I think I could be a stabilizing force on the council,” former Ward 7 Councilman and State Representative Alfred Gemma says of his campaign to return to the City Council.
“I was very effective when I was on the council for six years and my constituent service is legendary,” he said. “Ask anybody. I always helped people. I’ve got a tremendous record and I’m proud of it.”
Gemma, who lives at 310 Natick Avenue, ran for mayor twice, the first time in 1990, and again in 2000. He served as State Representative for District 20 for seven years beginning in 2004, as well as councilman for three terms from 1992 to 1998. He decided not to run for council in 1998 because he wanted to devote more time to his newborn granddaughter, Caitlin Murphy, now 16.
But these days he’s ready to get back on the council and is running as an independent. He faces incumbent Democrat Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan and Bill Russo, a retired Warwick police officer, also running as an independent.
“I’m full of ideas and I’ve got a businessman’s mind,” Gemma said. “I think we’re going to win, not because I’m arrogant, [but] because I’m humble. I’ve got a record and I’ve got all the proof.”
That record is what he’s basing his campaign on. He said some of his biggest accomplishments as councilman still have a positive impact on the city and its taxpayers.
Legislation he is most proud of includes a resolution he co-sponsored with then councilman Carlo Pisaturo, which involved getting then mayor Lincoln Chafee to agree to a $10 million sewer project in Nausauket. The resolution, he said, included the passing of a $130 million sewer bond issue.
Gemma said he’s also proud of work he did to settle a 39-month strike with the Warwick Teachers Union in 1993. He co-sponsored a resolution to end the strike.
“I went out to talk to the kids, who all said they wanted to get back to school,” Gemma said.
A few years later in 1995, he authored an ordinance relative to rescue service fees. The legislation established that Warwick residents are not responsible for footing the bill for calling a rescue. Instead, insurance companies are liable.
Not only does he feel this ordinance has saved lives, he said it also saves the city money. Since it was established, Gemma said it’s generated more than $24 million.
“I’m so happy it is a permanent thing,” he said. “Why should a poor old lady pay $400?”
Additionally, in 1996, he was the lead sponsor to a resolution that requested the Federal Aviation Administration to expedite the sound mitigation program.
Also, through the request of the late Superintendent of Schools Bob Shapiro, Gemma said he helped lobby for an auditorium at Toll Gate High School. He was successful and the facility was named after Shapiro.
Gemma said he successfully advocated for all-purpose rooms and cafeterias at elementary schools throughout the city, including John Brown Francis, Sherman, Lippitt, Holliman, Rhodes, John Wickes and Scott, as well as a handicap elevator at Gorton Junior High.
And while the Warwick Station Development District Master Plan was made official this year, Gemma said his efforts in 1998 helped make it possible, as he voted in favor of an ordinance that sought to establish the plan.
“I pushed for that,” he said.
Other legislation he “pushed for” includes the recording of all council meetings and the numbering of lines within official city documents.
“We used to say, ‘The line about an inch from the bottom,’” he said. “I said, ‘Why don’t we do what the General Assembly does and number all the stuff?’”
To support his record as a past councilman, Gemma provided the Warwick Beacon with a letter written by Chafee in 1996. At that time, Chafee was Warwick’s mayor.
Within the letter, Chafee wrote, “Fighting to preserve our neighborhoods, tax relief for the elderly and handicapped, improvements to youth athletic facilities, school renovations, protecting our rights to the shore – Al Gemma is there for the people of Ward 7 when it counts.”
Gemma, who owns and operates Gemma’s Auto Body, a family business started by his father in 1960, is the first independent council member in the history of Warwick. In the past, he has run as both a Democrat and Republican.
He enrolled at Brown University when he was 17 on a scholarship from Mount Pleasant High School, where he graduated in 1956. Though he never finished college, he went on to work at his father’s auto body shop, which he now operates in Apponaug.
By 1959, he joined the Army and was honorably discharged as a private first class in 1961. When he returned, he and his older brother, Ray, decided to open the body shop in East Greenwich. He independently relocated to Providence in 1976, and then to Warwick in 1992.
“I wanted to do a good job on the council so I moved my business here,” Gemma said. “When people would call, I would run out the door and go to their house. I was Johnny On the Spot all the time. I got it done. I followed things right to their conclusion and my wife, Ann, was right there. My wife has never gotten the credit she deserves. She’s been great.”
Gemma, who was born in Providence but has lived in the Greenwood section of Warwick since 1969, has been married for 48 years and said Ann went to every single council meeting during his time on the council. He said she also attended many meetings at the State House when he served as State Rep.
“She missed no more than eight or nine meetings in seven years,” he said. The couple has three children, plus one grandchild.
To prepare for the election, Gemma has been walking the ward, as well as regularly attending council meetings. He believes the upcoming election on Nov. 6 is vitally important, especially because of the fragile economy and the state’s high unemployment rate of 11 percent.
“[We need] to elect the most experienced and dedicated individuals to represent us at every level of government,” he said. “I believe I am that person. Because politics has become so divisive and angry of late, I believe that it is time for a change to end this self-interest and division. My only interest is in you, the taxpayer, who bears the weight of the cost of government.”