Torrano: Norwalk Republicans, Democrats need to work together

Norwalk Police Chief 071112 041
Former Norwalk Police Capt. Pete Torrano is likely to be the next Republican Town Committee chairman.

NORWALK, Conn. – The conciliatory tone currently invading Norwalk politics isn’t just being spoken by leaders of the Common Council – the apparent heir to the throne of Republican leadership is also sounding a cooperative note.

“We’ve got to stop fighting each other,” said former Norwalk Police Commissioner Pete Torrano, who seems likely to replace Republican Town Committee Chairman Art Scialabba this March. “We’ve got to start recognizing that we are here to serve the public. We as a party recognize that there could be differences. We’re going to argue those differences, but the name calling, the accusations, the ‘Tea Party’ labels and all that stuff as got to stop. That’s child-like and it doesn’t do anybody any good. All it does is turn people against people.”

Scialabba announced recently that, after 10 years of leading Norwalk Republicans, he was going to step down in the wake of former Mayor Richard Moccia’s defeat in November. Torrano said Thursday that as far as he knows he is the only person looking to take on the volunteer job, a full-time occupation.

Torrano, 64, served 26 years on the Norwalk Police Department, much of it as a captain, retiring in 2001. The Vietnam veteran went on to work for the Connecticut Department of Transportation and then worked for five years at University of Bridgeport. He has been completely retired for two years.

Torrano served under former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling, now mayor. Torrano and Rilling were both considered for the deputy chief position decades ago. Rilling got the job.

What would Torrano do as RTC chairman?

“I’m hoping to build a team,” he said. “It’s not going to be just me leading the party. It’s not going to be me and 99 people, it’s going to be 100 people. I plan on doing things by consensus. I want to put together committees, I want to reach out to people.”

Torrano said he wants to find out why there aren’t more Hispanic, African-American and other minorities in the party.

“I would think that, based on the principals of the Republican Party, that most minorities would be attracted to the Republican Party,” he said. “I am confused as to why they are not … I have gotten some answers from some who have joined us. Sometimes it seems like it might just be a generational thing. Your parents were one party so they’re going to be one party. But then you sit down and you talk and you say, well, do your beliefs go in this direction or that direction, do you believe in sustaining yourself, do you believe in getting ahead of yourself, do you believe in the opportunity for an education, religious freedoms, do you believe in being who you are? I think that’s more of a Republican thing than a Democratic thing. I have many friends on the Democratic side but I think the Democrats are more into telling you how to do things than allowing you to do things. I want to find out why we do that.”

Torrano said the RTC has recruited some young people, who are in their early 20s, by going door to door.

“We want to change the face of the Republican Party because we’re perceived as the party of old rich white guys, and I want to guarantee you I’m not rich. Most of us are not rich. A good deal of us are not old white guys. We have quite large female population in our ranks. We have minorities in our ranks,” he said.

Reaching out will include going to church groups to ask people why they are Republican or Democrats. “Just discussions,” he said.

Other comments made by Torrano:

“One of the people who is a contender for the other side said that he hoped to build the party and get more voters. I don’t think that is the issue here. The issue is to serve the citizens of Norwalk better regardless of the party. Both parties have mutual interests. We should come together on the mutual interests and come together for the citizens, rather than fighting all the time. Clearly we are going to have disagreements on certain things but I would have to believe that the Democrats and Republicans are here for the same reason and that’s to serve the people.”

“I’d like to see some changes in how we approach things. This unnecessary name calling, this attempt to hurt people. Like I believe the current strategy now of the statewide Democratic Party is to label every Republican as a Tea Party Republican. Frankly I don’t know of any Tea Party Republicans on the town committee or in elected office at all. That’s going to be the campaigning you’ll see that going down the pike.”

“Frankly, I don’t care who the mayor is. I don’t care if he’s a Republican or a Democrat. Is he doing the right thing for the citizens? Obviously I would prefer a Republican because I think my ideology leans more toward Republican than it goes to Democrat because I think we’re more into serving the people than in serving individual groups. I think the Republican Party from my experience is more the party of inclusion that the Democrats. It seems the Democrats spend a little bit too much time pitting people each other instead of trying to pull them together.”

Democrats, including Rilling, proposed charter revision as part of their platform last fall. What does Torrano think of that?

“The argument in the past has been if you open up the charter you open up the whole thing. Everything. It could become a real tug of war between certain factions… I think in order to open it up it would have to be for a really valid reason. In the past they had talked about opening it up to increase the police commissioners to five. That failed. There was a two to one vote against it by the public so they didn’t open it,” he said.

Torrano didn’t know what the specific reason would be to change the charter.

Some people have proposed paying council members, as the “volunteer” service is, in reality, full-time work, for which council members are paid a $50 stipend.

“You’re going to have to make it a substantial salary,” he said. “What are we talking about? $50,000 a year each? People couldn’t afford that.”

Torrano said he respected Scialabba and his accomplishments.

“Art spent 10 years leading this party,” he said. “When he took over the party there were no elected officials at all who were Republican. Under his leadership and working with others we were slowly but surely able to regain the council, get a mayor elected, turned the Republican party around. At a time after that election – in 2001? – We were in shambles because we lost every seat because of the reval. We had no elected officials at all.”

Of course, it will be different.

“I think he did a lot of good stuff while he was there and I respect the things that he did,” he said. “We have different ways of approaching things. My way is going to be different than Art’s, I am sure. But we’re always going to lean on him for some information and support because there’s things he knows, too.”


10 responses to “Torrano: Norwalk Republicans, Democrats need to work together”

  1. Oldtimer

    Sounds like a very reasoned approach to the job of Town Committee Chair. Pete is a good choice for the party if he has the time. Last I heard, he had a full-time job and Town Committee Chair takes a lot of time to do properly. I wish him well.

  2. Oldtimer

    Correction; The story makes it clear Pete is retired and has the time to be an excellent Town Committee Chair.

  3. D Maggs

    Mr. Tarrano is not only qualified, he is deserving of this position. I certainly hope the details can be worked out for him to assume leadership of the local RTC.

  4. Piberman

    The major problem with Norwalk’s GOP is that its platform and actions haven’t been distinguishable from the Democrats. The fiscal and tax policies of the Moccia administration were quite different from the previous 7 term Republican administration that understood the appeal of unchanged taxes, only modest municipal salaries and increasing property values.

    Secondly, as long as GOP Council President Hempstead claims proudly that anyone can serve on any board or commission the GOP won’t be viewed as standing for good or responsible government. No other nearby town follows that questionable policy. Appointing citizens without financial backgrounds to the BET doesn’t bring “respect”.

    Third, a good start to attract the minority committee in GOP ranks is to get involved and help straighten out the ongoing NEON disaster.

    Fourth, the GOP has had very capable talent on the BOE that has lead for its revitalization. So why didn’t they vigorously support those members up for re-election ? Specifically Sue Haynie. Who was responsible ?

    A GOP that stands for serious attention to budgets, taxes and City salaries in sharp contrast to our Hartford minded tax and spend Democrats may have a real future in Norwalk. But they do need a real platform and actions supporting that platform. An attractive party platform usually has no trouble attracting new members. That a former City police chief without prior political experience could soundly defeat a 4 term sitting GOP Mayor with sheer grit and enthusiasm ought to be a clarion call for major change and seeking new talent within the GOP Party. A good start would be an OpEd explaining what the local GOP stands for – its platform.

  5. spanner

    I never thought the term Tea Party was an issue good ole boys covers both parties,young voters usually dont know the past unless they buy into the division that has worked so well for both parties.You don’t have to look far into the past to see the problems in Norwalk,no matter what party you belong to.Recent PR purge of our ability to remove snow was interesting leaving out the dozens of accidents caused by the DPW by spreading a oily substance on the roadways ,it caused many accidents in Norwalk before the last two storms even hit.This wasn’t a party related incident it was a DPW incident.Where we have a strong showing of departments in city politics the condition of the fleets should be an issue between the cruiser fleet and some of the fire equipment but not after salaries are taken care just another red herring.Red Herrings are next to good ole boys club in some minds who vote.The new come clean and work for the taxpayers movement is aided by the great in depth reporting by the only medias left in Norwalk.Some have proposed giving the council some help in terms of paperwork and research help so thats only 1 job at 50k not the entire council an issue for years that would make it easier for council members to shuffle responsibilities aiding in making decisions not always popular among informed taxpayers.There seems to be three groups in Norwalk taxpayers,voters and residents I never thought there was a tea party.Maybe breaking up the council when seated in meetings would show some refection of unity there has always seem to be a line down the middle no matter who is Mayor.Just like the DPW Fire Rec and Police the lines have been drawn and get larger each year.This does not benefit those three groups I mentioned before.

  6. Mike Mushak

    Congratulations Mr. Torrano, if you are chosen in March which sounds like that will happen. You bring up a good issue. Many folks believe that the GOP’s difficulty in attracting minorities has a lot to do with the extreme right’s recent record on voter suppression directed at minorities, women, and minorities across the country (without any evidence of voter fraud), the exclusion of millions of low income folks including minorities and elderly from Medicare coverage by GOP governors in the many states that needed it most, cutting basic safety net programs like food stamps, unemployment benefits, etc to millions with negative impacts on the most vulnerable including children, elderly and disabled, and the attack on family planning and women’s health issues. All while supporting more tax breaks for the rich and corporations that often pay no income tax at all.
    I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to see which party cares more for minority interests. I’m not saying you agree with all these positions, but that is the current record of the GOP. Change the policies and you will change your party’s appeal to a broader range of Americans.
    Good luck!

  7. Piberman

    Mr Mushak omitted the Democrat’s distinguished record of support for for public unions and fiscal mismanagement at state and national levels. No doubt he’s proud of CT’s reputation as the national poster child for fiscal mismanagement at the hands of the Democrst super-majority. Along with our inability to regain decade ago lost numbers of jobs and exodus of firms from our state.

    Whether Norwalk Democrats do better remains to be seen. But the appointment of the Board Chair who oversaw NEON’s implosion to the BET isn’t encouraging. Nor a newly BOE elected Democrat insisting the Chair “belongs” to the majority party.

    That Norwalk’s GOP has controlled Norwalk for the last 22 out of 26 years suggests the virtues of the Democrat Party rule remain to be seen. We’ll see how high property taxes are raised as City employees get more “respect”. And how local Democrats take tax and spending cues from Hartford. Will property values rise under tax and spend ?

  8. Oldtimer

    With the State now looking at a substantial surplus, it may be the right time to get Norwalk a better share of State funding for local schools.

  9. Broderick I. Sawyer

    I would be open to having a conversation with you regarding how, in my opinion, minorities perceive the local Republican Party Mr. Torrano. Many of your fellow party members have my contact information. I look forward to speaking with you.

  10. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Some of you may have noted in occasional postings what I think of the Republican persona and their “our way or no way” discriminative and obstructive attitudes. So, former Norwalk Police Capt. Pete Torrano’s comments as stated here suggest that, for once, Democrats may have a worthy and open-minded opponent.

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