The mayors stood back to back, dressed in white “bunny” suits and holding a 4-inch paint roller on the end of a long staff.
Ron Barnes, commander of the Pawtuxet Rangers, pointed a musket in the air and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked. He lowered it and cocked the hammer again. On the second try, the gun went off, sending a billow of smoke across a crowd gathered outside O’Rourke’s in Pawtuxet Village.
The starting gun having been fired, Mayors Avedisian and Fung raced to their respective starting points and began painting the center stripe to Narragansett Parkway.
All of these shenanigans got plenty of attention from the media, who played up the “dueling” mayors and their race to raise $5,000 to paint a red, white and blue stripe on Broad Street by the time the Gaspee Days parade steps off on June 8. And, given early responses to the effort, the stripe will get its fresh coat of paint.
It’s wonderful that the mayors and their communities work cooperatively, and have some fun doing it, in support of a celebration that has become the traditional start to summer. The Gaspee celebration has grown to span several weeks and include an arts and crafts festival, walking tour with students playing roles of colonialists, an encampment of local militia and the parade around a mock burning of the HMS Gaspee. In fact, this is hardly all of what’s planned to commemorate the burning of the British revenue ship when it ran aground on Namquid Point on June 9, 1772.
It’s no small undertaking. Running the parade costs around $100,000. A lot of it is raised with the arts and crafts festival, but, like everything Gaspee, the parade is mostly dependent on scores of volunteers.
Gaspee Days events are promoted statewide and while there is little question that the celebration, especially the encampment and the parade’s colonial regiments, attracts people from out of state, it could be an even larger draw and a bigger boost to the Rhode Island economy. We need to think of it in those terms and plan accordingly.
Newport has done that with sailing. While not successful in their bid to host the America’s Cup, the city still attracts numerous regattas and plays a role in international sailing events. It’s a destination for cruise ships, tall ships, jazz and other music festivals and tennis. The state contributes significantly to ensure that happens, whether putting together delegations to lure events here or assigning support staff and making the necessary infrastructure upgrades.
Pawtuxet isn’t on the level of Newport and the Gaspee Days parade is not on a par of the America’s Cup, but a little bit of research could establish the impact of the celebration on tourism. Our guess is that it far outweighs the cost of painting the stripe. Why can’t the dueling mayors put down their rollers and have the state paint that patriotic line?