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The most puzzling election in memory

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Imagine you’re a lifelong Republican, and this November you begin to fill in the circles on your ballot, but you stop, wondering what’s going on. There are hardly any GOP candidates. And not a single Republican for the four seats on the Board of Education. The ballot instructions say you have four votes for BOE candidates, but there are no Republicans. Something must be wrong.

Welcome to the 2021 municipal elections in Norwalk, which might turn out to be the strangest in city history. Although the Democratic party is fielding a full slate of candidates for the 15 Common Council and four BOE slots, the local Republican party, in an unprecedented move for a major party in Norwalk, nominated only eight candidates for these 19 positions. Both parties have a mayoral candidate.

The weirdness is also reflected in the council candidates: Each GOP voter will have two votes for four in-district council candidates (usually, two Democrats and two Republicans) and five for the at-large council slate (usually, five Democrats and five Republicans). But one of the five districts has zero Republican candidates, three have only one Republican, and the GOP has only three candidates for the five at-large seats.

Another wrinkle to the strangeness is the appearance of candidates who petitioned their way onto the ballot. They call themselves “Independents for Norwalk” and are fielding nine candidates for the 19 slots (they don’t have a mayoral candidate). But there could be a legal challenge in the works because a statewide Independent party already exists (but is not running candidates), and Norwalk has roughly 1,000 voters registered as Independents. The two “Independent” groups appear totally unrelated. Which begs the question: What’s a life-long Independent to do when he or she receives a ballot?

For the record: I am a Democrat and former elected official who intends to support Mayor Rilling and the Democratic slate of candidates. I believe the mayor has done a good job steering the city through the pandemic, maintaining the city’s critical AAA credit rating, controlling property taxes, working with the BOE, and improving our land use policies and procedures. Much of this could not have been achieved without the support and work of the Democratic majority on the Common Council.

As mentioned, the local Democratic party is running a full slate of candidates (20) for Mayor, Common Council, and Board of Education. Many of these candidates will probably have the support of the Working Families Party, which does not field candidates in Norwalk, but generally endorses local Democrats. Many Democratic candidates will thus have two spots on the ballot.

Norwalk Republicans have had a tough time in recent elections: In 2017, the party was split, with many prominent Republicans supporting a non-Republican for mayor instead of their own endorsed candidate; and two years ago, the party nominated an Unaffiliated resident to be their standard bearer. They lost both elections badly. And now they have nominated a candidate for mayor who has never held elected or appointed office.

I was amused by the statement from the Republican chairperson, who was quoted in the press as saying their nominating convention “went very well. The meeting flowed nicely. The big challenge was making sure everybody stuck around to secure necessary paperwork.” The chairperson, of course, was in a difficult situation and did a nice job transforming what should have been a major embarrassment into a positive outcome – the candidates remembered to pick up the form that needs to be delivered to the Registrar of Voters.

At first glance, the Republican strategy makes absolutely no sense. They did not even bother to find “placeholders” (individuals with no intention of campaigning or interest in winning) to complete the ballot. But, taken together, the GOP and “Independent” partial slates do resemble a full slate (except for South Norwalk, where neither group nominated any candidates). This, of course, begs yet another question: Are they working together? It seems that way, especially considering the GOP’s mind-boggling decision not to nominate a single candidate for the four BOE positions, while the “Independents” nominated a full slate for the BOE.

Whatever the case, the Norwalk Republicans have made voting a puzzling endeavor for its dwindling number of supporters.

Bruce Kimmel

 

17 comments

Sue Haynie September 8, 2021 at 6:39 am

Firstly, Rilling hid in his basement for the last two years, doing as little as he had to while pulling in two taxpayers funded salaries. Rilling deserves no accolades. The Republican candidate for Mayor, Jonathan Riddle would be a positive change.

That Lisa Thomson with her indomitable spirit was able to resurrect Norwalk’s Independent Party is amazing. It’s not puzzling to realize that Norwalkers are tired of the good-old-boy&girl clubs of BOTH parties. Norwalk residents want leaders, they want to see their tax dollars working, and they want to see quality of life improvements. Nothing puzzling about that at all.

David Muccigrosso September 8, 2021 at 7:27 am

Norwalk, like pretty much everywhere else, needs a third-party-friendly system of voting. NO, this DOESN’T mean “ballot access”. Ballot access under a voting system that still makes third parties spoilers, is WORTHLESS. We need RANKED CHOICE or APPROVAL voting. Nothing short of it will suffice.

Khouri September 8, 2021 at 8:13 am

Another reason to stop receiving political agenda statements. Would rather see local events, etc. Sadly, this is not the case with this forum.

John O'Neill September 8, 2021 at 8:43 am

Welcome to the World of Conspiratorial Mumbo Jumbo – For those with lots of time on their hands and not much to do, conspiracy theory is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Especially, if it’s a slow day on the Cable “News” Networks.
If you look at the full slate of Independent candidates you don’t have to have a Master’s Degree to know they are not aligned with GOP, but I guess it makes for intriguing conjecture to some with time on their hands.
The writer above proves the point I’ve been making for years. Many voters in Norwalk bury their head in the sand and blindly pull the lever on Election day for a candidate from a Party without vetting that candidate. Heck, the people in the 137th have continued to vote a guy in to represent them in Hartford, who some think needs a Mapquest app to find the place. This writer will blindly cast his vote without even vetting the other candidates? There’s not a better candidate running against his Party? I find that tribalism at best and in today’s culture it could be considered much worse. That is one of the major flaws in our system. Voters have become lazy and vote for the candidate their party tells them to vote for. If that sounds like something out of Eastern Europe, you’re catching on. My advice to the writer above is to spend more time vetting the candidates and less time on conspiracy theory.
Some think Climate Change is an existential threat to the United States. I think it’s Voter Laziness. Especially, at the local level.

Lisa Brinton September 8, 2021 at 11:35 am

Interesting perspective by Bruce. Allow me to weigh in my own. The Norwalk DTC has been held hostage by this mayor for 8 years- any Dem not kissing the ring is out! The Norwalk RTC suffers the same fate – any challenge or criticism and you’re out of the Norwalk ‘good old boy’ network – no board or commission appointment for you, and/or removal instead of reappointment. If you’re an outspoken critic & a woman, regardless of affiliation- myself, Barbara Meyer Mitchell, Diane Cece & others …well, we know what happens 🤣

It’s actually quite impressive – I mean the complete consolidation of power and suppression of any debate accomplished by this mayor. That and his hiring of the Asst. Mayor, a New Haven trained political operative, who really runs the show & is accountable to no one.

In reality, it’s not the mayor or even the assistant mayor running Norwalk and this is where ‘party’ really does matter. Norwalk no longer controls its fate – Hartford does. This administration handed us over years ago. For what, is unclear. Just look at Hartford’s Agenda: the apartments, the tax credits, the traffic, the Boondoggle Walk Bridge, the regional Norwalk High. There are countless other examples.

Approximately, 42,000 Norwalkers filed their income tax returns to Hartford in 2018 (8th largest in revenue behind Stamford & our rich Fairfield County neighbors,) but virtually nothing comes back to our local schools & impoverished enrollment, which is now comprised of 60% free and reduced lunch students.

Botton line – The state needs money and that means bodies. Any bodies. Existing Norwalk homeowners can expect a big property tax increase after the election, to pay for all the ‘growth.’

The one thing this mayor can take credit for is the reawakening of the Independent Party after multiple decades of being asleep. If voters want ANY two-way dialogue, increased accountability, balance or communication by this administration, it’s not going to come from a red versus blue narrative because city issues are purple. Voters best look to the 15 courageous individuals running, because it won’t be coming from anywhere else.

Note: Bruce, Questioning our legal legitimacy is disingenuous. The issue is ballot access. It’s always been ballot access. The two party system wrote the ballot rules & rigged the process. What a surprise. Now, that our candidates have petitioned on the local level & complete this election cycle, everyone will see a much more ACTIVE Independent Party in Norwalk.

Georgie September 8, 2021 at 12:13 pm

It is never good when there is one party rule. This is what happens when you “cancel” everyone with a conservative viewpoint. I am confident things will come full circle, like they always do. Once the Dems become too authoritarian. They are already reaching a breaking point with their mandates.

Fred Wilms September 8, 2021 at 2:47 pm

Regarding the RTC convention, I do not recall seeing Bruce there. So I am not sure how he is so sure about what transpired.

To me this election season is not puzzling at all.

It is no secret that Norwalk Republicans, and indeed CT Republicans, are in a rebuilding phase. Right now the Norwalk Democrats are in charge.

Norwalk has a history of multiple political parties. For the longest time there was a Norwalk Independent Party. Going further back there was a Conservative Party and even the Socialists. To this day many Norwalk Democrats get crossed endorsed by the Working Families Party, which is a shell entity creation of the State employee unions.

All of us have to work with the realities that exist. However times change. Just last month the GOP regained the Greenwich State Senate seat it lost in 2018. Maybe the start of a new cycle?

JustaTaxpayer September 8, 2021 at 2:56 pm

Without operation Warp Speed Rilling or any mayor of either party would have the approval rating of our current President. So send praise where it’s due.

My guess is we can also find praise of Cuomo by our fearless leaders. One good thing about Lamont, he’s not Cuomo or Murphy.

Karl September 8, 2021 at 4:15 pm

I’m not even voting ! It’s fixed just like the Mid Terms will be ! Oh we need more mail in and ballot harvesting !!!

Tysen Canevari September 9, 2021 at 12:01 am

Bruce, I am so interested to hear what the mayor did during Covid that was so great? He closed city hall longer than any other town in CT! The Wall Street area is nothing short of a dump. How come the mayor isnt held accountable for that? 8 years and zero progress!! He has filled city hall with expensive out of towners with no loyalty to Norwalk. He took away points on the fire exam for Norwalk residents. I am still waiting to see what the benfits are of you pushing for the changed school times? You spent $90,000 on a traffic study. Now thats a waste of money! What credibility do you bring? You quit your city position. Keep drinking the Kool Aid Bruce. Dont forget to kiss the ring of the boss while you do.

Larry September 9, 2021 at 12:51 pm

I wholly agree with David M. that ranked choice voting is needed in Norwalk.

As an unaffiliated voter who’s unhappy with the choices provided by either of the two major parties, I’m frustrated that 3rd party candidates seem only to be able to split the vote of one party or the other- ultimately handing power over to the entrenched incumbent. Rank choice voting is the only solution I’m aware of that could facilitate more meaningful, impactful participation from 3rd party candidates.

Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate that any party in power (currently the Dems) would be inclined to support such a change, since it could only serve to undermine their grip on power. So that would seem to leave it to the Republicans, Independents and unhappy unaffiliated voters (such as myself) to agitate in favor of implementing ranked choice voting…

For those unfamiliar with the concept, see the following: https://ballotpedia.org/Ranked-choice_voting_(RCV)

Mimi Chang September 9, 2021 at 1:28 pm

This is the most puzzling opinion piece in recent days, considering the author’s own political inconsistency. Not too long ago, Mr. Kimmel, who’d resigned as BoE Chair after being unable to control an unruly, disturbing meeting which played out like an orchestrated witch-hunt, with catalyst Senator Duff and Mayor Rilling notably leaving him high and dry before things got ugly, afterwards wrote to NON, “I also stopped by the Registrar of Voters Office and changed my party affiliation from D to U. I believe the members of the Norwalk Democratic Party need to do some serious soul searching.” The same NON article stated, “Kimmel has had issues with the Democratic Party before. In 2013, Kimmel was endorsed by Republicans for re-election to the Council. He had been caucusing with the Republicans but had remained a Democrat.” The party’s “soul searching“ must’ve been fulfilled to Mr. Kimmel’s liking, as he’s taken off his U hat and is now knocking the Independent Party. Funny how that works.

If Mr. Kimmel was capable of changing his affiliation to U and making the above assessment of the Norwalk Democratic Party, then surely he can understand how I’s and U’s are as put off by the local party’s style of politics as he’d been, and would prefer a more balanced local government over tribal politics, and an option to align with Independent candidates of likeminded ideology on a ballot. Norwalk I’s and U’s with whom I’ve spoken are done with career politicians, divisive, partisan rhetoric, and condoned public humiliation of political opponents by high profile Norwalk Democrats, which has taken place during every election cycle in recent history, serving only to sow animosity and further divide, and to deflect attention from working on good public policy. As national trends are indicating that I’s and U’s will be game changers going forward in all elections, the reestablishment of a Norwalk Independent Party is ahead of the curve, which should be commended, not put down.

Mr. Kimmel must realize, as Norwalk I’s and U’s astutely do, that our Common Council is currently devoid of checks and balances necessary to function as it was designed to in order to fairly represent all residents. Most voters don’t lean too far left or too far right, and want a more collaborative political process. They want transparency, resident inclusiveness in decision making, less concentrated power and monopoly on appointed commissions, and a return to the weak mayor, strong council form of local government which Norwalk has unfortunately swerved away from, doing us all a disservice. Perhaps Mr. Kimmel should heed his own advice and “do some serious soul searching,” rather than churn out biased rhetoric about baseless GOP and Independent Party conspiracy theories, and diminish the noble effort of “Independents for Norwalk” to provide residents with a voice and choice, and to restore balance to our local government.

Michael McGuire September 9, 2021 at 2:29 pm

Tysen,

You almost sound like the spokesman for the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

Wall Street is far from being a ‘dump’. The only thing holding this area back are ineffectual and sometimes downright harmful public policies around parking tickets, POKO, and over regulation.

Look beyond POKO and you will find a vibrant art community backed up by the largest concentration of small business in Fairfield County. Small business is the driver of the economy – locally and nationally.

I hope you come down and check it out some Thursday-Sunday evening, maybe see a show at the renovated Wall Street Theater, or dine at one of the 10+ restaurants down here, a number of which have live music. The Mad Lab just hosted a great arts and entertainment event with well over several hundred people in attendance last weekend. The art park is a constant draw (Isaacs St. parking lot) as is the live music.

Over the past decade or so virtually every building in the Wall Street area has changed hands and or is undergoing renovations/improvements. We care about the historic character of the area and the changes here are remarkable.

Jim Gordon September 9, 2021 at 5:18 pm

I’ve voted Republican in the past (including Nixon) and if a Democratic candidate was accused of a double murder it’s possible I’d vote for his Republican opponent…. No, forget that, I lied. Until a Republican candidate can condemn what the leaders of their party are doing to this country it’s hard for me to imagine ever voting Republican again, no sir, it’s the straight Democratic ticket for me.

Tysen Canevari September 10, 2021 at 11:51 pm

Dear Michael,

I have lived her all my life and I ashamed at the Wall Street area. As for a show at the theater, isnt this the business that screwed all of its contractors that rebuilt it? Do you consider 10 hair salons on the same corner wonderful? How about the tyvek temple? Now thats some darn progress. My three sons went out and is now rented as a batting cage in the basement. Hardly a vibrant downtown.

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