Who will you vote for, for president? What’s been the hardest decision part of being mayor? What’s the toughest part of your campaign for mayor?
The questions kept coming for nearly 40 minutes Tuesday morning when Mayor Scott Avedisian appeared before Winman seventh and eighth graders in what, thus far, is the only campaign appearance where he and his opponent, independent Jack Kirby, were asked to share the stage and address city issues.
Kirby received the invite, but as Thalia Wood, social studies department head for Toll Gate and Winman explained, he left a message that he wouldn’t be coming.
And while that may appear to benefit Avedisian, the mayor said it is a major challenge of his campaign.
“This year is kind of difficult. It’s sort of a campaign against myself,” he said. Avedisian said he has seen little from his opponent other than signs. On the one hand, he said, voters are put off by efforts to campaign since they don’t perceive a race and don’t want to be bothered. On the other hand, Avedisian said, he doesn’t want to take the election for granted and to project the image of being over confident.
But this hasn’t been his toughest campaign.
He said that was 12 years ago in his first bid for mayor.
Having served as a councilman, he was not widely known outside Ward 1. He said people questioned whether “a 34-year-old kid” could run the city and that they had trouble with his last name.
On Tuesday, more than one student wanted to hear what Avedisian could do to create jobs and improve the local economy.
The mayor said runway safety and expansion work at Green Airport would mean construction jobs. He also talked about attracting medical-related businesses to Toll Gate Road through rezoning to “dovetail with Kent Hospital.”
“It’s small businesses that create the bulk of the jobs,” he said.
Students also wanted to hear about his difficult times as mayor. Avedisian cited the March flood of 2010 and state cuts in municipal aid that forced Warwick, as well as other cities and towns, to reduce their jobs or face deficits. But it is “the foolishness,” as he put it, that gets top billing.
He said things would be easier and run smoother, “If everyone stops being political and works with one another.”
Josh Grant wanted to know if Avedisian plans to run for higher office.
The mayor said he is interested, but “that it has to be meaningful for me.” He ruled out lieutenant governor, asking, “What do you do all day?” adding, “It can’t just be a title.”
Danial Turiq wanted to know who the mayor would vote for in the presidential election.
Avedisian prefaced his response by pointing out that he is a Republican and was a Romney delegate to the GOP National Convention. Yet, he added, “There are things I like about both.” He said President Obama is energizing and inspirational and he gets people involved in the process. He said he likes what Romney did in Massachusetts to make health care accessible and also favors Romney’s foreign policy.
“They both have the ability to galvanize opinion. This could be one of the closest elections in this country … either one could pull it out.”
Lexi Wasserman turned the focus on Rocky Point. She wanted to hear what would happen to the land when it’s bought by the state.
The mayor traced the history of the park, since it went bankrupt in 1995, and efforts of the court-appointed receiver to sell it to developers. He told how the city was able to buy 41 acres of the shoreline, which, he said, worked to assist state efforts to acquire the remaining 81 acres by making it less attractive to private developers.
“Who is going to want to buy a million dollar home when people are walking across your front yard?” he asked, rhetorically.
As for how the park may be developed, he said the park could include banquet facilities and perhaps a restaurant.
“I hope it will be the Colt State Park of this part of the bay,” he said.
A member of the Apponaug Girls Softball League, Madeline Capaldo wanted to know about Winslow Park and whether the playing fields would be relocated to CCRI. The mayor said, while CCRI had been considered, it didn’t have the space to accommodate all the fields. Airport land off Lake Shore Drive is the preferred site, he said, although he hasn’t seen final plans.
And Umair Ayaz questioned why junior high schools don’t have an athletic program. The mayor didn’t have an answer other than the School Committee cut the program from the budget.
Bells rang and eighth graders left to take NECAP tests. Avedisian stayed to field more questions from the seventh graders. He confessed bewilderment as to why Kirby would not have availed himself the chance of speaking to them.
“This is one of the fun things,” he said.