NORWALK, Conn. – The differences between the mayoral candidates’ sensitivity to Latino issues is obvious to anyone who was at the South Norwalk Community Center’s mayoral debate, according to Councilman Warren Pena.
“There was a clear distinction,” Pena said of Republican Mayor Richard Moccia and Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling. “One gentleman, the current mayor, was very angry. He was intolerant of the questions, at times uncomfortable. We have another candidate running for mayor on our Democratic side, Harry Rilling, who was compassionate, who was thoughtful, who understood the community or the audience he was in front of and had a conversation with these folks.”
Pena’s a strong supporter of Rilling, of course.
You can judge for yourself in the last two videos of our series from the center.
In the first one, above, the men answer this question:
Norwalk is home to a large Latino population. In fact, Latinos account for roughly 25 percent of Norwalk’s population and 47 percent of the students in our public schools. Yet, of the 223 municipal board and community positions in Norwalk, less than 7 percent are Latino. This under representation may be the reason Latinos feel disenfranchised.
Out of 5,200 Latino registered voters, 800 voted in the last election. What will you do to address this under-representation, not only on the boards and commissions, but also in all the city departments, including the fire and police departments?
Moccia said to be on a board or commission you have to be a registered Norwalk voter, and only 800 Latinos vote.
“The only person that can disenfranchise yourself is yourself. You have to come out and vote and you can’t blame it on a system that says we might need more people,” he said, to a smattering of applause.
You don’t have to vote to be on a board or commission, according to the charter; you just have to be registered, a “member of the electorate.”
Moccia also disputed the idea that Latinos don’t vote because there aren’t many Latinos serving on boards or commissions.
Rilling said, “Since this question had to be asked then its a real problem. We have to make sure that you feel welcome on these boards and commissions. We have to hold voter registration drives geared toward Hispanic voters.”
In the video below this question was asked:
The entrepreneurial spirit within the Latino community is well noted. In what ways can the city of Norwalk assist Latino small business owners in these three areas? Reducing barriers to market entry, for example, training and technical assistance, increasing access to capital and building credit, creating access to markets, for example, commercial corridors.
“It is not just on the city,” Moccia said. “It is easy to say the city needs to reach out. What we try to do in the city is to ensure if they have questions they can meet with marketing director, if they have zoning issues they can meet with planning and zoning.”
That only works if people feel welcome in City Hall, Rilling said.
“I’ve heard over and over again that Norwalk City Hall is one of the unfriendliest places to do business,” he said. “I have heard it so many times I have to believe that it’s true.”
Moccia said that is “totally incorrect.”
“City Hall is a warm, welcoming place,” he said. “All of our departments are trained in this and understand it, and we are required by law, even if we didn’t want to do it we are required to do it.”