FULL ARTICLE AT The Norwalk Citizen
District D Democratic Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra filed paperwork to run for mayor of Norwalk in 2013 last week.
At 31, he is the youngest candidate in the race so far, and has worked in Bridgeport in the mayor’s office and the probate court; served as economic and community development coordinator for the Town of Monroe; and served as an aide to former Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell and current U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.
Mangiacopra discusses why his experiences make him a good candidate, how he would tackle issues facing Norwalk, and how working with Ernie Newton during the 2012 state Senate race has no bearing on Norwalk’s mayoral race.
Q: Why are you running for mayor of Norwalk now? Was there a tipping point related to a particular issue for you or an event that has happened in recent months that influenced your decision?
A: I felt this innate responsibility to stand up and fight for our community. There was not a specific event or tipping point that led me to make this decision. It has been weighing on me heavily for a while. Knowing the importance of leadership and knowledge of government, I knew it was time to take my abilities to the forefront. Recent events have helped crystalize that for me. If you have something to offer and can make a difference for people, why wait? We have learned that you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.
Q. You have a long resume in public affairs and civic action. How do you think that experience will help make you a strong candidate for mayor?
A: I am very proud of the experiences I have had in my professional and civic career. In politics, it’s easy to hang on to others’ coattails and not grow yourself. But I challenged myself to understand not only political dynamics, but also to be educated to do the job once I got there. You cannot have one without the other. My experiences have led me to gain perspectives from all walks of life. Working in municipal government and holding a master’s degree in public administration and city management have given me important insights into the challenges of making the bureaucracy effective. As a result, there is no doubt that on Day 1 I will be able to lead the community and be the head administrator within the walls of Norwalk City Hall.
Q. You are president of a local communications firm, The Preferred Group. How do you think that will help your candidacy?
A: The Preferred Group prides itself on knowing how to connect people. From a business perspective, we seek opportunities to use various communication platforms to help other small businesses grow, organizations build, and communities unite with one another. Given the state of the economy, many people are taking the difficult step I took of starting and running their own businesses. As mayor, I would want to be a resource for those people and foster an environment for them to grow and be successful.
Q. You helped Ernie Newton in his 2012 state Senate campaign. He is facing jail time on charges related to last year’s campaign. What would you like to say to people who may label you as “damaged goods” because of your involvement with Newton?
A: I understand the interest in this situation. My company was hired to do communications for the campaign. I had no knowledge of any improper activity. I was just as disappointed as everyone else when I learned of the charges facing Mr. Newton. The campaign’s message of “redemption and opportunity” for communities, however, was always bigger than one person or one politician. Being able to shine a brighter light on issues facing people in our communities who are consistently at risk and desperate for opportunity was important to me, especially against the backdrop of a presidential campaign. The situation facing Mr. Newton has no bearing on the issues facing Norwalk. Anyone who says different will be using it as a distraction to deflect from the real tasks at hand. I’ll say this: I am not afraid to take on the tough assignments, even when it may not be popular or politically correct to do so. I will bring that attitude to the toughest issues facing our neighborhoods in Norwalk.
Q. What was most rewarding about being economic and community development coordinator for the Town of Monroe? Is there anything you are most proud of?
A. Looking back at my time in Monroe, I am proud of many things. As the youngest department head at the time, I was proud to earn the respect of my colleagues and to develop relationships with them that allowed us to tackle difficult issues facing the town. What really sticks out is the way I was able to bridge the gap between the small-business community and Town Hall. In our development meetings with the town planner, building officials, health director, public works director, town engineer and so on, I was always focused on making the process as painless as possible for our current and prospective businesses. Along with our Economic Development Commission, I spearheaded and hosted an annual “Monroe Means Business” networking event that grew every year. It was an informal and informational way for our business community and town officials to interact with one another and look at the big picture. The town picked up the tab for the event. It was always something people looked forward to.
Q. What are the biggest issues facing Norwalk right now that you hope to address if you were to be elected mayor?
A. Undoubtedly, my biggest concern is the approach we take to dealing with all the issues. As a candidate, you analyze the issues regularly, but ultimately you have to understand that you can’t accomplish anything unless you have the urgency to address the problems, the political wherewithal to make them a priority, and the willingness to adopt a fresh perspective. We should not tolerate a stabbing or shooting happening in our community every day. We should not tolerate the perception that our school system is affecting our property values. We should not tolerate our economy being stagnant when other communities are growing. We should not tolerate the fact that people cannot experience what Norwalk has to offer because they cannot find an affordable home or a decent job here. As a homeowner, business owner, political leader and person soon to start a family in Norwalk, I understand these challenges. Our culture and approach to these matters has to change. We literally cannot afford to wait.
Q. What do you think would surprise people the most about you?
A. Being the youngest person in the race, it’s easy to assume that I am the least experienced. Quite the opposite is the case. I look at it as having 31 years of relevant experience for this role, this opportunity. Drive and perseverance define the person I have become. All the credentials and professional experiences are necessary foundations. What I feel has most prepared me to be mayor is the real-life experiences I have had along the way. Prospering in an urban school system; working hard to pay my way through Catholic high school; walking into any neighborhood with a level of comfort and empathy for the people I meet, those are the intangibles I bring to the race and the qualities I’ll have as mayor. I am prepared for the challenge. I know what it involves. I want to make a difference for the betterment of our community.
Q. Do you have any interesting hobbies?
A. Sports have helped me become who I am. I’m into everything athletic. I’m an avid softball player and played shortstop for three teams last year (I see that decreasing immensely this year). I’m a huge New Jersey Devils fan and root for the Mets, Giants and Knicks, as well. To relieve the stresses of the day, I like nothing better than to shoot some hoops in the driveway, get on the softball field with my team, hit some pucks into the net or watch the big game with friends and family. The most important way I spend my non-work time is being with my wife, Kelsie. She has grown with me over the past 10-plus years. She understood a long time ago the long hours a career in public service entails. Our relationship is built on mutual respect and admiration for one another. That’s what has made our marriage so successful.
Q. If you could have dinner with one person (alive or dead) who would it be and why?
A. Late former Norwalk Mayor Frank Esposito. Although he was a Republican and I am a Democrat, I know that anyone who leads a city for 14 years has an unparalleled perspective. In my time, I have had countless meetings and conversations with many elected officials. I never had that chance with Mayor Esposito. As I embark on this journey to become the next mayor of Norwalk, I’m sure a dinner with Frank Esposito at a family-style Italian restaurant would be an invaluable and memorable experience.