By Bruce Kimmel
Common Councilman, District A
NORWALK, Conn. – Listening to the four Democratic mayoral candidates competing for their party’s nomination, one would get the impression that very little is going right for the city of Norwalk. They are painting a portrait of a city in dire need of just about everything.
Ironically, a fair amount of positive developments have happened in recent months that create a much more favorable picture of the city. And despite the hyper-partisan rhetoric of the four candidates, these developments have all had some level of bipartisan support.
The most important piece of good news is the Board of Education’s decision to hire a new superintendent, Dr. Manuel Rivera, who, by virtually all accounts (both Democratic and Republican), is a highly qualified, award-winning educator whose children went to Norwalk schools.
Also, last month, the BOE, for the first time in memory, was able to fully fund its operating budget request, which enabled it to restore programs that had been eliminated because of the lingering effects of the economic slowdown. Four out of the five members in the official Democratic caucus opposed this budget when it was before the council. Still, it was passed with a bipartisan coalition of six Republicans and four Democrats (three of whom do not participate in their party’s caucus).
Add to that the city’s $20 million capital budget – which contains $2 million for textbooks as well as funds for the renovation of Naramake and Rowayton schools – and it is fair to say that our schools are receiving the level of funds they deserve. The council voted unanimously to approve the capital budget.
I should also note that construction of our new fire headquarters is on schedule and on budget. This is unheard of for major municipal projects. Plus, Waypointe, the mixed-use project on West Avenue, is under construction, and another mixed-use project is moving along steadily on North Water Street. All of these projects have received substantial bipartisan support.
Then there is the Washington Village transformation plan, which is now being evaluated by federal and state officials. Approval (and the possibility of receiving a $30 million federal grant) and implementation of this plan could lead to the construction of about 270 mixed-income units and will change South Norwalk for years to come. Apart from a lone Democrat, this plan was supported enthusiastically by both parties.
It is also worth noting that, according to our Buildings Department, permits for new construction are way up, higher than they have been in years, signifying at long last the city is past the Great Recession that began in 2008. This increase in permits, together with our healthy fund balance and other fiscal factors, will undoubtedly help the city maintain its critically important AAA bond rating. While the mayoral candidates might try to poke some holes in these numbers, I can’t imagine any of my council colleagues not applauding this development.
The closing of the Norwalk Museum in SoNo was definitely not a positive development, but there was silver lining that, in the long run, bodes extremely well for the city:
Our archival collection was moved to the Main Library, which has the space and personnel to organize it. Plus, it is being digitized so scholars the world over will have easy access to our history. And the museum collection is being moved to the city-owned Lockwood House and will be under the auspices of the city’s very active Historical Society (pending the expected bipartisan approval by the full council).
There is lingering controversy over the decision to outsource our solid waste pickup (the official Democratic caucus vehemently opposed it; I supported it as a member of a bipartisan majority). However, I believe the entire council supports the decision to adopt single-stream recycling, which began in July. It will save a bunch of money and is the right thing to do environmentally.
Unfortunately, the portrait being painted by the four mayoral hopefuls is not only tilted toward the extreme end of the negativity scale and distorts what’s going on in our lovely city, it is also at odds with what Democratic members of the council have been doing with their Republican colleagues.
Common Councilman, District A