NORWALK - Councilmembers Margarita Rios and Luigi Vernola will serve as Mayor and Vice Mayor of Norwalk for the 2019-20 term.
Rios has spent the 2018-29 serving as Vice Mayor. While it is not always guaranteed that the Vice Mayor takes the Mayor position the following year, Rios was enthusiastically and unanimously voted to be the next head of the council after a nomination from outgoing Mayor Jennifer Perez.
Rios led off her vision statement by honing in on a continued emphasis on public safety.
“At the top of my priorities is public safety,” said Rios. “I have a vision that the wonderful families, all the people that live, work, play and visit Norwalk, enjoy one of the safest communities. It is possible, and I am hopeful that the best days are ahead of us.”
“In my profession as a law enforcement official, I firsthand understand the value and necessity of establishing close relationships with our sheriff’s department, as well as our public safety officers. When we work together, we make the biggest impact. For this reason, I want to continue and expand programs that take services directly to the community, such as our community forums and coffee with a cop.”
Rios said she also wishes to emphasize partnerships between schools, businesses, and public safety resources.
“Together we will strengthen the programs for youth prevention and prevention, and our business watch program is only going to get better,” said Rios.
The mayor also stated that the council will continue the momentum on a comprehensive infrastructure plan, including upgrading walkways to ADA requirements, enhancing streets, and improving parks.
Rios also touched on grant funding.
“We recently received news that the City of Norwalk was awarded $336,000 to clean up the San Gabriel Riverbed, Robert White Park, and Norwalk Park,” said Rios. “This grant funding will help the city augment the number of hours our team dedicates to these areas.”
In the area of community development, Rios said that the city “now has a blueprint that will guide our actions when drawing businesses into our great city.”
“With the economic development plan, we will work with developers to bring stores, restaurants, and other businesses that fill a need within our community. My vision for community development includes community driven efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of our community.”
Rios closed by saying that “We are working together as a team for the betterment of our community.”
“The power of community…enables each of us to reach our success,” said Rios. “I look forward to working with our city staff, commissions, businesses, residents, and stakeholders, and all of Norwalk for a thriving year.”
It may come as a surprise to some that Vernola will serve as Vice Mayor for the following year and not Ayala, considering Vernola served as mayor in the 2017-2018 term and is up for reelection next year.
Ayala - who came in as one of the council’s fresh faces with Perez and Rios in 2017 – is the only member of the ’17 council electees to not serve in either of the mayoral positions thus far. Yet, it was he who made the nomination for Vernola at Tuesday’s meeting.
When asked why he nominated Vernola instead of pursuing the position himself, Ayala chalked it up to a difference in strengths and backgrounds.
“I think with the things that we’re doing right now, that is so heavily economic development, Luigi being a businessman and whatnot, I think he would have had stronger skills than I do in that area,” said Ayala. “My area is mostly the government side, and he’s more private sector development side. I think he had the stronger skills, and I’m fine with that…I’m willing to take one for the team if it’s the best thing for the city.”
Tuesday’s meeting also served as a chance for the community to thank Councilmember Perez for her service leading the community as mayor over the past year.
Perez was obviously emotional, however kept a strong chin and ear-to-ear smile through most if not all of the proceedings.
She thanked the community for the opportunity to serve as mayor, but said “We are not done.”
“Serving my community as mayor has been an absolute honor and privilege, and I am eternally grateful for your commitment and support not only to me, to my family in this time, but to our city,” said Perez. “This is just the beginning. The momentum is strong, and we are continuing to move forward.”