Updated, 2:47 p.m., comment from John Igneri
NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s Common Council continued to, at times, resemble a circus Tuesday night, but Mayor Harry Riling, who is vacationing but was still part of the proceedings, missed the show.
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) pointed to the mosque issue as part of the reason the Democratic caucus is divided and denied that Rilling had ever been “kicked out,” as Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At-Large) asserted Monday in a district meeting.
Watts, who has repeatedly said he will not run for a third term this fall, has been at the center of the Council storm for the past four years – the first two under Republican Mayor Richard Moccia, the target of Watts’ attack videos, the second two under Rilling, who he has similarly targeted with derisive posts on social media.
“It is absolutely clear that the Democratic caucus did not ask the mayor to leave,” Watts said, after Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D), acting as mayor, allowed him to speak on the condition that there would not be a personal attack. “Actually on several occasions I asked him to participate in our caucus. He, for whatever reason didn’t show up. That’s his right, that’s his call but he was not kicked out of our caucus.”
Petrini had used the gavel on Watts, interrupting comments that were directed toward Kimmel. Petrini said he thought this was political and not Council business, and Watts could have a press conference, but Watts pressed that Council members have the right to make announcements.
“I have been attacked in several different media outlets by a certain Council member, but since the current acting mayor has a gavel in his hand I will skip what I was going to say,” Watts said. “I will not be a target by this Council member or any other person.”
The issue of who would be minority leader and the legal settlement with the Al Madany Islamic Center over the proposal to build a mosque at 127 Fillow Street cracked the caucus, Watts said.
“Some pushed the mosque on my district and wouldn’t bend,” Watts said.
Kimmel was silent on this topic through the 2½-hour Council meeting but handed NancyOnNorwalk a statement afterwards:
“I have no intention of revisiting the mosque issue. To do so would require a review of various Zoning, insurance and legal issues.
“On two occasions during the mosque discussion, Mr. (Travis) Simms told me he did not want Mayor Rilling to participate in the Democratic caucus. It was never clear to me why they wanted to exclude the mayor. Mr. Simms said something about always fighting with the mayor.”
Kimmel’s Monday night comments were responded to by Councilwoman Sharon Stewart (D-At Large), one of the Democrats who regularly meets as a caucus, which Council members John Igneri (D-District E), Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), John Kydes (D-District C) and Rilling reportedly do not attend.
“Whatever happened and the mayor stopped showing up for the caucus, I don’t even know what happened,” Stewart said. “That was a meeting the mayor had with a select few people, I guess it was the minority leader and the president. … That had nothing to do with me.”
On Tuesday night, after the Council meeting, Stewart said she didn’t know when the meeting had happened as it “was a while ago.”
Both Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) and Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) have served as president during this term, and both said they had no idea what Stewart was referring to.
Watts pressed on about the mosque.
Kydes accused him of being the person who leaked details of the then-developing mosque settlement to NancyOnNorwalk on Sept. 17, Watts said. He produced text messages to prove the accusation had been made.
NancyOnNorwalk will never reveal who leaked the information, but it wasn’t Watts.
Watts said he has had conversations with Rilling, asking him to come to caucus meetings.
“Obviously the caucus is split over minority leader,” Watts said.
The legislative term began with Igneri serving as minority leader. He was ousted after Ed Camacho was elected Democratic Town Committee chairman over longtime Vice Chairman Brenda Penn-Williams, and replaced by Simms (D-District B).
Watts revealed more intrigue: Kydes wanted to take Igneri’s spot, he said. “Kydes met me at Dunkin’ Donuts and he presented me with a contract to support him,” Watts said, calling that ridiculous. Kydes said he had the votes and would be a better leader because he has a good relationship with Rilling, Watts said.
“He started to make his play and then he didn’t get the support. I said OK, how about Travis finish it, then you go, he said ‘no I want it now.’ Travis ended up staying for a second term, but we had major, major division,” Watts said.
“That’s the honest truth, why the caucus is the way it is now,” Watts said.
Kydes responded in a late-night email:
“The Mayor, John Igneri, Eloisa Melendez and I were never welcomed in that caucus from day one. Unfortunately the egos and political grandstanding by some folks made caucusing as a group completely impossible. My reputation of working well with everyone speaks for itself, but when that door was never open to begin with, we had no other choice but to separate ourselves from the rest of the Democratic Council members. The facts are the facts and you don’t have to dig deep to find the truth.”
“Mr. Watts on several occasions said to me that he would not support the Mayor being at our caucus,” Igneri said in a text message. “He added that I, as minority leader at the time, lost his support for inviting the Mayor to the caucus. Two other caucus members also added that there was no way the Mayor should be in our caucus.”