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Norwalk, CT | Added on August 28, 2013 At 11:30 AM

With questions flying at them in Spanish and English, three of Norwalk's Democratic candidates for mayor debated issues regarding the city's Latino community Tuesday night.

"We have a large chunk of the population who feel like they are being completely underserved," said District D Democratic Chairman Vinny Mangiacopra. 

That was a theme all night.  The candidates said the Latino community is misrepresented -- perhaps most of all in City Hall.

"If you look a cross boards and commissions [in the city], there are very few women, Latinos and African-Americans," said former police chief Harry Rilling.

District A councilman Matt MIklave said diversity was important, not just in City Hall, but in "everything" the city does.

Mangiacopra said the city should celebrate the diversity it has to offer.

Afraid was also a term used to describe undocumented immigrants.  Each candidate trumpeted their value, but gave little in the way of ideas to benefit them.

"As police chief, I recognized some of the undocumented workers were fearful of the police department," Rilling said.  "Immigrants provide revenue to the city in the form of sales taxes, paying rent and in the form of landscaping and beautifying the city."

"We need to put the pressure on leaders in Washington to integrate people into the mainstream," Mangiacopra said. 

Miklave said he envisioned a Norwalk that forms partnerships with communities "across the world" that want to partner with Norwalk, and said Norwalk could become a "gateway" for immigrants.

One man in the audience said Latino youth have poor access to city sporting fields, and asked how the candidates would change that.

Mangiacopra repeated his desire to bring a Boys & Girls Club to Norwalk.

Rilling said some fields in Norwalk do need improvements, but Miklave said the city is financially strapped to make those necessary changes.

With a Sept. 10 primary looming, one person asked how the Democrats planned to convince Norwalk not to vote for Republican incumbent Richard Moccia in November.

Rilling said he is the only candidate with proven leadership, having run a multi-million dollar agency in the police department.

"I present a stark change to the current administration, a stark contrast to the direction we're headed," Mangiacopra said.

Miklave said his campaign was about offering concrete ideas.

"If you present people with a real choice -- not some platitude or empty promise -- but a real choice with real ideas will win the day," he said.

Candidate Andy Garfunkel was unable to attend due to a prior commitment.  The debate was first scheduled for Sept. 1.

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