NORWALK, Conn. – Democratic candidate Harry Rilling thinks Norwalk’s government needs to do more to reach out to the city’s residents. Republican Mayor Richard Moccia feels that the city already has good programs in place to help those who seek aid.
The two major-party candidates in Norwalk’s mayoral race participated in a debate at the South Norwalk Community Center Wednesday night. The event, co-sponsored by Spanish-language newspapers La Voz Hispana and El Sol, focused primarily on issues affecting the Latino community.
Rilling argued that Norwalk’s department heads needed to do more to reach out to Latinos and other citizens. For example, he suggested holding information seminars for small business owners to help them understand how to navigate City Hall departments and find help from Norwalk’s government. He also recommended similar outreach programs for parents in Norwalk’s school system.
“To sit back and say we’ll wait until something happens is not the answer,” Rilling said. “We really need show you w that we’re serious and we’re committed to making our boards and our commissions reflect the demographics of our community.”
Moccia says that many of the programs Rilling mentioned are already available. He told residents to visit Norwalk’s official website to find more programs. He also noted for the Spanish-speaking crowd that the website offers translations into different languages.
He also noted that voter turnouts among Latino voters, were unusually low, which he saw as a sign that residents can do more to help themselves have their voices heard in the city government.
“We can reach out, but they have to reach in again,” Moccia said. “Government cannot do it all. We need help.”
Moccia also noted that 10 percent of city employees are Latino, and the town has appointed Latino department heads and commission chairs in recent years as positions become available. This is a sign that his administration is willing to work with those residents when they come forward to serve, Moccia said.
Rilling also claimed that he heard from constituents that they feel “intimidated” heading into City Hall for assistance, especially when there is a potential language barrier. He pointed to his own time as police chief, when he sent officers directly to areas with congregations of day laborers to offer them assistance.
“It is incumbent upon department heads in the city of Norwalk to be held accountable and to make people feel welcome,” Rilling said.
In response to Rilling’s claim that City Hall was not inviting to residents seeking help, Moccia repeated the same words multiple times: “He’s wrong.”
“He’s wrong. Clear and simple,” Moccia said. “We are here. We do the best we can. No one is perfect, but we’re trying very hard.”
The candidates have two more public debates, both scheduled for Oct. 29. A forum with the Chamber of Commerce starts that morning at 7:30 a.m., and the League of Women Voters debate begins that evening at 7 p.m.