Mayor Scott Avedisian is in a race that’s going to come sooner than the November election. He’s taking it seriously.
Avedisian for Mayor signs are sprouting on lawns and crews of volunteers are traveling throughout the city to erect larger signs. The mayor has ramped up the number of public service press releases issued by his office and he’s holding informational press events, such as one recently held at Rocky Point, to inform people that a portion of the city walk is closed during the demolition of the Shore Dinner Hall.
His campaign manager, Chris Allen, is sending out frequent campaign updates, and City Republican chairman, Michael Penta, has also weighed in.
Penta issued a statement this week critical of Stacia Petri, Avedisian’s challenger for the Republican Party nomination. And, in an email exchange late last week, Avedisian gave a point-by-point response to a release issued by Petri.
Petri is doing more than sending out press releases.
While not as well financed as Avedisian, Petri has used social media, and in particular Facebook, to get out her message that 14 years of Avedisian, and as many years of tax increases, is enough. She’s out meeting voters. She has affiliated herself with Ken Block, who is in a Republican primary for the nomination for governor.
She has a strong following from a group disenchanted with the administration that has been especially vocal during city budget meetings and hearings over the expansion and funding of the sewer system. Roy Dempsey, a faithful at council meetings and outspoken on the issue of sewers, is her campaign manager.
Republican voters will get to decide the contest in the Sept. 9 primary. The winner will appear on the November ballot in a three-way contest, between independent Kevin Eiseman and the winner of the Democratic primary between John “Jack” Kirby and Carel Callahan Bainum.
Some pundits say the Avedisian-Petri race is the one to watch.
Avedisian has consistently demonstrated his popularity in general elections, winning as much as all the polling places and more than 75 percent of the vote. With the Democrats not even endorsing a candidate and Democrats capable of launching a formidable campaign are sitting on the sidelines, Avedisian is not thought to face a serious contest in the general election, but he has to win the primary to be on the ballot.
Petri is making a case for a change. In a release on July 22, she hit the mayor on a range of topics, from the condition of city roads, to concerns raised by firefighters over the age and condition of equipment, the condition of recreational facilities, school funding and pensions.
“Not only are Warwick roads lined with dangerous pot holes, Warwick’s most precious resource, our children, are entering school buildings crumbling from neglect with leaky roofs, and some still are not fully compliant with stringent fire safety standards that the mayor promised to pay for with $25 million in bonds approved in 2006,” she wrote.
In a point-by-point response, Avedisian said his budget allocates $450,000 for road repairs and that the council is considering legislation that would put a $5 million road repair bond issue on the ballot.
As for schools, the mayor writes, “My opponent fails to mention that the current city budget allocates more than $4.7 million to pay for bond interest and principal for the schools. Further, earlier last week the Superintendent and I had a discussion about future bonding and what the schools’ overall needs are. I would also note that the actual cost for new tracks would be approximately $360,000. The School Committee Chairwoman and I are also convening a commission to improve communication and ensure that our children are receiving the education they deserve and in good facilities.”
On the issue of the budget, Petri takes Avedisian to task for dipping into reserves as well as raising taxes to come up with a spending plan.
“One-time tricks and kicking the can down the road isn’t the way to solve Warwick’s problems,” she asserts.
Avedisian counters, “Contrary to this erroneous, amateur assessment that the FY15 budget relies on a one-time, quick fix, my administration places a tremendous amount of stock in Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, which affirmed the City’s AA- long-term rating. This assessment cited a number of factors, including our strong economy, adequate management conditions and budget flexibility, strong budgetary performance with consistent operating results, very strong liquidity, strong budgetary performance, and very strong debt and contingent liabilities position.”
GOP chairman Penta has also gotten into the exchange.
Penta questions Petri’s Republican credentials. Penta said her voter history shows her voting in the 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 general elections, but not in a party primary in any of those years.
"I find it amazing that she can try to paint herself as ‘the Republican’ when she never took a stand on behalf of then-Senator Chafee or his rival Mayor Laffey. Never chose to support Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani or any other Republican running for President. Never thought it was important to choose Mark Zaccaria, John Robitaille, Bill Clegg or any other Republican running for office," Penta said.
In a recent interview Petri said she would run a “targeted” campaign aimed at reaching the city’s relatively small group of registered Republicans. Of the city’s 62,557 registered voters, 6,676 are registered Republicans. In the last Republican primary for mayor in 2010, Avedisian garnered 2,064 votes to 635 for Richard Langseth.