The residents of Norwalk deserve to know who will be representing them in Hartford. Public servants are held to a higher standard and expected to play by the same rules that everyone else does. Like all of the messaging from my campaign this piece is accurate, informative, and fair. For 10 years the people of Norwalk have trusted me to serve as State Representative. My colleagues in Hartford have trusted my knowledge, expertise, and work ethic to put me in charge of the Commerce Committee and the hundreds of millions of dollars that it manages.”

From Coughlin:

“David Watts feigns outrage but the truth of the matter is that he has been unable to pay his taxes year after year. These facts bring up many questions about the candidacy of David Watts. How can he manage the finances of the state’s $19 billion budget if he can’t manage his own personal finances? Why is he spending money renting a garage in the 137th district where he is claiming to ‘live’ if he still owes over $5,200 in taxes on his house in the 142nd district? These are serious concerns and voters have a right to know.”

Coughlin, it should be noted, held to a strict “no negativity” rule in the Rilling campaign. The mayor told us later that, on a few occasions, he had wanted to respond to Richard Moccia’s barbs, but followed Coughlin’s urging to let it roll off.


Speaking of campaign filings…

The Connecticut Citizen Election Audit is looking for people to participate in the independent observation of audits following Tuesday’s primary election. Connecticut voters who want to take part should sign up now to volunteer one day between Aug. 27 and Sept. 12.

Voters are offered written, video, and conference-call training. Volunteers sign up online, indicating the days within the period they can be available and the distance they are willing to travel. After towns are scheduled for audits, volunteers are assigned to observe one day in a town in their area of the state.

Further information, an introductory video, and online signup are available here.

After the completion of local counting, the Citizen Audit combines the official results with citizen observations and makes an independent report to the public, election officials, and the General Assembly.


11 responses to “Opinion: Nope, ain’t no negative campaign going on here…”

  1. Casey Smith

    This flyer raises several questions.
    First of all, why attack Mike and Mary Geake? They are NOT running for office, as Mark pointed out. However, I seem to remember Mike Geake and David Watts not always being on the friendliest of terms while both were on the ’11-’13 Council. Putting Mary Geake’s picture on the flyer to me shrieks “Payback!”
    Secondly, Perone addressed the issue of Watt’s having unpaid taxes. The existence of unpaid taxes a troubling one, regardless of whether or not it is a large or small amount. If it was a small amount, pay it and clear the slate. Of course, the question remains why it wasn’t paid in the first place, but I’m not going to slap someone down for having a cash flow problem. However, if it is a large amount that is on-going, well then, there’s a bigger problem behind it — one the voters should be aware of.
    Since I don’t live in in the 137th and wouldn’t be voting for either candidate, I find this whole thing ironic and somewhat amusing. However, for those people that do live there — and we do have friends in that District — this is something to seriously consider. Rest assured, I’ll be discussing this with them ASAP.

  2. Mr. Ludlow

    To Mr. Watts credit, at least he feigns outrage himself and not through surrogates.
    Too bad his band of Turks don’t practice a little more introspection- maybe they’d see that Pena’s public comments about SoNoCC personnel issues is worse. The fact that Watts casts such a wide net to claim that any talk about his personal qualities is off limits is his own form of negative campaigning.
    It’s times like this that tell me that Watts is either not ready for the big time, or is such a slick candidate that he can spin anything to his advantage (which is the last thing we need in District A).

  3. EastNorwalkChick

    Usually when someone continually points at others and says “look at them, look what they are doing”, it is a clear indication that they don’t want us to look too closely at them.
    Watts states: ” I believe in issues not digging into peoples personal life.”, but if you look at the answers he gave to the League of Women voters we barely know any more about him or where he stands on the issues than we did when he first decided to run in this district.
    These are just generic talking points, that for some reason I think he believes that a good number of us Dems who have been living here in the 137th for sometime is good enough for us to vote for him. I have yet to receive a flyer, a knock on the door or a phone call from the Watts campaign. With the Perrone campaign I have received all three.
    I don’t get his campaign tactics, I find the whole thing bizarre, where is he campaigning? Who is he courting? Because it ain’t in my neighborhood.

  4. Anna Duleep, City Sheriff

    @EastNorwalkChick: I share your confusion. I wonder why Watts AND Pena chose not to run in the district where all three of us live(d): 142. I wonder why he would bother to primary a very popular incumbent if he’s not going to raise serious issues and points of difference. If you’re not going to give the voters a better option -based on the issues or at least your strong personal qualifications- then why bother to primary outside your home district?
    @Mr. Ludlow: I also wonder when we will hear the SEEC’s decision re Pena’s Nov 2013 uncredited campaign card and law enforcement’s reaction to statements he made that seemingly confirm his aunt embezzled $25,000 from SNCC! I like Warren personally, but am deeply troubled by the disclosed facts as corroborated by his own statements and the clear SEEC violations found on that election card. Doubt I count as a Turk, but I am a progressive Democrat.

  5. Joanne Romano

    Why not stick to the issues and stop the disgusting personal attacks against people who are not running? Has no one learned that voters don’t take kindly to negative campaigning? The Geake’s are campaign treasurer and vice treasurer, what effect do they have on this primary.. why would anyone include them on a flyer to get elected. The subject of taxes is one that comes about in every campaign and seems to be legitimate since if you can’t handle your own finances how can you be expected to handle bigger issues concerning finances of the city and state…why not send out flyers that address the issues that Norwalk faces on a State level and the issues that you feel you are qualified to address? And one wonders why so many stay home on election day? I think an apology is owed to the Geake’s for this outrageous flyer! and I’m saying this as a citizen and not as a Republican or Democrat…just as someone who hates negativity in campaigning!

  6. Ethics-Schmethics

    No huge fan of Mr. Watts, but this is very out of character for Rep. Perone. He should be embarrassed. Maybe he is seeing scary poll numbers showing a very close or maybe he has a lousy campaign staff pushing these tactics on his behalf. Either way he should be ashamed.

  7. Joanne Romano

    @Ethics-Schmethics -I don’t see any reason why he should be ashamed any more than any other person who brings out substantiated facts about an opponent. This is something that is done time and again on both sides of the aisle and if there is truth in what he says then no apology is warranted. Taxes are easily found on the city website and can be confirmed by anyone so it is not as if he could be saying something without proof!

  8. EastNorwalkChick

    Ethics-Schmethics, at least Perone he has people on the ground campaigning, I have yet to see anything from Watts. Just came in from puttering around the yard and received another phone message from the Perone campaign to make sure I vote on Tuesday. This will be phone call number four, what is Watts doing with the money that he received from the State and contributors? So far I have seen four Watts signs here in E. Norwalk and that’s it.
    If anyone should be ashamed it is the Watts campaign they are using the Geakes who are not running as some kind of bogyman instead of talking about the issues.

  9. Ethics-Schmethics

    I’m not defending Watts or his ridiculous, unpaid taxes. I just think it is beneath Rep. Perone and it is sad that he is willing to roll in the mud. I thought better of him.

  10. Hobbes the Calvinist

    You would think with David Watt’s brand new, City-issued, taxpayer-financed, I-Pad, he’d be better able to know what a simple google search reveals about the negative things he’s said about other officials.
    In 2013, when Michael Geake announced that he wasn’t seeking re-election, the magnanimous Rev. Watts said that Geake “wouldn’t be missed”. So charitable . .
    When Dick Moccia wanted to nominate Bill Dunne to Planning (admittedly a redundancy given the that we already have Commissioner Santo at the helm of the time machine hurtling Norwalk back to its dark ages), Watts had quite a litany of churlish comments to make about Mr. Dunne.
    This past year, candidate Watts has attacked Bob Duff claiming that Bob is anti-labor.
    Searching on Twitter for @DAngeloWatts, you’ll be amazed that Watts has learned so much watching World Cup soccer players flopping on the field to fake an injury. Can anyone doubt that a video will soon be on its way showing a grieving Watts asking where he can go to his reputation repaired? Of course, David will learn that being branded a disingenuous hypocrite is far worse than letting the world know that, like many of them, you have had some problems in the past paying your taxes on time.

  11. Chevy-Vega

    Get used to it. Embrace the David.

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