NORWALK, Conn. — The 2013-15 Norwalk Common Council wrapped it up Tuesday with warm acknowledgements and just a little bit of business regarding one of its biggest issues – The SoNo Collection.
“We didn’t always agree. Sometimes we disagreed rather loudly. We always were working toward making the city the best it can be,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.
The action before the meeting included Majority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) moving things from one caucus chamber to the other, as Republicans vacate the home they have had for nearly four years after losing their Council majority status in the election. The action in the meeting included Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D) announcing that everyone had been given a plaque in honor of their two years on the Council, calling it a “well-earned token.”
“These are better than last term,” Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said.
There had been money in the account, Hempstead said.
It’s a “2-month salary right here,” Councilman John Kydes (D-District C) said, joking.
Watts and Petrini are not returning, having chosen not to run for re-election. Also not returning are Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E), Councilman Glenn Iannaccone (R-At Large) and Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large), who failed to win re-election.
“I guess I could use some time off, but I will never stop serving my city in some capacity,” said Iannaccone, after professing pride in his many years of service to Norwalk, both as a member of the fire department and four years on the Board of Education.
“I’ll be watching,” he said, explaining that’s a phrase he used on his new son-in-law when his daughter got married.
“I don’t have anything as eloquently prepared as Mr. Iannaccone did, so for the next 20 minutes I will talk,” McCarthy said, a reference to his comments in September regarding Rilling’s attempted reappointment of Nora King to the Zoning Commission.
McCarthy lost the election due to many Rowayton voters choosing his Democratic opponents. King was involved in getting that vote out.
“It’s been an excellent four years and I have enjoyed it a great deal. You’ll still see me around,” McCarthy said.
Watts said he was sad but it is time to move on.
“God bless the city. It’s a wonderful city. I would encourage anybody to get involved,” Watts said.
“Don’t count me out because I will be back,” Stewart said.
Petrini called it an “incredible journey.”
“I don’t know if these two terms have been unique, but I have lived through an awful, awful lot. I came into the Council on the minority party. That lasted for about four months and then we became the majority party, under a Republican mayor,” Petrini said.
The Republican caucus never regarded Rilling in a partisan way, he said.
“I just urge all the Council people that are coming on, and all the ones that are returning, just work together. Don’t draw lines in the sand,” Petrini said. “… This city has nowhere to go but up and I am sure it will because the returning people on both sides are great people and we have a very good mayor.”
“I look at this like a family. You’ve got those family members that drive you crazy, they get on your nerves, but at the end of the day it’s still a family. Everyone here, there is a bond here that will never go away,” Kydes said.
The last bit of business for the Council was approving a contract with The Cecil Group to do design review on the overpass General Growth Properties would like to build over North Water Street as part of its mall, The SoNo Collection.
Hempstead said that, if the Council didn’t take that up, it wouldn’t get done until mid-December, just because of the logistics of a new Council getting underway.
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) called the agreement regarding the overpass “good government,” as an “imaginative compromise” resolved differences that he had suspected might not be worked out.
“This turned out much better than I think it would have if we hadn’t been as patient as we were. I have to thank Mr. Hempstead on that because we came up with a great compromise. In the end, I am positive we are going to have a great design that meets all of our concerns,” Kimmel said.
After the meeting, Stewart said she will be able to focus more time on her non-profit, offering pro-bono services to people in need, “take a job and do some other things I have not been able to do.”
“I am really saddened that South Norwalk didn’t come out and support me… People came out from South Norwalk to vote but not enough came out. Too many people said, ‘Oh, I didn’t think my vote mattered,’” Stewart said.
Hempstead talked about the Council’s accomplishments, including adding more money to the capital budget for sidewalk and road repairs, a commercial blight ordinance and working on the “largest development we have ever had in the city of Norwalk,” The SoNo Collection.
This was after “a 6-year period where it was all focused on the budget” because of the economic downturn, he said. Money had returned to the capital markets and it shows in development, he said.
If you had asked him in February if he would run for re-election, he would have probably said 85 to 90 percent no, he said. But two people, including mayoral candidate Kelly Straniti, asked him to run, he said.
“Better to be here and have your voice heard here than to be home and picking up or reading online an article and getting very frustrated. At least here you can try to make a difference,” Hempstead said.
Only one member of the public addressed the Council at the beginning of its short meeting.
“I think serving your community in this fashion is a civic virtue and a rare quality,” Mike Mushak said. “Certainly, as JFK said, you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time; you will never please all of the people all of the time. Certainly, I have had issues. There has certainly been a bumpy ride with a lot of issues and I haven’t always agreed with all of the decisions from this Council, but I think you guys really did an amazing job. … Ultimately, if you are serving your community, and that is such a great thing especially in this era of apathy and low voter turnout, it’s really amazing.”
Watts arrived at the meeting 5 minutes late; Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) was absent.