Last Thursday, Democrat Council member Matt Miklave (District A) formed a committee to help him explore becoming a candidate for mayor of Norwalk.
Filing papers with the Norwalk Town Clerk, the four-term council member will begin fundraising and considering a campaign for the November 2013 election.
First elected to the Common Council in November 2001, Miklave served on the Council and as chair of the Planning Committee from 2001 until 2007, when he lost his bid for re-election bid by 10 votes. Miklave was again elected to the Council in 2011.
Miklave has served on the Schools for the New Millennium Committee (1999-2000), and served on the Boards of Directors of the United Way of Norwalk and Wilton (2001-8), and the Norwalk River Rowing Association (2008-11). Miklave and his family have lived in Norwalk for more than 20 years. He and his wife Sandra have three children--two attend Norwalk Public Schools and one is in college.
In this Q&A, the Citizen reveals why Miklave believes he would be a good candidate, what issues he considers most pressing and who he would like to sit down and have dinner with.
Q. After all your years of service to Norwalk, why are you considering running for mayor now? Was there a tipping point related to a particular issue or a particular event that has happened in recent months that influenced your decision?
A. I see Norwalk at a crossroads. We face some big challenges and in my opinion they are not being addressed by the current administration. The debate over the Board of Education budget crisis was a major tipping point for me. There were solutions that did not require the city to layoff employees or cut services. The administration decided not to take advantage of them. I was pretty disappointed with the administration's response. That is just one area where I simply do not see any meaningful plan by the current administration.
When I began to seriously consider whether I could play a more active role in solving problems, I realized that this might just be the right time in my life to take on that challenge.
Q. Can you talk about the process you will have to go through as you consider running for mayor?
A. I will spend time speaking with friends and neighbors, as well as members of the Democratic Town Committee, to see whether I can play a meaningful role in shaping the debate about Norwalk's future. I want to listen to people and hear their thoughts, then see whether we can build a consensus about governing in a better, more open, constructive way. Candidly, I will also be trying to see whether I can wage a winning campaign and whether I am the best candidate to mount a campaign based on progressive, innovative ideas. I will to try to see whether we can raise the money, build the organization and earn the support that will be needed to run a credible, ideas-based campaign.
Q. You work as a labor, employment and civil rights attorney with Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. in New York City and Stamford. How do you think that experience will help make you a strong candidate for mayor?
A. I have been practicing law for 28 years, and I think that has helped me develop my analysis and reasoning skills. In my practice, I have to look at every issue, every argument, from every possible point of view. I have found that to be an invaluable skill in politics and public service.
Further, for the last 20 years I have practiced law both in New York City and Stamford. The New York legal community can be a pretty cutthroat group. I have had to be ahead of the issues and arguments, well prepared for whatever conflicts may arise. I have also had to develop a pretty thick skin. That also has been an invaluable skill in politics and public service.
Finally, I am also a business owner. My firm employs about 1,000 people in 11 offices across the United States. My partners and I are responsible for managing a $150 million business. I have had to learn how to run my own business in good and bad times.And I have had to learn how to use data to run that business. I now consider myself to be a very data-driven business leader. I spend a great deal of time analyzing many different measures of profit and productivity. That is the key to success in today's legal market. When I went to law school more than 30 years ago, I never thought I was going to become a "businessman." But here I am and I think I have been pretty successful at it.
I think these attributes -- the ability to analyze issues, deal with challenging individuals and run a large, complex business -- give me skills that some other candidates may not have.
Q. What has been most rewarding about serving on the Common Council over the years? Is there anything you are most proud of?
A. Public service can be very demanding, especially in Norwalk where there is a deep division between those who seek to challenge the status quo and those who think everything is going fine. When that boils over in our meetings and debates, it can be very frustrating.
When we have been able to make a difference, then it can be incredibly rewarding and there is no better feeling. During my first election campaign, back in 2001, I met a family who told me about a problem they were having with automobile taxes. The father was disabled and had a van he used to get around. Because the van had to be a special vehicle to accommodate his wheelchair, it was taxed as if it were a luxury vehicle.
After I was elected to the Council, I decided to try to do something about this issue. I did some research and learned that we could adopt a tax credit to reduce the financial burden on this family and folks just like them. I drafted an amendment to the City Code and the Council and Mayor Knopp supported it. So, we adopted a tax provision to help folks in this situation. It may not sound like a big deal, but for families in that position, I like to think I made a real difference.
Q. What are your biggest concerns/what are the biggest issues facing Norwalk right now that you hope to address if were to be elected mayor?
A. I believe we have to build better budgets, better schools, better economic development and a better community.
Our budget process needs reform. We go through a yearly debate about what programs we are going to cut in order to keep tax increases reasonable. So all of our time is spent debating the five percent we cut, not the 95 percent we keep. We need to turn this process around. We need to focus on outcomes and identify our priorities, making sure we are spending the taxpayers' money wisely to achieve real results.
I also believe we have not adequately funded our public schools, year after year. We have to break the yearly cycle that pits the Board of Education against everything else.
We need to revisit our economic development projects to consider not only what buildings we build but what kind of jobs we plan to create. We need a strategy to invest our resources in such a way that promotes jobs for the 21st Century.
We also need to have a real commitment toward building a more livable, sustainable community. One which promotes the resources this city has to offer in a responsible way.
If I decide to run, and if I am elected, I want to lead a dialogue to address these issues and bring about real solutions. Simply speaking, I think we have the ability to change the trajectory of our community and build a better Norwalk. We did not get to where we are during one mayoral term and we will not solve these issues overnight. I think we have to plot a new course.
Q. What do you think would surprise people the most about you?
A. I think people would be surprised by how much I like most everybody I work with in Norwalk. We have pretty heated debates at times, and are passionate about our views, but all in all I believe we all get along in private very well. I even get along well with the mayor, who I like and respect on a personal level, even though we disagree about a lot.
Q. Do you have any interesting hobbies?
A. When my boys were little, we starting building and flying model rockets. They grew up, but some might say I never did. I like to spend my spare time building and launching model rockets. The bigger they are and higher they go, the better. Even with the occasional "catastrophic failure," it is a lot of fun.
Q. If you could have dinner with one person (deceased or living), who would it be and why?
A. John Adams. The son of a New England farmer, Adams became a successful attorney. His fame was so great that he was able to defend the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre (and won). Yet, at the peak of his career, he risked everything he had to try to forge a new nation. I consider him to be a man of great courage and strength. While he may not be judged as one of our greatest Presidents, he was one of our greatest patriots.