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.”
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