NORWALK, Conn – The political dust has cleared – for now – and Norwalkers can settle in for a couple months’ worth of campaigning as the local political parties shake things out for autumn’s race to the State House. City voters can expect three state representative primaries – two on the Democratic Party ballot and one on the Republican side. In addition, there is expected to be a Republican primary for registrar of voters. Those local races will be in addition to the statewide primaries for governor, lieutenant governor and comptroller. So far. Here’s a quick look at the Norwalk match-ups:
137th District: This race is likely to be the most closely watched, if only for the entertainment value. Five-term incumbent Chris Perone, seen as a quiet, laid-back kind of guy, got thrown under a bus at the district nominating caucus last week as second-term District A Common Councilman David Watts bused in supporters to put him over the top by 36 votes.
The bus not only brought the controversial Watts a load of voters; it also brought a load of criticism from some observers who insisted he was playing racial politics, bringing in only black voters. Watts said there were a few white people on the bus, and another eyewitness said there was a mix of black, Latino and white voters.
For his part, Perone said that while Watts was knocking on doors and lining up a bus, he was busy in Hartford, doing what state reps are paid to do. The session officially ended May 7, leaving Perone a short window to rev up his campaign and start making personal contacts. Perone will need to get 228 petition signatures to force a primary, something he has vowed to do.
140th District: This one could be a bit more intense. Incumbent Bruce Morris wants a fourth term, and his 222-99 caucus win sent a clear message to challenger and former at-large Councilman Warren Peña – he will be tough to budge. Both have deep roots in the community. Morris is an associate minister at Macedonia Church and is the human relations officer for Norwalk Public Schools. In addition to his single Council term, Peña is the chairman of the South Norwalk Community Center (SoNoCC) Board of Directors and a leader in the city’s growing Latino community. He will need to get 201 petition signatures to get on the primary ballot.
Both bring baggage to the race. Peña’s work with SoNoCC has come under fire from local African-American leaders who have accused him of illegal activities after his public feud with Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now over issues involving their shared headquarters. Morris has taken heat for continuing to keep his fulltime school position while working as a state rep.
142nd District: There are simmering hard feelings in the Republican Party over this one as the party choice, Zoning Commissioner Emily Wilson, will face off with former Board of Estimate and Taxation Chairman Fred Wilms. Wilms, a senior vice president at Webster Bank, headed the BET for most of former Mayor Richard Moccia’s eight-year tenure and was replaced by Mayor Harry Rilling. Wilson was named to the Zoning Commission by Moccia and was its chairwoman before moving down a notch to vice chairwoman.
Word on the right side of the street is that Wilson waited to start her campaign until 11-term rep Larry Cafero announced he would retire, while Wilms jumped in early, angering many party faithful. Still, Wilms has his backers, and, as he got a third of the six delegate votes at the multi-town district convention, he automatically qualified for a primary slot.
Registrar of Voters: This one got ugly fast. Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Torrano and his immediate predecessor, Art Scialabba, helped lead opposition to seven-term Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons in her bid for reelection. Lyons lost at last week’s caucus to John Federici, a BET member who has long coveted the position but did not feel the time was right – until now.
Torrano and Scialabba say party discontent with Lyons has festered for a half dozen years, but there has been a show of support from several people, including Democratic Deputy Registrar Robert Sodaro, who gives Lyons high marks for knowledge, professionalism and as a co-worker. Lyons vows a primary fight, but she will need, according to Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells, 423 petition signatures to get on the ballot.
Wells was re-nominated without opposition for the Democratic position. All primary petitions must be filed with the state by 4 p.m. June 10 for the Aug. 12 primary.
The political week in photos: