Gerald “Ged” Carbone understands and admits that he doesn’t have the prototypical political resume you might expect someone running for mayor of Warwick to have, but that’s a fact he’s actually banking on to help win him votes in Steptember’s Democratic primary.
He thinks election season runs too long and gives an unfair advantage to incumbents. He equates trying to outspend wealthier politicians as a futile arms race against a powerhouse country. He already regrets buying 200 campaign lawn signs, which he laments will simply be sent to the landfill after the election regardless of whether or not he wins.
However, this doesn’t mean he is completely unqualified for government work. Carbone has decades of experience in politics, not from raising money through fundraisers, networking and making speeches, but from the business end of a reporter’s pad, asking questions that need to be asked of people in positions like the one he is now trying to gain control of.
“I think being an enemy of the people for 25 years is an advantage,” he said during a Friday morning interview, lampooning current events involving the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “As a journalist I had to knock on doors and introduce myself at the worst times in peoples’ lives. Now here I am knocking on doors just in order to chat. That’s pleasant. I also think as a journalist in the public eye for a long time, I got a thick skin. I think it’s important to focus on the positive and where we can go.”
Although Carbone has only been in full campaign mode for about a month, he is serious about getting out and meeting as many people as possible. He estimates to have already knocked on about 14 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in the city. He is also hosting gatherings open to anybody at his home each Wednesday for at least the month of August.
Carbone, at this point, is also the only candidate in the race for mayor to have hired a fulltime campaign manager. Madeeha Mehmood, a young but polished transplant from Denmark who has worked on Congressional campaigns in Massachusetts as well as the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, said she has jumped onto Carbone’s campaign because he embodies what she believes to be a crucial voice in modern politics.
“The most American thing we can do is be upset about something and do something about it by running for office, right? And it shouldn’t stop you that you haven’t been sitting on city council for 18 years or been a public face for this long,” Mehmood said. “That’s what I really enjoy about this campaign so far. Everyone who knows Ged thinks he’s great and everyone who we put him in front of thinks he’s great.”
Carbone’s role as the underdog will not only be evident on front lawns around the city, it will also be seen in fiscal records. A Beacon piece last week highlighted how sitting Mayor Joseph Solomon has already amassed over $200,000 in donations and self-financing months ahead of the primary. Carbone revealed Friday his campaign account hovers a little below $15,000.
This disparity in political capital underscores Carbone’s campaign message – he isn’t trying to buy the mayoral seat through planting more lawn signs or buying ad space, rather he’s trying to win it through an earnest willingness to listen, coordinate with stakeholders and find solutions.
“It’s easy to vote for the person whose name you most often see on signs and stickers and whatever else you can buy. You see their name occurring in every cycle, but to get someone to vote for someone whose name you haven’t seen on yard signs everywhere and whose name isn’t on stickers, I think that would be by putting them in front each other for a debate or a talk or a session,” Mehmood said. “I truly believe that is how a democratic election is supposed to be. You’re supposed to go in front of as many people face-to-face and put yourself out there.”
Carbone, so far, has put himself in front of people such as the Friends of Warwick Ponds – of whom fellow mayoral candidate Richard Corrente is a member – and residents of Norwood who, by and large, are practically begging to be hooked up to sewer service rather than keep paying for septic systems and cesspools.
He believes the environmental problems poised by the Friends of Warwick Ponds, often related to algae blooms and bacteria issues within the pond’s waters, might be related to the use of in-ground waste removal systems in the Norwood neighborhood that seep into Fairfax Drive wetlands, which then flows into Spring Green and Warwick Ponds. While there has been no proven link to sewage systems contributing to such issues in recent environmental studies of the pond, Carbone feels the need for sewers is evident regardless.
“These people don’t want free sewers, they want to pay to get them set up,” he said. “Unlike a lot of policy decisions, this is one that the mayor can actually effect because the mayor appoints members of the sewer commission…it wouldn’t happen overnight but in a year or two.”
Speaking of other issues in the city, such as the continuing degradation of the former Rhodes School also in the Norwood neighborhood, Carbone said he couldn’t fathom how the city has let it get to the point that it sits today, overgrowing with vegetation and abandoned.
“If a private land owner had a blight as bad as that school is, we would be taking them to court,” he said. “I mean, it’s horrible.”
In regards to schools, Carbone said the current state of schools in the city is “a disaster.” He derided the school administration’s decision to cut specialized science educators at the elementary level – positions which were put in place during the space race of the 50s and 60s to encourage scientific involvement in children.
“Here we are in an era of science and technology, saying we don’t need to do that anymore because we can’t afford it. It’s terrible,” Carbone said.
He added that he felt encouraged that the school committee would be guaranteed at least two new members this election, possibly three, and that fresh blood would be vital on the committee. However, he was critical of the current committee’s decision to extend the contracts of Superintendent and three top administrators a full year before their contracts expired, saying that should have been up to the new configuration of school committee members following the election.
Carbone identified the funding mechanism of Rhode Island – where the city side levies taxes and disseminates a portion of it to schools at their discretion – is the root of the financial woes currently felt by Warwick and experienced by many other districts in the state. He said the city should seek a charter change to allow the school committee to levy a portion of taxes to fund its own budget.
“What that accomplishes is now voters can hold the school committee more accountable so that they can’t hide behind the city council and say, ‘Oh, we have a great school system but the council won’t fund it.’ I think right now people are not paying attention to the school committee as they ought to be. That’s a policy change I would like to see.”
As for his strategy in the coming months, Carbone and Mehmood aren’t looking to start slinging mud at Solomon or any other candidate in order to try and grab more headlines or attention. They are squarely focused on spreading a message of positivity and cooperation that will hopefully lead to good results.
“It’s also a good thing as a political person to work with a candidate that is a human being first and political person second,” Mehmood said. “What is interesting about this campaign is, when people have met Ged, they realize that he is a candidate who wants to listen to him and all these clichés, ‘I wanna listen, I wanna be there for you.’ They really see this happening in practice.”