NORWALK, Conn. – A public comment made by a spectator at Tuesday night’s Norwalk Common Council meeting has drawn an angry response from a Democratic candidate for mayor – and a belated response from Mayor Richard Moccia.
At the meeting, a woman who had come to advocate for a Zoning Commission appointment ran through a list of other people appointed by Moccia. “(The mayor) has newly appointed Harry Rilling, who is now running against him for mayor after saying he would not do that if given the zoning position,” she said.
“Why would I agree to accept a Zoning Commission position under those circumstances, knowing I was thinking of tossing my hat in the ring?” Rilling asked.
He said there was no discussion of his political plans when Moccia approached him about the seat on the Zoning Commission.
The woman’s comment went unchallenged by Moccia, who later, when questioned by NancyOnNorwalk, said no deal was made.
“How could I, how would I, say that when I already had consulted with two people about running for mayor?” Rilling said, adding that people in both parties had been suggesting it “for years.”
Rilling said he checked with state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) to see if he was planning to challenge Moccia. “I told him if he was running, I would not challenge him.”
Rilling said he also called former Mayor Bill Collins to ask what he thought of him running, and got a positive response. Then he heard from Moccia.
“The mayor called within a week,” Rilling said Tuesday. “He said ‘Would you be interested in the Zoning Commission?’”
Rilling said Wednesday he wondered if the offer came because Moccia heard he was considering a run for mayor and that the zoning post was an attempt to short-circuit the plan. “I asked him to give me a couple of days to think about it,” he said, and he consulted Collins about whether he should accept. Collins, Rilling said, “thought it would be a good experience for me and would help if I did decide to run.”
“I called the mayor back and accepted. End of story. No promises, no deals, no discussion at all about whether or not I was considering a run.”
Contacted Tuesday by email, Moccia admitted there was no quid pro quo.
“My conversations with Harry were, for the most part, private,” Moccia wrote. “All I have ever said prior to his appointment was that he indicated at that time he was not interested in any political office. I believe that is what she (the woman at the council meeting) was trying to put forward. In fairness to both Harry and myself, there were no deals of any kind made.”
Rilling again disputed Moccia’s assertion that he gave the mayor any indication then that he would not be running.
“We never had any discussion of me running or not running. I never told him I would not run for mayor. There were no promises or deals attached to the offer,” he said. “In the past we talked about how busy the mayor was and I told him I didn’t know how he did it. I never told him I would not ever run.”
Rilling said Moccia should have spoken up when the woman spoke at the meeting.
“Why did the mayor not correct that public speaker like he has corrected others in the past?” he asked. “He had a chance to set the record straight and apparently didn’t.”
He also questioned where the woman got her information, given that she was not present during their discussions.”
“If our conversations were mostly in private, how would this woman have been trying to put anything forward?” Rilling asked. “She was never present when the mayor and I spoke on ANY subject.”