NORWALK, Conn. – Nothing has changed, Norwalk – the choice of a Democrat to take on Republican Mayor Richard Moccia this fall is still in the hands of the people who turn out for the Democratic primary in September.
After eight rounds of voting – the latter ones seemed like deja vu all over again – the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee voted to adjourn its nominating convention Monday without endorsing a mayoral candidate.
Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling led each time, but not with enough votes to walk out the door with the endorsement. District D Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra came in a strong second, closing the gap to stay one behind Rilling on each of the later votes.
Votes from half the DTC members present, plus one, were needed. That meant 18 votes, as every one of the 35 members were there, either in person or by proxy.
The first ballot resulted in 14 votes for Rilling, 10 votes for Mangiacopra, seven votes for Matt Miklave and four for Andy Garfunkel. On the second vote, Miklave voters Steve Serasis, Mike Barbis, Sam Disraelly and John Igneri went for Mangiacopra. Miklave voter Susan Wallerstein went for Rilling. The tally? Rilling 15, Mangiacopra 14, Miklave two and Garfunkel two.
Third vote, Ernie Dumas switched from Mangiacopra to Miklave. Garfunkel voter Joe Tanburri went to Rilling. Rilling 16, Mangiacopra 14, Miklave three and Garfunkel two.
Time for a break – Brown called a “five minute recess.” In the half hour that followed, Mangiacopra schmoozed Tamburri and Rilling talked to Barbis for a while.
Next vote? Rilling 16, Mangiacopra 15, Miklave two, Garfunkel two.
And that is where it stayed.
More play by play: After the fourth vote, Brown warned non-committee members that it might take a while – it might be a good time to go home.
The rules do not allow for the lowest vote-getters to be dropped. After another vote with the same results she called a recess.
“We have to figure out what to do so you’re not here all night,” she said.
The meeting had begun at about 7:15 p.m.; it was 9:49 p.m.
Miklave sent out a Tweet: “Another ‘caucus’ as Insiders offer deals. If people think they can offer me something for vote, they just have not been paying attention.”
After two more votes another recess was called. The four candidates, Brown, NDTC Treasurer Peter Thor and state central representative Nora King met in a side room and closed the door.
When the convention resumed, Democrats joked that the Republicans must have turned off the air conditioning in the City Hall community room, where everyone was suffering. Brown announced that she was calling the calvary – the secretary of state.
After another half an hour, pizza and speculation that the meeting might be adjourned without an endorsement, Brown called another vote. For the fifth time, the results were Rilling 16, Mangiacopra 15, Miklave two, Garfunkel two.
Former Mayor Alex Knopp, a Rilling supporter, made a motion to adjourn. Mangiacopra supporters objected, but Knopp said it was non-debatable.
Brown asked Knopp to withdraw the motion. He would not.
“This meeting will become a farce if it goes on much longer,” he said. “I move to adjourn.”
All of Mangiacopra’s supporters voted against adjourning. Everyone else voted for it.
Mangiacopra said he was disappointed by the outcome.
“We felt that we have momentum going into later ballots,” he said, in spite of the last five identical votes. “We were really excited about the amount of support we had here today. I feel that if we were to go multiple ballots we were assured of getting the nomination. It looked like it was a strategy amongst the three other candidates in the race to have a no vote and pretty much go to an open primary.”
He later released a statement saying that he had gained the most votes during the evening.
Rilling said he was a little disappointed given that he had led all the ballots.
“But it was obvious that we were deadlocked,” he said. “We’ve been here 4½ hours. And the outcome is going to be the same. All four of us are going to primary. There’s no difference to the outcome. We could have stayed here all night long and nothing would have changed.”
He denied that there had been a strategy amongst him, Miklave and Garfunkel.
“I think we came in here expecting to have a clear winner,” he said. “I think everybody wanted to come out with a clear winner.”
Miklave pointed out that he had come in third on the first ballot.
“I’m actually very pleased with the result because I think this showed a maturity of the Democratic Party,” he said. “We decided as a party that we’re not going to let party insiders pick the Democratic nominee, we’re going to allow the people to pick the Democratic nominee. We decided that we’re all going to be equal, no one’s going to have the advantage over the other. We’ll all have to petition on and have a vigorous contest. I think that’s what my candidacy has been about, is to change my party, and tonight is the first example of how we’re bringing reform to Norwalk.”
Garfunkel said something similar.
“This is a small universe of 35 people that choose a candidate to run for mayor, to represent the 14,000 to 15,000 registered Democrats throughout the city and it’s been my contention all along when we got to this many candidates that we should leave it to the voters, not the general public but the Democratic voters, to choose the candidate when it became such a crowded field,” he said.
Miklave said his volunteers would be out at 9 a.m. Wednesday gathering signatures on a petition so he would be in the Sept. 10 primary.
“At the end of the day, the leaders made a decision that rather than have some gamesmanship pick the nominee that we’re going to allow the people to decide who our nominee is,” he said. “We’re going to take this contest to the people. That’s what it should be. I don’t think we should be afraid of a primary. That’s the contest of ideas that I wanted to have and that’s the contest of ideas that we have right now.”
What happened during that little conference behind the closed door?
“My position inside with the town chair and the other candidates and our state central representative, our parliamentarian, was that we should continue voting until there’s a nominee,” Mangiacopra said. “As the Democratic chairman in our district and an executive member of the town committee, I felt it was important that our party, given all the things that have taken place in recent few weeks that we come forward with a nominee. Clearly that wasn’t in the cards for some other candidates to have that kind of strategy but regardless we’re excited about our prospects going into the September primary and ultimately offering the biggest contrast to Mayor Moccia in November.”
Rilling said he couldn’t discuss it because it was like an executive session kind of thing.
“We were talking about possible strategies that we could try to work out,” he said. “How we could move forward. It was decided that we would take one more vote. If anybody made a motion to adjourn at any point then the motion to adjourn is not debatable.”
All was calm and civil throughout the meeting, although David Watts directed some angry words at Rilling as the former police chief headed out the door.
“You cut off debate,” Watts said. “You’re no different from Moccia.”