The long run up to the 2018 statewide election is over, and voters will go to the ballot box on Tuesday and cast votes that will impact all residents of Warwick and Rhode Island as a whole for the foreseeable future.
This election has some significant storylines of interest, as a new mayor will be elected for the first time in nearly two decades, following the departure of Scott Avedisian from the role this past May. Additionally, three new members could potentially be voted onto the school committee, which could result in a dramatic shift of ideologies and how the school department operates.
While the Beacon will not be endorsing candidates, we urge all residents of Warwick to look over our election coverage from the previous weeks and in this edition in order to make an informed decision based on what is important to you – not what we perceive to be important.
We can say with confidence that both candidates for mayor believe they are the best fit for the job. We have seen their enthusiasm for undertaking the responsibilities firsthand, and hopefully you were able to watch their debate as televised on public access or as posted on our website in order to judge for yourself how the candidates carry themselves, answer questions and, by extension, how they may act from within the office of mayor.
In terms of what they can offer to residents of the city of Warwick, nobody can deny that interim Mayor Joseph Solomon has unparalleled experience in city government, as he has spent many years overlooking budgets and voting on policies as a member of the city council for 18 years. His accounting and legal background provides a good balance of base knowledge to grapple with complex issues. He has demonstrated an indefatigable willingness to meet with business owners and residents and to listen to their concerns – all excellent qualities for a mayor to possess.
Stenhouse, meanwhile, emanates positive energy and has a good amount of municipal government experience as well, serving on the city council herself for six years and working as a department head under Governor Donald Carcieri. Her stint as director of the Cranston Senior Center ended in an embarrassing resignation, but it should be stated that Stenhouse was in no jeopardy of losing her title prior to the bizarre scandal – an indication she was doing a fine job in the role before the odd ending.
In addition to seeing benefits of both candidates for mayor, we feel inclined to offer what we believe to be legitimate critiques of both Stenhouse and Solomon.
Stenhouse has come out of the gates swinging away at Solomon. Some criticisms have held more weight than others, but the fact remains that being a successful mayoral term hinges far more on being able to bring people together rather than point out the flaws in others’ actions. While we don’t fault Stenhouse for levying criticism, if she is elected she must be able to shift gears and promote new ideas for the betterment of Warwick, leaving this vitriolic side behind.
Solomon, meanwhile, has avoided negativity in his campaign, choosing instead to focus on a strategy of what he calls results-oriented campaigning. While choosing to avoid a mudslinging battle is refreshing, Solomon has instead demonstrated a tendency to deflect criticisms away from himself in favor of blaming Avedisian for past instances of budgetary mismanagement, like not allocating enough money for the schools prior to Solomon assuming mayoral duties this spring.
What Solomon has omitted in utilizing this strategy – besides Avedisian’s attempts to work with Solomon on the budget prior to him stepping down, which Solomon reportedly was not receptive to – is his role as a leader on an almost exclusively Democratic city council throughout Avedisian’s entire tenure as mayor; a position of leadership he has touted multiple times since assuming mayoral duties. The argument could be made that Solomon had much more power to gather his colleague’s support to check Avedisian’s math and challenge him at budget time over the years than he has indicated.
If Solomon is elected, he will have the majority support of a city council that could consist entirely of Democratic allies. The outcome of the Ward 4 race, where Democrat James McElroy faces independent Mike Penta, will decide if all council members are Democrats. In any event if Solomon wins, he will have full control over all future budgetary decisions. With this responsibility will come the end of being able to push blame off onto past administrations.
With three seats up for grabs in each of the city’s three districts, the school committee race is poised to result in drastic changes to how the school department works with its accompanying public governmental body.
It is no secret that there is bad blood between members of the Warwick Teachers’ Union and the central administration of the schools. It is also no secret that candidates Kyle Adams (District 1), Judith Cobden (District 2) and both candidates from District 3 (Nathan Cornell and Corey Smith) have either direct ties to the union – Adams’ mother is Union Executive Secretary Diane Chaplin – or at least philosophically align with the union on a litany of issues regarding how the schools are run. Cobden and Cornell, in particular, have been outspoken critics of decisions made by Superintendent Philip Thornton and have numerous times echoed complaints made by Union President Darlene Netcoh.
None of this is to say that any of these candidates are in violation of any statutes or are unfit to sit on the school committee, however it is important for a nonpartisan board such as the school committee, who are responsible for making decisions based on an entire district of students, to make those decisions based on the facts at hand, not uncorroborated or isolated emotional pleas and certainly not solely on the desires of a collective bargaining unit. Concerning Adams and his direct connection to a ranking member of the school committee, if elected he must understand the essential separation between what the committee discusses in executive session and what cannot be shared with members of the union – even those in his own family.
Voters must ask themselves a few very important questions in regards to this race. Do you believe the schools are doing the best they can for our students? As parents, have you felt the district has been attentive to your needs and the needs of your children? Watch our televised school committee debate, there will be a link on the website posted soon, and decide for yourself who you agree with.
From a General Assembly perspective, perhaps the most interesting storyline of note is how few Republicans have emerged to challenge Democratic incumbents. Of the 10 Democrats running for re-election who represent Warwick as part of their district, only five face challengers to their seat – and one of those challengers is running as an independent.
Republicans have long been a minority in the state legislature, but during an era where Republican representation in local statehouses around the country is at or near all time highs, their absence from Smith Hill results in an unfortunate absence of differing perspectives.
Perhaps those differing perspectives, in Rhode Island anyways, can come from the blossoming split between so-called moderate Democrats and the buzzword of the past couple years – progressives. While their views align on many issues, progressives are unapologetic about seeking to advance agendas that moderates are less willing to commit to, such as a staunch belief in legalizing recreational marijuana and enshrining pro-choice legislation into state law as a defensive measure against a federal government currently trending in the opposite direction.
Between the state ballot questions, the local bond initiative and the races for mayor, city council and state legislature that do have contention, the onus is on you, the voter, to research which candidate you feel will best perform the role of serving the public and leading us in a better direction forward.
As for the City Council, there are races in Ward 1 and 4. In Ward 1 incumbent Richard Corley faces Patrick Maloney who is running as an independent this time. He has previously run as a Democrat. As you will see from their answers to questions published in this edition they offer similar positions on issues facing the city. In Ward 4, Jim McElroy and Mike Penta are running for the seat vacated by Joseph Solomon. McElroy is a Democrat and Penta, who at one time chaired the Republican Party, is an independent. We urge you to look at their positions as published in this edition.
If you are unsure of your polling location, visit vote.RI.gov or call the Board of Canvassers at 738-2010.