NORWALK, Conn. – The Rilling reelection campaign released a major announcement Tuesday, hours before an important and controversial Common Council vote.
“Norwalk Mayor Harry W. Rilling announced today that he plans to seek a fifth term as Mayor. Mayor Rilling was first elected to office in 2013, and under his leadership, Norwalk has grown its tax base, revitalized its downtowns, and elevated its public schools into the state’s top performing city district,” the press release said.
Rilling’s reelection bid is no surprise to NancyOnNorwalk readers but the press release detailed “five overarching priorities” for the Democrat who has fought off contentious challenges from an unaffiliated activist in the last two election cycles. It also included endorsements from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich).
The Common Council set a budget cap Tuesday evening that is $1 million lower than recommended by Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz. Rilling’s only announced opponent, Common Council member John Kydes (D-District C) led the charge; Kydes introduced the amendment to the motion for a $400 million appropriations cap, which then passed on a 10-5 vote, after which, Rilling offered supportive words.
“I think we’re really acting in the good interest of the city and the taxpayers,” he said.
Kydes formed an exploratory committee for a Mayoral run in December. His fundraising total is far behind Rilling’s; as of late-January, he could confirm $4,000 in the coffer while the Rilling campaign spokesman Adam Wood said the Mayor had raised more than $60,000.
“The positive feedback and donations that I have received since starting my exploratory committee has been overwhelmingly successful,” Kydes said Tuesday in an email. “I plan to make my announcement on if I will be running for Mayor this year in the coming months. My focus right now is to continue with my public outreach campaign and fundraising efforts. The Mayor informed me of his announcement so it did not come as a surprise or impact my plans. We have agreed to continue working together and keep the politics from interfering with city business. With the grip of the pandemic still being so strong we both understand that Norwalk must be the top priority right now. I am looking forward to what the coming months will bring. There is no doubt that there will be trying times ahead, but I am up for the challenge.”
The Rilling campaign announcement cited “thoughtful and steady leadership” that’s been “evident throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Over the course of the public health crisis, which continues today, Mayor Rilling has made tough decisions, implemented new rules and regulations, and expanded resources to public safety and public health personnel to help keep residents safe,” it said.
“I have never been more honored to be your Mayor than I have been over this past year,” Rilling is quoted as saying. “The COVID-19 pandemic showed the Norwalk community’s true spirit, with friends helping friends and neighbors helping neighbors. We looked out for one another and we continue to take care of loved ones and complete strangers months into this pandemic.”
He continued, “We all know there are disparities in our community, and COVID-19 has shined a bright light on these inequities. I have been blown away by the support our residents and businesses have shown those who needed a helping hand. I firmly believe the City can and should do more, and addressing these challenges remains a top priority for my administration.”
The “five overarching priorities” listed in the release:
“ECONOMY and the road back from COVID-19
- “Support local businesses impacted by the pandemic through local grant programs and tax relief
- “Continue and expand food share programs
- “Grow the tax base with new development to help reduce tax burden on families and residents
- “Recruit new and retain existing businesses
- “Focus on safe routes to school and enhance walkability of neighborhoods and downtowns
- “Commit to Vision Zero to ease traffic concerns and improve safety
“EDUCATION and a path toward success
- “Support the schools to help students reach their greatest potential
- “Fund the recruitment of more diverse teachers and staff
- “Build new schools and renovate existing spaces
- “Foster partnerships with YMCA community center
- “Prioritize technology investments for families with low incomes
“EQUITY and justice for all
- “Bring on Equity and Justice consultant to review City functions and departments and provide recommendations to help address social and racial justice issues
- “Build trusted partnerships between elected officials, first responders, and community members
- “Fund programs and initiatives specifically for communities of color, marginalized groups, and people with low incomes
- “Grow Community Services Department with additional social workers, family navigators, and support staff
“EFFICIENCY and delivering quality services
- “Conduct efficiency study for all City and Education Departments to find cost-savings and improve services to the public
- “Move more City-services, including permits, 100% online
- “Revamp City website to be more user and mobile-device friendly
- “Live-stream and record all City meetings, in multiple languages, to help expand access to the public
“ENVIRONMENT and sustainability
- “Phase out printers and copiers at all City buildings to become paperless
- “Promote and use solar and renewable energy wherever possible and ensure any new City/School construction project meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification
- “Double annual tree planting budget and further partnerships with local conservation groups
- “Replace City vehicles with hybrid models and pursue Zoning and/or Ordinance changes to make new Electric Vehicle infrastructure more accessible”
Norwalk Republican Town Committee Chairman Carl Dickens did not reply to an afternoon email asking for a response.
Lisa Brinton, an unaffliated voter, ran for Mayor as part of a four-candidate scrum in 2017 and in 2019, won a Republican endorsement for the post. Rilling won that contest with 55.5% of the vote, the same percentage he got in 2017, with Brinton achieving 44.5% support. She maintains that she gained voters as Rilling had a Democratic opponent in 2017, who garnered 6% of the vote.
She didn’t respond to a Tuesday email from NancyOnNorwalk, asking if she planned to run for Mayor again or to form a third party.
“Mayor Rilling continues to have strong support from the local community, having raised more than $60,000 to date for his re-election effort,” the Rilling press release said. “Donations have come from carpenters, firefighters, ironworkers, laborers, Democrats and Republicans. The majority of the contributors were from Norwalk and surrounding towns, with about 80% of contributions $250 or less. Members of the state’s Federal Delegation have also offered their support to Mayor Rilling.”
Kydes said the maximum donation for an exploratory committee is $375 per individual. For a Mayoral campaign, it’s $1,000. Rilling had 15 maximum donations as of Dec. 31, according to campaign documents filed with the Town Clerk’s Office.
At that point, Rilling had raised $42,025. Rilling’s 2019 reelection campaign did not start until Jan. 22 of that year, so there was no early January filing, Town Clerk Rick McQuaid said. But the 2017 effort was slightly below this year’s: on Dec. 31, 2016, Rilling for Mayor had raised $40,630, according to that filing.
Rilling went on to raise more than $144,000 in 2017. In October 2019, the campaign said it had raised more than $145,000.
Rilling’s press release quotes Blumenthal as saying, “Harry Rilling has led Norwalk through health and economic crises with thoughtful leadership and integrity. He has forged community partnerships to help residents and businesses, guiding Norwalk to a stronger future.” Said Himes: “Mayor Harry Rilling is a good friend and a leader of tremendous empathy and integrity. He cares deeply for the Norwalk community. His thoughtful leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic defines grace under pressure. Harry will continue to bring jobs, revitalization and exemplary public education to Norwalk. I’m proud to endorse his re-election.”
“We have accomplished a lot over the last several years, but the job is not complete. I remain fully committed to funding new and existing programs to help residents and businesses in need. I am steadfast in my belief that government is good, is effective, and is here to help,” Rilling is quoted as saying. “I will always stand up for our residents, not for special interest groups or political parties. I will always make the tough call, not the politically expedient choice. I will always believe that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. I will always fight to make sure Norwalk remains a safe, affordable, and vibrant place for all people, not just a select few. I am proud and honored to be the Mayor of our great city, and I promise to keep our momentum going.”