“It’s about time,” Tina Travis Bajakian, daughter of Warwick’s new Council President, Donna Travis, said Tuesday night at City Hall shortly after her mother was elected to the position. Travis won on a 6-3 vote during the Inaugural Ceremony. “She’s done 40 years of public service.”
Travis’ granddaughter, Gianna Travis, 10, a student at Oakland Beach Elementary School, agrees.
“I’m not surprised,” Gianna said. “She’s awesome – she’s Donna Travis.”
More than four decades ago, Travis, who has 18 years of experience as Ward 6 councilwoman, began serving on various boards and committees, volunteering and advocating for organizations against domestic violence and sexual assault, substance abuse task forces, groups seeking to end homelessness, plus much more.
“It’s been one committee after another,” Travis said.
At the ceremony, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson named nearly 15 boards and committees Travis continues to dedicate her time to, plus she has served on every council committee since she was first elected. Vella-Wilkinson described Travis as a “pillar of our community,” and an “unsung hero.”
The assembly of more than 400 erupted in applause after Vella-Wilkinson nominated Travis, and again when she was announced as Warwick’s newest Council President. Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci seconded the nomination, while no other members were nominated.
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur and Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla voted in opposition, while Vella-Wilkinson, Gallucci, Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono, Ward 2 Councilman Tom Chadronet and Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan were in favor. Travis also was able to cast a vote, which she used as one in her own name. Former Council President Bruce Place presented Travis with a gavel and wished her luck.
In her remarks to the assembly, Travis said she is looking forward to serving in the position for the next two years. Considering her experience on the council, she said she has seen many ups and downs in the government, as well as the economy, and knows there will be challenges to face in the future. But she is optimistic that she will help the city become “brighter and better” in years to come.
She also said she plans to seek advice and guidance from Solomon and Gallucci, two former council presidents, as well as other council members.
But make no mistake; Travis said she has her own views on issues and her own ideas to solve problems from pension woes to everyday troubles.
“I am confident that we are up to the job,” Travis said. “We will do it not by yelling or screaming, we will do it not by bullying; we will do so in an open and civil manner.”
Travis also thanked her family for their ongoing support, from Tina and Gianna, as well as Gianna’s little sister, Ava, 2, her son-in-law Chris Bajakian, and her husband, William.
“They’ve been behind me through the whole thing,” she said in an interview after the ceremony. “I’m very excited, and ready to go. It’s a good feeling.”
During the meeting, Chadronet nominated Gallucci as president pro tem, with Solomon seconding the motion. The council unanimously elected Gallucci, and Travis named Donovan and Colantuono as Majority and Minority Leaders, respectively.
Colantuono, who just began his third year as a member of the council, was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening, while his daughter, Sophie, led the Pledge of Allegiance. He noted that he is honored to not only call Mayor Scott Avedisian a constituent of his ward, but also a friend.
For Avedisian, he said he is eager to work with the School Committee and Council, and offered them his best wishes. He went on to say that it has been an honor to work alongside Travis for the last 20 years, noting her “kind heart, steadfast dedication to our community, enthusiasm, and a strong moral compass that guides you to make a decision because it’s the right thing to do.”
This year begins his eighth term as mayor. In November, he won the seat by 81 percent of the vote.
Governor Lincoln Chafee spoke to this fact, and praised Avedisian, as well as other local mayors, for winning elections by landslides.
“Warwick is a well-run city,” said Chafee. “The schools are good, the roads are good, the skating rinks are the best in the state, the parks and recreation are great,” he said. “We’re doing a great job.”
A few of Avedisian’s loved ones took part in the event, as his cousin, the Honorable Haiganush R. Bedrosian swore him in, while his Goddaughter, Isabel Butts, along with her brother, Jacob, held, with teeth clenched, a large Bible that Avedisian placed his hand on for the oath. Before giving his speech, Avedisian swore in all nine members of the City Council, plus the two new members of the School Committee, Jennifer Ahearn and Karen Bachus.
The Pawtuxet Rangers, RIM & Pawtuxet Rangers Fife & Drum Corps opened the ceremony, along with a grand procession of honor guards from the Warwick Police and Fire Departments.
Firefighter William Tyler sang the national anthem, the Right Reverend W. Nicholas Knisely of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island provided the invocation, while the Very Reverend Gomidas Baghsarian, Archpriest and Pastor of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church, and Rabbi Leslie Yale Gutterman of Temple Beth David offered prayers.
Coral McAuliffe sang “Let All Things Now Living,” and “ Lord of All Hopefulness,” which Avedisian and St. Kevin Church Pastor Fr. Robert Marciano, who made the Benediction, sang and hummed along to at their seats.
Additionally, Travis appointed Vella-Wilkinson as the Chairwoman of the Finance Committee, with Chadronet and Colantuono as members; Merolla as Chairman of the Public Properties Committee, with Colantuono and Chadronet as members; Gallucci as Chairman of Public Safety, with Solomon and Colantuono as members; Gallucci as Chairman of the Ordinance Committee, with Colantuono and Ladouceur as members; Colantuono as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee, with Ladouceur and Chadronet as members; Vella-Wilkinson as Chairwoman of the Economic Development Committee, with Colantuono and Chadronet as members; and Donovan as Chairman of the Appointments Committee, with Vella-Wilkinson and Colantuono as members. Former council members John DelGiudice and Raymond Gallucci were in attendance, as were several other local dignitaries.
Avedisian thanked the service of Warwick officials not returning to office, including Councilmen Place, DelGiudice and Raymond Gallucci, School Committee members Christopher Friel and Patrick Maloney, and Rep. Robert Flaherty.