Former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling confirmed the rumors that had been swirling for months and officially announced his candidacy for mayor of Norwalk at a news conference Sunday at the Norwalk Hilton Garden Inn.
"If you can only look out from here and see what I see, you would be absolutely amazed," Rilling said to the crowd at the Hilton. "I am truly overwhelmed. Thank you so much for taking time from your Sunday afternoon to join me on what I consider to be one of the most important days of my life. And, perhaps, a day critical to the future of Norwalk."
Rilling, a member of the Norwalk Zoning Commission, joins Democrats Andy Garfunkel, a former town clerk; councilman Matt Miklave; and District D Democratic chairman Vinny Mangiacopra, who have also thrown their hats in to try and unseat Republican Richard Moccia, who is trying for his fifth term in November.
During his speech, Rilling, a lifelong resident of Norwalk, talked about his 41 years on the Norwalk Police Department, including 17 years as the chief of police until his retirement last year, along with his "long and storied relationship with this amazing city."
"I am proud to tell people I am from Norwalk," he said. "I am also proud of being a product of Norwalk Public Schools."
Rilling discussed education as he outlined his vision for Norwalk, including plans to restore confidence in its schools, spur economic development and restore civility and transparency in government.
"We are currently on a search for a superintendent of schools," Rilling said. "We must fully vet our candidates and, once selected, the new superintendent must receive the full support and backing of the Board of Education.
"I know there is a current plan to phase in the K-12 Common Core Curriculum Standards in our school system. I promise to support and fully implement Core Curriculum and to do everything within the power of the mayor to ensure the planned phase-in stays on track."
Rilling also proposed implementation of a universal Pre-K program and the expansion of afterschool programs to which all children have access. These programs, he said, are crucial to the positive development of all children and necessary to the reduction of crime.
"Fuller touched the lives of many of our young people because he showed them he cared," Rilling said. "That's all it took and he was wise enough to know it. His research showed behavioral problems in a child are recognizable as early as 4 and 5 years old, during the child's formative years.
"We must provide our teachers and parents with the skills necessary to recognize these indicators and provide help to those children who display them. Early intervention programs are the key. We must ensure the continuation of Head Start."
Moving on to economic development, Rilling expressed his concern over several ground-breakings that took place in 2011, but since then, "the only movement has been that of demolishing buildings resulting in gaping holes along the West Avenue corridor."
"The developers need the full cooperation and support of the mayor's office ... to jump-start some of these stalled projects during a challenging economy. We can do that by building public and private sector partnerships involving all the stakeholders."
As mayor, Rilling said he would consider tax incentives to encourage new development, increase the Grand List, and "at the same time, lift some of the tax burdens from the shoulders of homeowners.
"But the time is now. Seeing what is not happening is most definitely a disincentive for people considering Norwalk as a home or to start a business."
Rilling's vision for Norwalk also includes more affordable housing.
"We want the people who work in Norwalk, to be able to afford to live here," Rilling said. "Those who work and live here will shop here, send their children to our schools, visit our recreational facilities and attractions, and hopefully, allow them to save enough to buy a home here. We have a Workforce Housing regulation, but it needs to be re-written to be more effective."
And Rilling promised supporters transparency in government.
"My first outreach priority will be a monthly mayor's night out," he said. "I will bring my department heads to hear, along with me, the concerns of our citizens and business owners, meet the public and let them tell us what they want."
"It was just a matter of when he was going to do it, rather than if he was going to do it. But to us, this isn't a done deal for the Democratic Party at all," said Scialabba, who added that the Democratic candidates now have to court the Democratic Town Committee and that they may even petition a primary in August.
"Between now and August, every day is an eternity in politics," Scialabba said.
Moccia said he supported Rilling when he was police chief and looks forward to debating any of the potential Democratic candidates.
"I'm prepared to debate any of the candidates," Moccia said. "I've done well in the past."
Rilling said he is not taking the challenge of running for mayor lightly and made the decision after a lot of reflection.
"I owe Norwalk a tremendous debt of gratitude," he said. "Now it is time to pay up."
He said he grew up in a lower-middle-class family on Berkeley Street in Norwalk.
"My dad, who only had a sixth-grade education, was a proud but humble man who worked at the Norwalk Tire Company before becoming a nighttime dock worker at Vallerie's Trucking on Connecticut Avenue," Rilling said. "He was very proud to be a member of the Teamsters Union.
"My mom worked as a butcher at the Budget Market on West Avenue during the day, yet each night we were fortunate enough to have dinner on the table and we ate as a family. My parents were the salt of the earth. They struggled, but they raised four children and instilled in us their values of hard work, honesty and integrity and, perhaps most importantly, a love for all people."
After graduating from Norwalk High School, Rilling spent four years in the U.S. Navy. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Iona College, and he has a master's in Public Administration from the University of New Haven. He was elected president of both the Fairfield County and Connecticut Chiefs of Police Associations, and served as Connecticut delegate to the International Chiefs Association. He is regarded nationally as an expert in the organization and performance of local police departments, and has led quality and organizational assessments of the departments of 25 other municipalities.
Rilling is currently employed as a compliance manager in the private sector.