Correction, 3 p.m., Cahn did not use the word “government” in reference to helping people; misstatement in quote fixed.
NORWALK, Conn. — Don’t worry about James Cahn – that 5 o’clock shadow is because it’s No-shave November, not a reaction to losing the election, as in, “just crawled out from under a bridge.”
“The comment was made, ‘Well, good, you lost the election. Now you can actually have an impact. You’re better off, you lose the election, now you can actually get something done,’” the Republican Cahn recounted Monday in a wide-ranging conversation that touched not only on his unsuccessful bid to represent District A on the Common Council, but also on voter apathy and the implications of political parties in Norwalk.
There were people who supported him but said he wouldn’t win, Cahn said.
“The comment was, ‘Keep doing what you are doing because people are going to have more questions in the future for you and want your input on stuff,’” Cahn said. “… To be honest, when I first got involved, before I got involved and said, ‘I am running, I am jumping in with both feet,’ it was, ‘Let me see to what extent I can get involved in committees and boards and that type of thing.
“The reason I ran is I feel District A, first of all, has a tremendous amount of potential. It still has that potential and I feel like it wasn’t necessarily being really well represented. Now we’ll see. I absolutely wish Eloisa (Melendez) the best of luck and Steve (Serasis) as well. Again, it’s back to, we beg the question: Is the ability to get stuff done limited by something in Norwalk either seen or unseen?”
Cahn and Republican running mate Darline Perpignan both got about 700 votes. Democrats Melendez and Serasis got more than 1,100 votes apiece, although Serasis was in China for the final three weeks of the campaign season – arriving home just in time to go to the Democratic election night party.
“I think that Norwalk also has this Jekyll and Hyde personality with political parties,” Cahn said. “Because I heard an awful lot of, ‘I vote the person, I don’t vote the party.’ I heard that. Now, I am a numbers guy. … Let’s be honest, in District A, if all I did was fill out the campaign papers and then went to sleep until Wednesday and then looked at the numbers, I would get the same amount of votes. So my campaigning didn’t matter and I am honest about that, and that’s where it brings me back to the idea of this apathy.”
Republican mayoral candidate Kelly Straniti got 660 votes in District A. Perpignan got 697 and Cahn got 711. So it wasn’t quite a straight party line vote.
He had joked during the campaign that he had a solution to voter apathy, he said – use charter revision to make the Common Council members professionals who are paid $130,000 a year – that would get Norwalkers to the polls, he said.
He was not going to say elected officials are not doing a good job, he said.
“You are talking about a volunteer job. This is my comment, because after I lost the election, I said ‘Well, it’s a 20-hour-a-week, part-time job that pays $40 a month, I am not sure that’s really a loss.’ That’s a compliment to the people who do it,” he said. “… You keep recycling these same people, there is the argument that f there are better people, those people don’t want to be involved because they don’t want to get involved in government.”
“It’s tough work. That’s something I wish you could communicate to the voters,” he said.
So, you can’t convince voters that it’s tough to run for office, but, “I think there are people on both sides of the aisle who owed it to the voters to spend a little bit more time campaigning,” Cahn said.
Yes, that includes Serasis, but, “He is not the only guy I am thinking about,” he said, describing Serasis as a friend who has “nothing but good intentions for District A.”
“But, regardless, he could have campaigned more,” Cahn said. “I think not doing adequate amounts of campaigning is disrespectful of the process and it is disrespectful of the voters.”
Describing the Norwalk political scene to outsiders is interesting because the headline issues appear reversed, he said. The outsiders would assume that the Republicans are Democrats, based on the issues they are talking about, he said.
For instance, Planning and Zoning.
“Planning and Zoning as it relates to making places in Norwalk more desirable and changing stuff in Norwalk and developing it” sound like a Republican issue but, “Republicans are like, everything is just fine in Planning and Zoning. We have a city planner, we are doing just fine,” he said.
Cahn talked a lot about his frustration that local people would vote against local Republicans because of national issues. “It’s not my fault that everyone out there on the national level is beating the wrong drum and saying the wrong things and is wrong on these issues,” Cahn said.
You have to pick a party to run in Norwalk; he chose Republicans for three reasons, naming two before moving on to other thoughts about the national party. Such is a conversation with James Cahn.
“I truly believe people don’t want to be interfered with, and by the way that is different than going out of your way to not help out people who need help. That is part of the social contract. People need help, you help them,” Cahn said.
Also, everyone wants to keep as much of their money as they can, rather than pay taxes, because “The money that we get is the way we keep score of the time we don’t spend with our families.”
So maybe he’s a Republicrat, a “Norwalk thang.” Would he change party affiliation?
“I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand; it’s not something that I am looking to do,” Cahn said. “My first honest and true priority is having an impact in Norwalk. … If I am going back to this idea of saying an election is a necessary evil, I am fully aware of the appearance that it gives, ‘Well, make your mind up James, either the election really isn’t that important or now you are going to change your political affiliation in the interest of winning an election.’ So it’s tough to say. It comes down to evaluating the balance between if it’s more important to me to be a registered (Republican) or if it’s more important to me to go to bat and help Norwalk by changing political affiliation. I will say I will not draw a line in the sand and say hard no, never happening. But equally so, I am not going to say yeah, maybe 80 to 90 percent shot I’d change parties.”
While it’s arguable that in Norwalk the only thing worse than running Republican is changing affiliation, he said, “I think that has less to do with the voters maybe than the political infrastructure which is in place.”
He wouldn’t do it just to win an election, he said.
“In Norwalk it does matter what ticket you are on, and if I do want to change Norwalk, and I am serious about that enough, then it’s more important for me to be involved and to help Norwalk than it is for this ridiculous political ideology,” Cahn said.
It was widely believed that the mayoral election would be close, he said. Not just among Republicans, but those outside the party, he said.
Democratic candidates, running without name recognition, commented that they hoped Mayor Harry Rilling’s coat tails would help them get elected.
“What was surprising to me was how surprising the results were at the end, because I thought Kelly ran a good campaign,” Cahn said. Mayor Harry Rilling ran a solid campaign, too, he said.
The Republican reactions as the results came in were “interesting,” he said.
“I question whether or not we as a party are in this echo chamber. If that is the case then you know what? That is arguably the reason we are losing. We have to get out of that because if all we are doing is talking about how great our candidates are, obviously we are only talking to each other,” Cahn said.
Yes, Cahn said, he will approach Rilling to see how he could serve Norwalk on a board or commission. Charter revision would be interesting, but he might not be the best person for that – it’s an important task and the priority should be to get the most qualified people possible, he said.
Charter revision could be a lot more than term limits, he said – and voters are smart enough to know that Rilling has only had two years, of which the first year was learning the job and the second year was spent on campaigning. Voters know the charter is wrong, he said.
Cahn said it’s surprising that the follow-up question to the election is “Are you going to stay involved?”
“Losing the election and staying involved are to me two different things,” Cahn said. “… The election is a contest, which is not to take away from the people who won it, but the election is a contest and if you want to get involved and you want to help out, but now you lose the election so you say I am taking my ball and I am going home, then to me you kind of have to question was that person running for the right reasons anyway.”
“My hope is that I ran a fair enough and thoughtfully thought out enough campaign that I got noticed by people who are in a position to recommend me to boards or commissions and that kind of thing, as somebody who is fair and thoughtful and balanced, and has Norwalk’s best interest at heart,” Cahn said. “To speak to the quality of the people who are elected, I am confident that if I am as talented and passionate that I like to believe that I am that people who are as talented and passionate enough to notice that. … I am not going anywhere.”