NORWALK, Conn. – Both mayoral candidates mentioned bringing in new businesses as one of Norwalk’s most pressing issues but differed on what kind of developments the city needs in their final debate before Election Day.
Republican Mayor Richard Moccia and Democratic former Police Chief Harry Rilling participated in the debate moderated by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday evening. Many questions focused on Norwalk’s economic direction.
Moccia stood on his record as mayor, mentioning the large-scale developments that have come in during his tenure. He also announced that “a major computer company” planned to open a repair center in Norwalk, and an architectural firm had plans to move its headquarters to the city.
“On a day-in, day-out basis we have outreach. We get out there,” Moccia said. “Our grand list…has done far better than other cities, because we have that outreach.”
But Rilling argued that Moccia’s administration was not doing enough to help small businesses get off the ground in Norwalk. He said “some projects have stalled” and other areas have not seen many new developments.
“Anyone can drive down Wall Street, or drive down West Avenue, and see what’s not happening there,” Rilling said.
He also claimed that the Grand List dropped from $12.8 billion to $12.5 billion over the last year. Moccia pointed out that the drop was not the $300 million that Rilling mentioned but was only $3 million, which lines up with the budget documents used by the Board of Estimate and Taxation to set the mill rate.
Moccia also noted that Norwalk’s decrease was also less than those of Stamford and Danbury measuring year-to-year, and that the decrease stemmed mostly from property assessments that were lowered after court appeals.
Rilling was also critical of the types of new developments in Norwalk, saying the city had become a “dumping ground for big-box stores” such as the BJ’s store that recently withdrew its application to build on Main Avenue. He said these types of developments bring added traffic and only “part-time, low-income jobs.”
“We need to build mixed-use developments,” Rilling said. “Proper, smart urban development which will bring authenticity, affordability, diversity and walkability.”
Moccia defended “big-box” developments, such as the Lowe’s Store that got approval earlier this year and the two Wal-Mart stores that “pay $2.3 million in taxes to the city.” He said those businesses also help draw people to Norwalk as a destination.
“The amount of business that’s coming in is good for Norwalk,” Moccia said. “They provide jobs to people here in Norwalk. And if they come to Norwalk to shop here, they might eat at our restaurants and shop at other businesses.”