Ward 1 Council candidates agree on a few issues, including one hot topic in particular: a recent situation involving a flyer that’s been distributed to citizens of the ward.
The flyer, which began to circulate the last week of September, accuses Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono, the sole Republican on the council, of seeking a third term in order to be eligible for lifetime health care. The flyer claims that in 2009 the councilman voted on legislation that would award him, and only him, lifetime health care.
It also alleges that he is insensitive to the needs of school children, as during this year’s budget hearing he voted against a motion made by Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon that would have placed an additional $400,000 in the school budget. Instead, Colantuono said the $400,000 was used to increase the car tax and property tax exemptions.
Colantuono, as well as his opponent, Democratic candidate Sharon Ahearn, view the flyer as inaccurate and offensive.
“I’ve been labeled a school kid hater,” Colantuono said. “But I can’t let it bug me. I just have to rise above it.”
Colantuono said he has a good idea of who is behind it. The flyer advises the reader to vote Democrat.
“They are people who have been politicians or want to be,” he said. “They never have anything positive to add to the story. They are the same people that can’t put their name to anything or take responsibility for anything.”
When asked what he would say to the individuals who claim his only interest is lifetime health care, Colantuono, replied, “They don’t deserve a response.”
During a brief phone interview yesterday, former Ward 1 Councilman Bob Cushman, who also served on the School Committee, said he was one of several citizens involved with the distribution of the flyer. He noted that when he was on the council, he drafted legislation to eliminate lifetime health care for elected officials but to his dismay, he said, other council members kept holding it. By the time Colantuono was elected, said Cushman, the legislation was up for a vote and was modified to benefit Colantuono alone.
“Councilman Colantuono needs to answer the allegations in that flyer,” Cushman said. “Did he or did he not participate in the vote that granted him and only him lifetime health care? I think the taxpayers deserve an answer to that. He voted to eliminate lifetime health care for every other politician except for himself – that’s a fact and I don’t think he should be running away from his record. If he really believes he deserves it – say it. If not, he shouldn’t take it – period. He should never have taken that vote.”
In a follow-up phone interview, Colantuono said Cushman has “no idea what he’s talking about.”
“He’s wrong,” said Colantuono. “The only vote I’ve ever taken on health care eliminated health care going forward on a prospective basis for people who would take public office after the date of the ordinance. I’m not sure how that jumps to me eliminating lifetime health care for every politician but myself.”
Colantuono said the ordinance he voted on is dated back to 2007 and sat on the council floor without a vote by Cushman, who was still on the council at that point in time.
“The legislation I voted on had been on the docket since 2007 and Mr. Cushman was on the council in 2007 and all of 2008 and failed to vote on it,” Colantuono said. “It was in January of 2009 and was one of the first votes that I took. The legislation that I voted on does not affect anyone that served before me. It only affects people who come in after me. I don’t vote on stuff for myself.”
For Cushman, one of the big questions is whether or not Colantuono will take the lifetime health insurance if he’s re-elected. At this point, he’s not sure.
“I’ve got to win [the upcoming election] and that’s something that will be a decision to make based on what’s happening in the rest of my life,” said Colantuono. “I may or may not, depending where I am. I don’t even know how long I’m going to be in office. I don’t even know if I’m going to win. I’m not entitled to anything yet.”
Ahearn, who is seeking office for the first time, recently wrote a letter to the editor, which was published in the Oct. 2 issue of the Warwick Beacon, denying that she has anything to do with the flyer. The letter reads as follows:
“I am writing this letter to the people of Ward 1. I have been notified (9/29/12) of a flyer that was being passed around in Ward 1, with material bashing my opponent … This is very upsetting that a person or group would do such a thing. I have not and will not be a part of this type of action. I do not condone such actions and wish that the parties responsible for this would please stop and/or come forward and identify themselves. Please do not use me for their selfish gain.”
In a recent interview, Ahearn said she wrote the letter because she wanted people to know she didn’t have anything to do with the flyer. She also said she would turn down lifetime health care if she served six years, as she already has a pension, which she acquired through the military. She served in the Air Force for 32 years and was honorably discharged as a Master Sergeant due to a back injury.
“Being retired military, I have a pension and medical, so I don’t need it,” she said. “I’d rather have the money stay where it needs to be. Put it to good use in the city and let the city use it for better purposes. If you work six years and you get lifetime coverage, are you going to get another job that gives you coverage? I don’t know if he has coverage, but it’s his personal preference. If he needs it and that’s what they are offering, then that’s his business. But I wouldn’t take it. The city needs money, so let’s start there or change the policy so it’s not so much of a strain on the city. As it is, we need money.”
While frustrated by the flyer, Colantuono ultimately views it as nonsense. He said he is seeking another term because he has a continued interest in trying to preserve the character and quality of the neighborhood he serves.
“I think folks have been happy with the way I’ve conducted myself and represented them and that’s what they deserve,” he said.
Both candidates say they are walking the ward as often as possible, including most nights of the week and weekends. Colantuono walks Sundays, too, but takes into consideration the New England Patriots football schedule.
“I don’t go knocking on doors when the Patriots are playing,” he said. “I learned that lesson a long time ago.”
While visiting homes, he said people are concerned about issues such as property taxes, car taxes and public safety. Ahearn agrees.
“All the people that I’ve been talking to have been telling me they don’t get their roads plowed or talking about the rate of speed going into the Village,” she said. “What’s the answer? A speed bump? A stop sign? I’m just trying to find all that out myself. Warwick Avenue is a state road, so there are plenty of accidents. They should do a study to try to figure out why.”
Colantuono also said that while some constituents are concerned about people dumping garbage in places it shouldn’t be deposited, like messy brush areas, and keeping the streets safe, they are happy with the neighborhoods they reside in. Children are always playing outside, he said, including his own.
“People like where they live and I do, too,” said Colantuono, who lives at 251 Country Club Drive with Maya, his wife of 14 years, along with their five children. “People know each other by their first names and their kids are friends. My neighbor goes in my garage and uses my lawn mower and helps me with what I need help with. That’s what I like about it. It’s a little bit old fashioned, but it’s where I grew up. It’s comfortable and safe.”
To make the ward more pleasant, Colantuono is interested in sprucing up the parks in the Washington Street area, as well as the Spring Green area. He said constituents are worried about the condition of the parks.
“I’d like to see if there’s a way to improve the usability of those parks and get more kids to play on them and make sure they are safe,” he said. “I’m always going to be looking for ways to make the community more accessible for the kids so we can continue to get them outdoors getting some exercise.”
For Ahearn, who lives at 315 Columbia Avenue, a major concern is caring for military veterans. As a veteran, she would like to educate fellow vets about some of the benefits available to them, including Homes for the Brave, a program spearheaded by Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Ward 8 Democratic candidate Joseph Gallucci, that aims to get veterans into refurbished foreclosed properties.
Further, she’s interested in economic development. She hopes state acquisition of Rocky Point will help the economy, though she said there’s more work to be done.
“We don’t have an attraction to bring people to the city,” she said. “We are lacking activities for sports and other things. What do we really have in Warwick to bring people in? People fly in and go someplace else. I’m still getting ideas because I don’t know the lay of the land, but we need something that will bring people here.”
Colantuono shares her sentiments.
“I’m interested in what’s going to happen with Rocky Point and how we can maybe capitalize in my area,” he said. “I’m not sure how it all connects, but I’m sure it’s something we’ll be thinking about.”
If re-elected, Colantuono plans to continue working closely with the mayor to control spending. At the same time, he wants to ensure they are providing great services to the people of the city.
“Our taxes are what they are, but we get great services,” he said. “A lot of people mention that to me when I’m walking. DPW and WPD are responsive to the needs of the community.”
Ahearn, who has two children, a daughter and a son, is gearing up for her next fundraiser, which is a spaghetti dinner at the Warwick Fireman’s Hall at 750 Warwick Avenue Oct. 24 from 5 to 7 p.m.
“My family totally supports my decision and they are actively helping me with my campaign,” she said. “If elected, I am looking forward to working with the folks of Ward 1. While I'm walking, [I’ve been] passing out my palm cards [and] I have told them to please email me with any thoughts or concerns they have.” She can be reached at email@example.com.