There’s an election in November, although from the paucity of declarations, including an announcement from Mayor Scott Avedisian whether he will seek re-election, it’s not your typical election year.
That doesn’t mean the rumor mills aren’t churning and, if they’re to be believed, this could well be the year Warwick politics go “back to the future.”
The names of four former council members – Donald Torres, Ward 2; Helen Taylor, Ward 3; Al Gemma, Ward 7; and Carlo Pisaturo, Ward 5 – are being talked about as potential candidates. Former Ward 2 Councilman Jim Desmarais has also been mentioned, even though reports are that he’ll need some convincing to run.
But talk, rather than action, appears to be the operative word.
With nine council, two at-large school committee and six State House and three State Senate seats on the November ballot, only two people have formally declared their candidacies. Republican Danny Hall has announced he’s making another run for Ward 5 and John Falowski has declared he’s going for the House seat now held by Representative Robert Flaherty.
In one respect, the lack of activity is not surprising, as it is assumed most incumbents will seek re-election. That extends to the top of the local ticket – mayor – that Avedisian has held for 12 years.
The mayor has been tightlipped about his plans. He has deflected questions with the response he’ll have an answer soon enough.
The clock is ticking. The timeframe for candidates to file starts June 25 and closes at 4 p.m. on June 27. Depending on the position sought, the candidates have until July 13 to collect the required number of registered voter signatures to appear on the ballot. Primary elections will be Sept. 11.
But for a candidate to mount a successful first-time run for a seat, the campaign and fundraising efforts usually start early in the election year, if not sooner. That’s what’s happened with those challenging David Cicilline for the Congressional District 1 and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Within the last month, Republicans Michael Gardiner and Michael Riley have announced their candidacies for the Second Congressional District seat held by James Langevin.
In the past month, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, who has a known interest in a run for mayor, held a fundraiser but did not announce what office he’ll seek. It’s assumed Solomon is waiting to see what Avedisian will do, even as there is speculation he would run for the House seat now held by Rep. Eileen Naughton if that was to open. Going a step further, there’s talk that Solomon’s son, Joseph Jr., would be a candidate in Ward 4.
“I have not made any conclusive decision,” Solomon said yesterday. He said his “primary concern” is the recently posted audit on the city website that shows a decline in assets from about $100 million several years ago to $61 million.
“I’m very nervous about the city’s financial status,” he said.
As for what office he might seek, Solomon said, “I plan on remaining in public service.”
Usually, by this time in the election cycle, Avedisian has announced and held at least a fundraiser. Avedisian continues to have campaign headquarters in Airport Plaza and, according to his most recent report; he has $46,419 in his campaign fund.
Asked yesterday if a fundraiser is planned for later this month, again a product of rumors, Avedisian said something is in the works but would reveal no further details.
That would appear to signal he’s running for re-election, even though some of his closest aides say he hasn’t shared his intentions with them.
“Scott’s there for life, for as long as he wants,” says Carlo Pisaturo. The former Ward 5 councilman who served 12 years says he’s giving serious consideration to making a bid to come back.
“I don’t like what’s going on,” he said.
Pisaturo said his major beef is with the sewer authority and how service has not been extended to Riverview and Highland Beach, although the projects were on the drawing boards years ago. As a member of the council, Pisaturo was the architect of a $130 million sewer construction bond aimed at building out city sewers, but increased costs and complications, including archeological findings in some areas, have thwarted that dream.
Charles “CJ” Donovan Jr. speculates the economy has had a role in declined levels of interest in public service, hence this year’s scarcity of candidates.
“It was easy when we have surpluses and were flush with money,” he said. Donovan, the son of former Mayor Charles Donovan, lost his first bid for Ward 7 in 1998 to Joseph Harrington. He came back to win the seat two years later, when Harrington ran for School Committee, and has held it ever since, although only by a handful of votes in recent challenges mounted by Carol Pratt and Bill Russo.
Donovan is running again. And he’s heard rumors that former Councilman Al Gemma, as well as Russo, may also be Ward 7 candidates.
“I’ll probably run for council,” Gemma said yesterday.
“I feel I can be much more effective down here than at the State House,” Gemma said. Gemma chose not to seek re-election to the council in 1998 and then stepped back into public service after winning the special election following the death of Rep. Paul Sherlock. He served until 2010 when he was beaten in a Democratic primary by David Bennett.
As for making a return at this point, Gemma said, “Some people are good, but they don’t want to speak out. [I want to] get back in there and help the city out,” he said. Gemma said he would run as an independent.
What about a race for mayor? Would he go for that post as he has done on two occasions?
“If I had $300,000, I’d run for mayor and be mayor,” he said.
Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who won her first bid for council in 2010, is gearing up for a re-election campaign. She believes Avedisian is running for re-election. As for council, Vella-Wilkinson doesn’t expect City Council President Bruce Place (Ward 2) to seek re-election; and like others, she’s hearing former Ward 2 councilman and council president Donald Torres may be a candidate. Thomas Chadronet, who has long been active with the ward committee, is also being talked about as a candidate.
Neither Torres nor Place could be reached for comment.
As for Ward 3, Helen Taylor said she picked up rumors at Friday night’s Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame dinner that she was a potential candidate for two races – Ward 3 and Ward 5.
“I would never be a candidate for Ward 5,” she said.
And, as for Ward 3, “I haven’t made that decision yet.”
Of the two at-large school committee seats on the ballot this year, incumbent Christopher Friel has said he won’t be seeking re-election. Incumbent Patrick Maloney is expected to seek another four-year term.