The race for District 23 State Representative is getting nasty, as Republican candidate John Falkowski, 51, is questioning the credibility of his opponent, Democrat K. Joseph Shekarchi, 51.
Falkowski said he believes Shekarchi recently moved into a foreclosed home within the district simply to run for the seat and “get his name out there,” as well as set himself up to run for mayor in 2014. Falkowski also claims that Shekarchi is illegally posting signs promoting his campaign. He said he has noticed Shekarchi signs on city property, including lawns of abandoned homes.
“I don’t think he’s being as ethical as he should in a number of instances,” Falkowski said. “He’s doing things that may be legal but just because they are legal doesn’t make them correct and I think the people of the district need to know this. He’s manipulating the system and trying to get his foot in the door politically.”
Shekarchi said the allegations are incorrect. He recently invited a Warwick Beacon reporter to his home, which is located at 96 Haswill Street, and the home was fully furnished and stocked with his personal items. He also showed the reporter utility bills dating back to August.
For Shekarchi, Falkowski’s claims are an act of desperation.
“I’ve out worked him, I’ve out walked him, I’ve out signed him, I’ve out campaigned him, [and] I’ve out fundraised him,” Shekarchi said. “Instead of talking about his campaign and the positive things that he could do, all he does is rant about me and my campaign. That’s a very desperate tactic of a failed campaign. He’s frustrated.”
For Falkowski, he finds it “curious” that Shekarchi moved from his home at 686 Commonwealth Avenue, which is assessed at approximately $290,000, to buying a foreclosed piece of property assessed at $69,000 in mid-May.
He noted that when he found out Shekarchi first purchased the property on Haswill, he visited the home on a daily basis and never saw anyone there.
Falkowski went on to say that the home was void of furniture and looked as if it was ready to be “flipped,” as tools laced the floor.
“I talked to the neighbors and they said they hadn’t seen anybody living there,” Falkowski said. “Does that make sense? He did this right before declaration. He says that he’s running because he wants to help the people, but how can he help them when he didn’t live there until the middle of May? If you knocked on the door May 1st and wanted to talk to Joe Shekarchi, he wouldn’t be there because he didn’t live there. I think that when I started making some grumbling that my opponent doesn’t appear to be living there, he took steps at that time.”
Shekarchi said that he hasn’t lived at the property on Commonwealth Avenue for at least three years and has been renting it out. During that time, he said, he resided at 37 Shawomet Avenue, which has been in his family for more than 40 years.
His new neighbors, he said, are supportive of his campaign.
“I love my neighbors,” Shekarchi said. “They came to me and asked for lawn signs. I didn’t impose them on anybody.”
His next-door neighbor, Patricia DeNoncour, agrees and said he has been living next to her since the spring. She views Shekarchi as a gentleman with good ideas.
“All the neighbors think the same,” she said. “He’s a nice, nice gentleman.”
Falkowski said he’s has heard people say that Shekarchi is likeable, however, he doesn’t think that’s a reason to vote for him.
“If he’s bending the rules now, what’s going to happen when he gets in there? It just seems like we are going down a slippery slope with him,” said Falkowski. “I question his integrity when it comes to wanting to represent the people of District 23.”
Shekarchi doesn’t appreciate the mudslinging. He wants no part of it.
“There are so many other issues we could be talking about regarding this campaign,” he said. “I don’t think voters want to hear it. It doesn’t solve their problems or make their lives better. I want to be an effective legislator. I want to do good things for the city. I want to be accountable, assessable and responsive to the constituents. I’m positive, upbeat and extremely encouraged by the interaction I have with the people I have been meeting when I go door-to-door. I’m proud of my campaign.”
So, what are Shekarchi’s main goals? Running for mayor is not one of them, he said. Rather, one of the key topics involves improving the lives of senior citizens.
Last week, he hosted a lunch for more than 30 elderly residents of West Bay Terrace on West Shore Road. Honorable guests included General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who Shekarchi worked closely with on her campaign a few years ago, plus Senator Jack Reed, Senator Bill Walaska, and Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan.
They each praised Shekarchi and said he would make an excellent state representative, with Raimondo saying, “There will be no one who will work harder for you than Joe. He believes the state can be better, he wants to work for people and he’s honest. Together, we’re going to work to turn this state around.”
Turning the state around for the better is exactly what Shekarchi said his intensions are. He said he cares passionately about seniors and views them as the “lifeblood” of the state.
“Senior issues impact everybody because we’re all going to be seniors,” he said at the event. “Either we’re there or we’re on our way there.”
Shekarchi, a lifelong resident of Warwick, has been a local lawyer for 17 years, as well as lawyer of the Housing Authority. Among his many accomplishments, he helped create new housing at Shawomet Terrace.
“We are one of the highest performing housing authorities in the country,” he told residents. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Further, he offered seniors rides on Election Day. Also, if elected, he intends to help them stay in their own homes by increasing the senior exemptions.
“I think I’ll be able to work with the city council to make that happen,” said Shekarchi in a separate interview. “We benefit by having seniors stay in their own homes and they benefit form a health perspective, from a municipal perspective and from a state perspective. The elderly are the forgotten group and there is not enough advocacy for them at the State House. I want to be an advocate for them and make sure they have a chance to stay in their own homes as long as they want to.”
For Falkowski, who runs Falcon Pest Services, education, business, and the economy are at the top of his list if elected. In terms of education, Falkowski worries about the fact that Rhode Island ranks near the bottom as far as test scores, while compensation for teachers is one of the highest in the nation.
“We’re not getting our return on our investment to the teachers,” Falkowski said. “There’s no performance criteria for teachers and I think there should be performance evaluations on these teachers on a regular basis. They push people along in the system and then they complain when they want an increase. They are compensated extremely well, but the results of their efforts aren’t there. We have to make sure we have the best teachers. They say that they are there for the kids – I believe they are there for the money.”
As noted, business is another priority for Falkowski. Like education, he said Rhode Island also ranks low as a business-friendly state. This is a serious problem, he said, as it greatly impacts the economy.
“Businesses have to write a $500 check to the state just to have a business [and] it’s ridiculous,” he said. “We have to make it easier for people to start businesses, to expand businesses, and offer new businesses and corporations to come into the state. We shouldn’t be putting up roadblocks. These fees are just another tax to citizens. If you and I ran our homes the way the state runs their budget, we would be bankrupt.”
Shekarchi is also interested in lowering the corporate tax in Rhode Island. By doing so, he said it might help retain businesses and attract additional businesses to the state.
While he said eliminating the tax would cost the state nearly $36 million, he’d like to at least roll it back a bit and be able to find funds in the budget as a supplement. Such tasks are vital to Rhode Island, he said.
“That’s a priority,” said Shekarchi. “We need to do something for jobs. We could lower taxes create business, which would create jobs and put people to work. But the math all has to work. The state budget has to be balanced. When we cut something, we have to figure out how to pay for it. Quite frankly, I want to under promise and over perform for my constituents.”
He also said the local economy is the biggest issue of all, he said. While walking the ward, constituents have mentioned how concerned they are about taxes.
“They don’t mind paying taxes for effective government and efficient government, but it drives people crazy to see their tax dollars wasted,” said Shekarchi.
He illustrated his point via 38 Studios. He said it’s been an issue constituents have often complained to him about.
“It was a waste of $100 million,” Shekarchi said, noting that if elected he will never vote in favor of a loan guarantee. “It is the absolutely epitome of bad financing. That’s real dollars that impact peoples’ lives and it was just wasted. That’s what people are most upset about. They are worried that their taxes are going up and that there aren’t enough good paying jobs. These are the things that people care about. They care about what the government is going to do for them. That’s the kind of person I want to be. The stuff that Falkowski’s talking about is just ineffective noise.”
But Falkowski, who said he decided to run due to distaste for the poor voting record of current District 23 State Representative Robert Flaherty, believes he can help Rhode Islanders, as well. He said he’s in it for the people.
“I want to make the state and the district better off,” said Falkowski. “How can [Shekarchi] have a passion to help the people when he’s only lived here for about five months? I’ve lived in Warwick for more than 30 years and lived in the district for 25 years.”
Falkowski, who resides at 38 Everglade Avenue, believes some of the representatives the State House are the reason Rhode Island can’t move forward. He said the only way to improve the situation is through change.
Every year, he said, many legislators vote themselves a pay raise. In contrast, he plans to refuse a pay raise or accept any of the health benefits that are offered unless the state unemployment rate is under the national rate.
“There’s a stipend you can take for not accepting the benefits and I won’t take that either,” Falkowski said. “I just don’t see how legislators can take a pay raise when people in the state are losing jobs or taking pay cuts to keep their jobs.”
He continued, “Having the same people [at the State House] hasn’t been working. The Democrats have been in charge of the State House for over seven decades and it’s not working. That’s the reason I decided to run – to see if I can make a little bit of a change. I have no reason to complain if I don’t do something about it and that’s the reason I decided to run.”
As part of that change, Falkowski would like to decrease taxes. He doesn’t agree with the fact that taxi cab drivers are responsible for paying a seven percent sales tax, among other taxes.
“We’ve got to create an environment for positive growth and deregulation is a way to do that,” he said. “We should be dropping taxes on fuel to encourage more people in Connecticut and Massachusetts to purchase fuel in Rhode Island. The amount of gas we would sell at a lower tax rate would more than compensate for the lost revenue. It’s the same thing with sales taxes.”
While he said he’s not advocating going from seven to zero, it would be nice to move it to four.
“Again, it would have a ripple effect,” Falkowski said. “We would be encouraging people from Connecticut and Massachusetts to buy goods here. Those goods are sold in stores, so that would mean more revenue. More revenue means they would have to hire more people and there would be a better tax base for cities and towns. It’s a win-win situation.”