Incumbent Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, 55, a Democrat who has served on the City Council for 12 years and as council president during a portion of that time, is in a race with Republican Mike Penta, 46, to keep his seat.
Both candidates are concerned with considering the needs of constituents.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘I want to get out there and give something back to the people of Warwick. I want to make a change,’” Penta said. “People are tired of the bad politics and they are tired of Democrats and Republicans not being able to work together anymore. It’s important to get in there and work as a bipartisan group. We can bring the problems forth and work together. I feel very strongly that we can resolve issues.”
Solomon said he has consistently done the “right thing” for his constituents, and if re-elected, plans to continue to do so. He noted that he has never let anything interfere with that.
“You don’t have to be my best friend, but we have to have a common agenda and that agenda is to do what is right for all the citizens of the city,” said Solomon. “I’ve never let personalities or lifestyles get in the way. I’m not a rubber stamper – I’m going to do what I believe is right for the taxpayers like I always have done. I will not act because I’m told to act in a certain way. I will act based on the facts that are presented and the conclusion I draw from those facts.”
The top issue on Solomon’s agenda is economic development. While walking the ward, which he does whenever the weather permits, he has been meeting a lot of unemployed and underemployed residents. As a result, he’s focusing on economic development as a means to bring jobs back to the city and state.
“I find it disheartening because people are having a very difficult time making ends meet financially and being able to provide for their families the way they had been in the past,” he said. “It’s a sad thing to see. I know it’s not just a local issue – it’s a state issue, it’s a national issue – but still, I would like to take the initiative to try to spark something within the community.”
Creating tourism activities at the “beautiful” lighthouses in the community, as well as at Rocky Point, he said, are two ways to do just that. He hopes the state releases funds earmarked for the use of Conimicut Lighthouse.
“I would like to continue to prod that so we can maybe have more tourism activities relative to the lighthouse, whether it be shuttles or overnight stays so people can see the beautiful, historical traits that exist here,” Solomon said. “These are assets that we have in our community, so let’s telegraph it to attract people to those locations. When you attract people to the community, you are bringing business to the community and it creates jobs.”
Also, instead of relocating the Winslow Park ball fields to the Lake Shore Drive area, he thinks it would be more beneficial to move them to Rocky Point.
“I feel that Rocky Point can be a great tourist attraction and a great sports complex,” he said. “By having the ball fields at Rocky Point, it will give us a forum to host national tournaments, regional tournaments and bring tourism dollars into the city. It would create a traffic flow through our beautiful village and different pockets within the city of Warwick. Hopefully, it will attract people to businesses within those villages and pockets. As business grows, employment opportunities grow.”
Also, he is emphatically against relocating the ball fields near Lake Shore Drive, as the area is near runways. He views it as problematic and not the healthiest or safest spot.
“You want to take the ball fields out of harms way,” Solomon said. “I think it makes no sense to put our children and their families in a bad health and safety situation. That’s one of the main reasons that they were moved from the runway safety zone. Let’s bring them to our beautiful coastline at Rocky Point.”
Penta didn’t mention anything about the ball fields, but does have an opinion about Rocky Point.
“It’s very important that they get the deal completely closed up and preserve that land,” he said. “I’m glad that the state is getting involved. I think it’s going to give a lot of relief to the constituents of Warwick.”
Other issues Penta would like to tackle if elected include abandoned homes and public safety. These issues, he said, are among the top things people have been complaining to him about during his walks of the ward, which he does as often as possible.
In terms of abandoned homes, he has been told that the properties are not being maintained efficiently.
“The homes are fire hazards,” he said.
As for public safety, constituents are telling him that they aren’t pleased with the condition of roads in the ward and reckless drivers.
“People are fed up with the way the roads are,” Penta said. “A lot of people are very concerned about their safety. People are speeding through neighborhoods and they would like to see patrols picked up to slow down the traffic.”
One thing Penta’s not hearing people complain about are taxes.
“Very few people have talked about taxes,” he said. “I don’t hear much of it. We don’t really pay high taxes compared to some of the cities around us and I explain that to them. I had a half a dozen people talk about the car taxes and they say it decreased this year and that made a difference for a lot of people. I noticed it, too. I paid a lot less this year for my vehicles. I definitely felt some relief this year compared to last year.”
For Solomon, who last year voted against reducing the car tax exemption from $6,000 to $500, he is proud that in 2010 he voted to keep the exemption in place.
He is also happy to be known as a strong advocate for animals.
“I get calls from people all the time about animals not properly being taken care of and being left outside for days,” he said. “I’m proud that they reach out to me because I’m able to point authorities to certain laws on the books and see that those animals are protected and kept out of harm’s way.”
Moreover, education is another concern for Solomon. He thinks it’s vital to provide children with the tools necessary to succeed in the future and stay in the community when they grow up.
“We have a school system I’m very concerned about and I want to make sure that our schools are well maintained and financially supported the way they need to be so our children can get learning skills, fields trips, and security,” said Penta. “We have nothing much here, unfortunately, for the kids of Warwick to do. We need to concentrate on getting other types of businesses in here to get these kids off the street and get them involved with certain activities.”
Being a contractor and working in the restaurant business, Penta said, helps him be more of a people person. He views this as an important trait for a council member to have.
While at the restaurant, he makes it a point to emerge from the kitchen to the dining room at least once every half hour to visit guests.
“I ask them how everything is going and how the food tastes,” Penta said. “You have to have patience with people and I find that if you’re not a people person, it’s just not going to work. It’s the same thing with running a campaign. You’ve got to know how to deal with people with kindness. If you don’t have that personality, you can’t get involved with people. I’m responsive and can deal with people and their issues. I have a lot of energy and I still find time for the people.”
Penta said he’s been getting a good response from citizens as he walks the ward. He said people are hoping for “change.”
“They are really glad to see someone out there willing to listen to them,” Penta said. “Some don’t even realize they have a councilman. I don’t want to bash the other guy, but people are saying it would be good to get some young blood in there. I work hard and that’s what they are looking for.”
But Solomon, a local attorney, said he’s also been getting a good response. Whether he’s reuniting with constituents or meeting new ones, they are in his corner.
“It’s refreshing when you go to someone’s door and they’ve read about your accomplishments or they know who you are,” Solomon said. “I am very pleased to see that people are paying attention to what’s going on within their city. “Anyone who knows me knows I’m accessible and has been accountable – just look at my record. With my accounting and business background, I’m most proud of being able to save the taxpayers millions of dollars over the years of my service.”