If I were Dick Moccia or Walter Briggs this morning I’d be furious. No, I probably would be furious last night too. But I’ll phrase it in Turf-talk, the League of Women Voters sucked. Oh, how I can count the ways of major suckitude on the debates. Let’s start with the mayoral debate where the “moderator” couldn’t keep track of the order in which each candidate spoke. It’s not that hard, you write down the three candidate names and then next to the names, you add the numerals 1 – 2 -3. You cross them off as they answer the question, rinse and repeat for the next one. But that is a mere technicality. The substantive problem was the questions that were asked. On what planet does the NAACP and the LWV think Norwalk occupies?
The most important issue they could come up with were 2 questions about zoning regulations. Zoning! I say this with my usual sarcasm dialed to 11, if there was such a heightened concern about what transpired in zoning, particularly regarding the affordable housing regulation, then actually attending a zoning meeting might be the logical place to start. I’m looking at you no-show NAACP members who I think pushed this question onto the debate agenda.
But agendas were thick in the mix last night. Particularly candidate Scott Merrell who managed to twist every question back to the subject of property taxes. Unfortunately for all of us, Merrell did not think it wise to stick to actual facts in most of what he claimed. Where oh where was the moderator chiming in with even the simple, please answer the question? On some other planet, that’s where. And before I go off the deep end, ranting about the little old lady who was the moderator, I’m sure she’s nice, and has been a great volunteer, but moderating a debate is something that requires a little more organization than what was on display.
The problem in total with the line of questioning was that the obvious 800 lb gorilla in the room, is the subject of property taxes, and the only effect that a mayor or a common council can have on that, legally, is to set the rate of increase via the spending cap. What a familiar topic to readers here. When the BOE consumes nearly 70% of all the city budget, the arguments about what to do with the 30% can only maintain significance if the subject of what is the important items or services, or maintenance or plans, that we as Norwalk taxpayers are willing to accept or abandon, relate to the inevitable property tax increase. That is where, we Norwalkers should be furious with the LWV for producing such lame questions instead of forcing the candidates to address what is their laundry list for Norwalk in the next 20 years.
Instead we got questions about reducing dependence on gas and heating oil and parking fees. Actually Walter got off a nice zinger at Moccia accepting Knopp’s master nickel and diming plan on the parking fees question, (okay he used a more respectable term, the nickel and diming is my lingo), and this was the type of back and forth discussion of the issue that would have been nice to see come out of the debates. The format here clearly hampered that. Many said afterwards that they thought the mayoral debate should be its own night, the council debate should be its own night and the BOE debate should be its own night. I’m inclined to agree with that.
A lost opportunity was a discussion on redevelopment. There’s a certain sentiment, often expressed in the comments here, that condos and additional housing, affordable or not, are a bad thing. Briggs and Moccia were right to say that redevelopment was needed and important to the future of Norwalk. I would have liked, and I think the audience would have appreciated a longer discussion on that issue alone. I’ll attempt to lay out the arguments here though.
Every town in this state competes economically to attract diversification of its tax revenues by seeking either retail, commercial or office development. Otherwise, it is left to the residents to pay property taxes exclusively. Big buildings are more valuable therefor as a percent of contribution to the tax revenues subsidize the underperforming single family residence. You can’t keep building new retail, commercial or office development without also considering the local economic impact and whether its a feasible proposition. In short, build a big store and ask who will shop there. So mixed use, which both Moccia and Briggs are behind is the hedged way to go about development. Over time, mixed use resembles the organic way cities used to grow. There is a divergence between Briggs and Moccia on development, it didn’t come out last night. Our loss.
When it came to the council debates, the same issues of questions, answers and moderation kept cropping up. For the at-large candidates, asking them what committees they would like to serve on was akin to asking a job applicant where they would like to sit if they were hired. The question favored the incumbents who then rattled off all the committees they sat on, and nary a hint about what they actually accomplished. But basically here, it the format, the number of candidates gave us nothing more than in introductory snap shot that could be found on the campaign lit found outside the room.
The popularity of the public works committee, however, was interesting. It seems that all these candidates recognized the flooding issue as a catalyst. The problem is none of the challengers bothered to ask the obvious question about how it is that the last 7 years of public works committee activity has resulted in the negligence of maintenance, repair and improvements that Norwalk actually requires. Who voted along budgets that decreased allocations for road paving and sewer upgrades and storm water drainage? What do these challengers plan on doing? Some of those answers were in questions allocated to the in district debates which again the format precluded a good discussion.
It would have been far more interesting, I think for Gail Wall to ask her 93 East Ave questions to the council members who were in that district (A) and for Matt Miklave to rave about traffic calming in that district (B) and for district D to hear about flooding being talked about in District C and vice versa. I missed much of what was actually being talked about within each district because the rooms were on the three floors. It would have been nice to have a question and answer session with all the candidates for the council present. I think Amanda Brown maybe would have liked to see the BOE candidates debating since she mistakenly (one assumes) said that she’d like to be on that board. Understanding the common council roles should be a prerequisite for running for office. Suggesting that board appointments be a probationary one, would be an interesting thought, had it come from a candidate that actually has served on one or two. And maybe there is an argument to be made about the quality of candidates, but it goes for those that are running for election too, and thus the danger lies in carrying issues that did not originate with the candidate themselves.
The upcoming chamber debate will offer round 2 of the mayors. There’s a serious need for round 2 of the common council. Any good civic organizations want to stage one?