This was supposed to have been a victory party with cheers, smiles, lots of chatter, kisses, speeches and a sense of excitement and optimism about the years ahead.
Instead, the mood at Avedisian for Mayor headquarters at Airport Plaza, and the gathering place for city Republicans, was as limp as some of the balloons that were there to give a festive feeling, What was playing out here on Election Night was mirrored by the scene at GOP headquarters in Cranston and, on a much larger scale, nationally.
It was no shock that Scott Avedisian won an eighth term. This year was a rematch of 2010, only this time John “Jack” Kirby dropped the Democrat label and ran as an independent. For the first time since Warwick was incorporated as a city in the 1930s, there was no Democrat on the top of the city ballot.
Avedisian captured 81 percent of the vote. He was the biggest vote getter on the Warwick ballot, with more than 29,000 votes.
But Avedisian had hoped to make inroads in the Democratic-controlled council. With John DelGiudice not seeking re-election in Ward 5, and a hard campaigner like Danny Hall, the Republican City Committee chairman, Avedisian saw a chance of changing the 8 to 1 balance on the council. Democrat Edgar Ladouceur, in his first bid for council, easily outpolled Hall, winning by 2,154 to 1,738 votes. Republicans were also hopeful of wins in Ward 4, where first-time candidate Michael Penta made a formidable bid to unseat Joseph Solomon, and in Ward 8, where Republican Lyn Jennings was in a race with Joseph Gallucci, who was looking to make his third trip to the council. Gallucci served in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. Gallucci handily beat Jennings 2,439 to 1,287 votes. The former registrar of voters, who retired this year, ran to succeed his brother, Ray, who did not seek another term.
Republicans thought there might be a change in Ward 7, where former councilman and state representative Al Gemma and retired police officer William Russo ran as independents and challenged incumbent Charles “CJ” Donovan. Donovan, who has been in a few nail-biters where he won with just a handful of votes, skated to an easy victory this time. He garnered 1,925 votes leading Gemma, with 1,390, and Russo, with 830 votes.
The stunner was Ward 1, where incumbent Steve Colantuono, the sole Republican on the council, was in a tight race with Sharon Ahearn. Avedisian worked hard on behalf of Colantuono, who he backed to beat Robert Cushman, a persistent critic of the administration, in 2008. Ahearn did not run an especially visible campaign and the consensus was Colantuono would win easily.
Sharon Ahearn was not the only Ahearn on the ballot.
Jennifer Townsend Ahearn was a candidate for one of two citywide School Committee slots. Jennifer Ahearn made a concerted citywide push and she was the top vote getter.
Sharon Ahearn’s name may have gained from Jennifer’s visibility, but that was not enough.
Early in the Ward 1 race, Cushman and his allies emerged as a factor, distributing flyers that claimed Colantuono backed legislation that would personally benefit him. While the flyer carried a Democratic label, Ahearn disavowed it. When the vote was tallied Tuesday night, Colantuono was ahead by a scant 29 votes. The outcome was no clearer yesterday morning as director of elections Donna McDonald waited for the mail ballot count. She said the office responded to 240 mail ballot applications for Ward 1, but she would not know how many actually voted until the Board of Elections processed the ballots.
Avedisian called the election outcome the result of “a large Democratic surge” that swept the city. He noted that Republican Representative Patricia Morgan, who won her Warwick district two years ago, lost the district this time to Democrat Nicholas Denice but gained enough votes in West Warwick and Coventry to retain her seat.
Avedisian thought that Cushman and those working with him hurt Colantuono.
“I think that is some of it,” he said. “Every week he [Colantuono] was being criticized.”
With the election history, Avedisian said he is sure the campaign for council president will start now, if it hasn’t already. Current president, Ward 2 Councilman Bruce Place, did not seek re-election. Candidates being mentioned for the powerful position include Joseph Gallucci, Joseph Solomon and Donna Travis.
From a personal perspective, Avedisian said he is happy with the election outcome.
“It goes to show people respond well to a positive message,” he said.