Updated, Dec. 30
By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – The winds howled and the water rose in late October as most Norwalk residents smartly stayed in their homes, watching one of the biggest stories of 2012 on their televisions – until the power went out.
Hurricane Sandy caused millions of dollars of damage at Calf Pasture Beach, according to a preliminary estimate from Mayor Richard Moccia, and, less visibly, weakened the harbor’s protective shield – the Norwalk Islands lost a significant amount of the soil that makes them effective barrier islands, harbor keepers say. Power was lost to 64 percent of Norwalk residents at midnight Oct. 29; it took a week for CL&P to whittle that down to 5 percent.
Just over a week later, while Norwalk was still in a state of emergency, Sandy was followed by a Nor’easter. Given that Norwalk was hit by Hurricane Irene and a freakishly early October snowstorm a year ago, many people think of weather as an ongoing top story.
Norwalk Harbor Master Mike Griffin said in December that politicians had formed a shoreline preservation task force to gather information about climate change from waterfront residents. “The awareness factor itself is a major step forward,” he said.
Another top story of 2012 didn’t happen in Norwalk, but was keenly felt here: the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. A vigil at City Hall attracted 700 to 800 people, and vigils were held at many Norwalk schools, Board of Education members said.
At least one Norwalk home had Sandy Hook luminaria burning by the road on Christmas Eve, on West Rocks Road at Bayne Street.
Other top stories are more local:
- School budget shortfall: A $4 million deficit in the 2011-2012 school budget was discovered in April, forcing layoffs at Norwalk schools. The proposed budget for the next school year seeks to restore some of those positions, with an emphasis on rebuilding.
- School Superintendent Susan Marks resigned: After two years in Norwalk, and one particularly bruising budget battle, Susan Marks resigned in July. She is now listed as Acting Associate Superintendent at Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, where she worked before coming to Norwalk. The BOE recently hired a superintendent search firm, PROACT, and expects to have candidates by April 15.
- NEON’s “mispent” money leads to Joe Mann’s resignation: An audit of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now released by the Office of the Inspector General in February said the agency may have misused more than $400,000 in federal funds intended to support the Head Start program. Moccia and the legislative delegation subsequently called for the head of NEON CEO Joe Mann, which they eventually got. Patricia Wilson Pheanious is in charge of the agency as interim president. The Head Start program continues.
- Jogger killed by a car: Kenneth Dorsey, 44, was jogging on New Canaan Avenue on March 24 when he was struck by an SUV driven by a 17-year-old New Canaan girl who was using her cell phone, according to Norwalk Police. The teenager was eventually sentenced to probation, according to The Hour.
- Mosque planned for 127 Fillow St.: A plan by Al Madany Islamic Center to build a mosque and community hall in a West Norwalk neighborhood resulted in three public hearings by the Zoning Commission, which voted 4-3 in June to turn down the proposal. Al Madany sued the city. The decision seems on the verge of being reversed, as the commission met on Nov. 29 and approved the following resolution: “Subject to an agreement on the terms and conditions of the final settlement agreement, we consent to allow for zoning approval for the mosque and accessory use building.” Common Council member David McCarthy (R-District E) says in a letter to the Hour that this is just a step in the settlement of the lawsuit.
- Shifting leadership on the Common Council: Democrats started the 2012 legislative year with an 8-7 majority, but after Michael Geake changed his affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated and decided to caucus with the Republicans, that changed. Democrats lost all of their committee chairmanships as a result.
- Norwalk Police leadership shift: Chief Harry Rilling, who was appointed as Norwalk police chief in 1995, retired in June. Deputy Chief Thomas Kulhawik was promoted to be chief despite the protests of Norwalkers who wanted a nationwide search. David Wrinn was promoted to deputy chief. Rilling now serves on the Zoning Commission. In November, he registered as a Democrat after being unaffiliated for many years. He has expressed an interest in running for mayor, but has not taken concrete steps in that direction.
- Gun violence: Shootings continued in Norwalk this year, and three people died in separate incidents. The January homicide of Joseph Bateman remains unsolved. Pernell McBride, 49, is facing trial in the South Norwalk shooting death of John “Debo” Alston in May. Kyle Freitag, 21, and Terrance J. Baxter, 22, have been charged in the Oct. 30 shooting death of 19-year-old Dajon Johnson on Fort Point Street, according to The Hour. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) are now working more formally with Norwalk to combat gun violence.
- YMCA closing: Childcare programs will continue but the YMCA is closing its doors at 370 West Ave. The building is being bought by Norwalk Hospital. Moccia recently commented that a private developer is considering putting a YMCA-like pool in one of his projects.
- I-95 widening: It doesn’t get much ink – what is there to say? – but it’s a project that affects virtually everyone in town. The $42 million widening of I-95 will provide an additional lane in each direction of the highway between Exits 14 and 15 in the hopes of easing congestion and making the roadway safer.