With another election season set to kick into gear, the question has already begun to swirl regarding who may jump into the race and declare their candidacy for various elected positions in Warwick. Primarily, one may wonder if there will be any opposition to Mayor Joseph Solomon, who has already indicated he is not looking to step out of the mayor’s office any time soon.
Solomon, as the city’s political structure is currently established, presides over an entirely Democratic city council and interacts with an entirely Democratic state delegation of representatives (including his own son). On the school side, the non-partisan school committee, who all count themselves as Democrats, rounds out the local elected positions without a single unaffiliated or Republican member to be found.
While this may not be entirely surprising given the largely Democratic state that is Rhode Island, Warwick is unique in that its Republican representation is simultaneously nonexistent politically, yet profoundly active in terms of citizen voter turnout. It is a city that gave 44.3 percent of its vote to Donald Trump in 2016 (narrowly succumbing to Hillary Clinton by just 4 percent, or about 1,700 votes) and came within about 1,200 votes of choosing Republican Allan Fung for governor in 2018.
The healthy amount of red that flows through the political veins of the city could, perhaps, be attributed partially to the long reign of Mayor Scott Avedisian, who stood for about 20 years as an anomalous Republican stalwart that easily bested Democratic challengers every election season due to his ability to compromise when necessary, craft alliances and maintain crucial political relationships.
But the Avedisian years are gone with the wind, and with it seems to have blown away any semblance of a strong Republican core in Warwick – as evidenced by the 7,000-vote trouncing that Republican mayoral candidate Sue Stenhouse received in 2018 that paved the way for Solomon to take over for his first full term.
“I think when he left, I think it created a vacuum,” Rick Cascella, chairman of the Warwick GOP, said of Avedisian’s departure during an interview on Friday while assessing the state of the city’s Republican Party. “We’ve attracted a lot of newer people. It’s kind of like the Republican party in Warwick as a committee was basically decimated when the mayor left.”
Cascella notes that consistent Republican voices in Warwick, such as Anthony Corrente, Mike Penta and Stenhouse have either left the public eye of politics, left the party or gone elsewhere for another job, respectively. He said there are only around a dozen or so consistent attendees at Warwick GOP meetings.
That being said, Cascella hasn’t lost hope for a new Republican voice to emerge and garner the interest of the city as the election in 2020 draws nearer. Although he wouldn’t divulge anyone who has expressed interest, he did say that there was interest percolating, and that more details would likely emerge by the new year.
“There’s a bunch of people that we’ve spoken to in the past few months that have expressed interest in running,” he said. “We’re still reaching out to people that have expressed interest in running for different elected positions in Warwick, whether it’s the council, state reps or the mayor. But it’s not for me to be saying who’s going to be doing what.”
As for the Warwick GOP itself, the group finds itself in an odd position. Much of the political strife in Warwick surrounds conflicting opinions regarding fiscal health of the city and the feasibility of municipal contracts that provide comparatively lucrative healthcare and retirement benefits.
One could argue that Avedisian should shoulder some blame – as well as a majority the Democratic city council, which included Mayor Solomon as council president at the time – for negotiating such deals and subsequently approving them without adequately factoring in the long-term implications for the city’s liabilities. Cascella said there is no shortage of blame to be found.
“There’s probably blame for everyone to go around,” he said. “We all probably should have been a little more austere and a little more diligent about how we negotiated those contracts because, now in hindsight, people believe they’re a little too lucrative as they compare to the private sector.”
Cascella said he believed some of the greatest threats to an active, engaged government body in Warwick is complacency brought on by too much time spent in an elected position. He further argued that having a government populated entirely by one party is detrimental to the democratic process, as debate and disagreement is a fundamental piece to finding well-rounded areas of agreement.
“In Warwick it’s a matter of diversity,” he said. “You’ve got to have dissenting or opposing opinions because out of debate comes consensus or compromise, but at the very least you’ll be able to see both sides of things instead of worrying about negotiating things you’re going to do within one party.”
While the Warwick GOP is currently working on its official platform, which Cascella said will have four or five main tenants, he said that advocating for term limits for city council members and the mayor – two, four-year terms for the mayor and three, two-year terms for council members – was a popular concept among the city’s Republicans.
So, too, is the notion that all elected officials in Warwick must be on the same page when it comes to renegotiating union collective bargaining agreements to better shore up the long-term financial health of the city.
"I think the one thing we need to get together on and be unified on is we have to do something about municipal contracts," he said.
In a bigger picture, Cascella said the Warwick GOP is looking to become more actively engaged with the community to drive enthusiasm and membership, and that they welcome unaffiliated individuals seeking office to join their meetings as well. They will be hosting their next meeting tonight at 7 p.m. at The Coffee Grinder, 955 Namquid Drive in Warwick.
“You’re welcome to join our meetings, whether you’re a Republican or independent or unaffiliated. Because we want to hear from everyone,” Cascella said. “I think everybody has interesting ideas and if it turns out there are candidates coming forward to run for office that aren’t registered Republicans, we want to hear what they have to say.”