NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Richard Moccia was on the defensive Tuesday evening, trying to fend off the numerous slams from Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling in a debate that drew more than the usual suspects to the City Hall community room.
Rilling and Moccia sat in front of a packed crowd for the League of Women Voters debate, with ordinary citizens packed in with politicos, some sitting on the stairway, some lined up standing against the back wall, some sitting on chairs pulled out at the last moment. They watched as the two men covered familiar some territory and addressed issues in questions posed by the public, and as Moccia responded in new ways to some of Rilling’s repeated criticisms.
Moccia had a story in response to Rilling’s assertion that he could have done more to get more school funding from the state, funding that comes through the Educational Cost Sharing Formula (ECS).
“The interesting thing has come up, when Gov. Malloy was mayor of Stamford he instituted a lawsuit against Gov. Rell, claiming that the property taxes and the way schools were funded were illegal,” Moccia said. “Mayor Knopp joined that lawsuit, cost us $15,000. When I took office, they came to me. Originally I had some concerns but as the case moved through I thought there was some legitimacy so the council, the board of estimate, approved another $15,000. But now Mayor Malloy, who is now Gov. Malloy, has sent more assistant attorney generals into our … court arguing for dismissal of the lawsuit. He said we’re giving more money now so we don’t need the lawsuit. He was for it before he was against it.”
But his first statement was a softball for a zinger from Rilling.
“I tried everything I can,” Moccia said, mentioning a meeting he had with leaders both parties in Hartford. “… I will continue to argue.”
“I think the mayor summarized it by saying, ‘I think I’ve done everything I can,’” Rilling replied. “To me, that’s not what a leader says. A leader says, ‘I tried, I’m going to continue to try.’”
Rilling listed the reasons why Norwalk should get more money from the state – the number of students on free or reduced lunch, for instance – and said he would be more proactive, and “go up to Hartford constantly” until the formula is changed. This was after he had promised to be present during negotiations with the Norwalk Federation of Teachers.
“I’ll tell you, occasionally you have to sit behind his desk and be a mayor,” Moccia said in response. “I have done everything I can. But the squeaky wheel resides up in Hartford. As much as I have tried to apply grease to that squeaky wheel I get constant resistance. Please remember it’s a Democratic legislature, the delegation from Norwalk is controlled by the Democrats, it’s a Democratic governor. I believe they have some responsibility.”
“I think I found the problem,” Rilling replied. “The mayor said sometimes he’s going to have to sit behind the desk and be mayor. The mayor should not always be sitting behind the desk. The mayor should be out there being proactive.”
Moccia had a prop in response to another question about education.
“I refer to Connecticut Magazine,” he said. “Number two city in the state but number one among the cities in education. Higher graduation rate than even Stamford and Danbury. So we must be doing something right. … I’ll stand by what we’ve done with the Board of Ed.”
“Well, apparently a lot of people don’t read Connecticut Magazine because we have too many people that are talking that our Board of Education is not properly funded,” Rilling said. “They’re saying our school system is dysfunctional and they’re moving out of the city of Norwalk, or they’re sending their children to private schools.”
Other topics posed by Norwalk citizens included the federal lawsuit filed by supporters of the mosque proposed for 127 Fillow St., the rumored mall proposal for 95/7, teachers’ salaries, blight and big box stores.
Stay tuned on all of that. NancyOnNorwalk will explore those issues over the next few days, depending on the breaking news situation in town.
In closing the hour and a half of conversations, Rilling made note of the perhaps 200 people in the room.
“Thank everybody for coming,” Rilling said. “It truly shows that you care about what is happening in Norwalk. It truly shows that you want to make an informed decision on Nov. 5.”
Moccia said it had been an honor to be there and an honor to be mayor for eight years.
“Obviously I don’t share the vision of Norwalk that Mr. Rilling does,” he said. “I believe that the city has moved forward. … I have had the honor to lead this city and represent the residents as their mayor for eight years. I’m asking for them to give me two more years because they have given far more to me than I could have ever given to them. I have learned so much from them.”