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Grassroots Effort Won Council, Norwalk Dems Say

NORWALK, Conn. – Democrats credit the foot-pounding work of people such as David Watts for how they took control of the Common Council on Tuesday night.

"This was a big win for us, for us to regain the council was a big deal," Marc Bradley, head of the Democratic Town Committee, said Wednesday. "This was a grassroots Norwalk effort. We had 50 people on the streets yesterday banging on doors, and they've been out there for about a month now."

Republican Mayor Richard Moccia, who won re-election Tuesday, had a Democratic council in his first two terms. Over the past two years, the council had 10 Republicans and five Democrats. But pending a recount that will likely happen Monday, Moccia is now expecting a council with eight Democrats and seven Republicans.

Moccia said he has previously worked on the council with Democratic winners Matthew Miklave, Anna Duleep and Carvin Hilliard. "There's going to be differences, but I think we can work things out. We have in the past," Moccia said.

"It's a council-strong city that we live in," Bradley said. "Having that majority on the council means that we get to control every single chairmanship, and we get to control a lot of the appointments and we're going to use that. It was devastating for them to lose those seats."

Watts, a first-time campaigner, got the most votes in District A to win a council seat along with Miklave. Republican Richard Bonenfant lost re-election in District A, with 988 votes to Watts' 1,260 and Miklave's 1,121.

"They got out their vote, and we didn't," Republican Town Committee Chairman Art Scialabba said Tuesday night when asked why Bonenfant was not re-elected.

Margaret Chetcuti cast her ballot at Kendall Elementary School on Tuesday. She credited her neighbor Watts with encouraging her to get out and vote, and getting her grandchildren onboard. "They encouraged me to come out so here we are," she said.

"He was feet on the ground," said Bradley. "He was out every day and people, especially on a local level, they like to see you and know what you're all about. He put on a great effort there. Our get out the vote efforts focused heavily on A and B, where there's a lot of Democrats. That helped us in the at-large races as well."

Turnout was good in District B, Moccia said. "They did a great job (in a) heavily Democratic district and I think that made the difference in some of the at-large candidates," he said. "I was fortunate. I didn't win it, but I got about 40 percent of the vote and for a Republican in that kind of district it's not bad. But I probably got more votes there than my underticket, mainly because I've had some outreach down there.

"They did a very good job at getting the vote out. That's why they won the council, and we have to learn from that."

Democratic candidate for mayor Andy Garfunkel agreed, saying, "We had a machine that was working." Told Moccia thinks he needs to learn how to get the vote out from the Democrats, Garfunkel said, "That'll never happen."

Moccia had 7,590 votes to Garfunkel's 6,755. Moccia's 52.91 percent of the vote was the lowest since he was first elected.

Bradley said, "I would have like to have seen Andy win obviously, but for him to put on a challenge like that and bring it under 1,000 votes, that's incredibly impressive, especially against Richard Moccia with six years of incumbency. It's really something special that he did.

"Being proud of the effort is not as important as winning, but he really put up a good fight and it showed because of the council seats, too, to be able to regain control like that," Bradley said. "I think that shook them up. That's really the story of the day. Despite the mayor carrying the race by 700 votes, those guys lost control of the council and that's a big deal."

"Its not as big of a deal as Marc thinks," Scialabba said. "We've been in this position before and the mayor was still able to move Norwalk forward. For two of the last three terms, Dems held the majority."

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