Mayor's race hotter than usual
In some respects, this year’s mayoral contest is remarkably different than those Scott Avedisian has faced since winning the post in a special election in 2000.
His Democratic challenger, Richard Corrente, has been on the campaign trail for about two years drumming his message that Warwick needs to attract new families and businesses and end the Avedisian years of tax increases. Corrente signs are ubiquitous, and the candidate is a familiar figure to commuters who can find him standing beside the road in Apponaug and Hoxsie Four Corners waving as they head for work.
Few have mounted such a committed campaign against the Republican mayor.
But for all his energy and enthusiasm, and like so many Democratic candidates who have opposed Avedisian, Corrente hasn’t ignited a following, including those of his own party. Some elected Democrats, including City Council President Donna Travis of Ward 6 and Ward 7 Councilwoman Kathleen Usler, who isn’t seeking re-election, have even signed on as Democrats for Avedisian. One of his most ardent supporters is Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur.
Of course, it’s not Democratic officials who will decide who will be the city’s next mayor on Nov. 8. And this election year, more so than many, has been full of surprises from the top of the national ticket on down.
Warwick has never seen so many candidates and primaries in recent times. The Democratic primaries brought surprises, including the loss of incumbents Sen. William Walaska and Rep. Eileen Naughton and Steve McAllister’s four-vote win over Charles Donovan Jr., who hoped to make a comeback in Ward 7.
Those races and the number of independent candidates on the ballot have some wondering if government inexperience and a lack of name recognition can win out over a proven track record and successive campaigns of garnering more than 70 percent of the vote, as Avedisian has proven more than once.
Might the mood for change and frustration with the choices for president have a backlash on local incumbents? Is it the wild card? The depth of discontent was evident at a poll taken last week at the Pilgrim Senior Center poker club, where Donald Trump was the winner with 28 votes followed by Hillary Clinton with 24. The surprise was the 18 who voted “other.”
Among political observers, Avedisian has been viewed as the favored candidate since winning that first contest. He continues winning in a predominantly Democratic city where all but one of the nine wards are held by a Democrat. The same is true of Warwick state offices. Democrats hold all but one of the city’s House and Senate seats, the exception being House District 24, where incumbent Joseph Trillo isn’t seeking re-election.
Avedisian has not used his proven team to seek Republican control of the council or state delegation, never posing much of a threat to Democrats and tacitly gaining their support.
Avedisian has run a low-key campaign, sticking to the theme that the city is in financially good shape; the divisive issue of airport expansion is behind us; City Centre is primed for the development he has long talked about; and lines of communications have been opened with the school administration. The preservation of Rocky Point as a public park and the $71 million Apponaug Circulator project are on his list of positive things happening in Warwick.
He has been working behind the scenes to bring the Warwick Teachers Union and the School Committee together to resolve a contract that has eluded the parties since the former contract expired in August 2015.
On Wednesday, the mayor disclosed he has asked the School Committee to resume mediation and requested that he be present when that happens. Despite rhetoric from both sides that they are ready to talk at any time, the parties appear polarized and unwilling to budge from key issues concerning students with special needs, classroom weighting that effects teacher staffing, and layoffs as they apply to school consolidation.
Corrente’s answer is to bring the parties together and keep them together until they reach an agreement. Avedisian has been talking with members of the committee and the union, seeking to offer possible resolution to sticking points while identifying points they can agree to and build upon.
Avedisian doesn’t get into the thick of such disputes on the campaign trail, unless they are raised.
“It’s all good,” as he told residents of Shalom Apartments in a first of a series of clamcake and chowder luncheons sponsored by the campaign about two weeks ago.
Avedisian keeps a full schedule, appearing at community events, grand openings and showing up for a morning of firefighter training with other elected officials where he donned a helmet and heat-resistant clothing. But with yet another meeting on his schedule left before confronting the fire and smoke, he said he has done some door-to-door campaigning.
His criticisms of Corrente have focused on Corrente’s argument that Warwick has lost about 4,000 businesses and that Warwick taxes rank among the highest in the state. Avedisian says the numbers on lost businesses are incorrect. Corrente claims they are from the U.S. Census. At the only debate of the campaign, hosted by the Beacon, the mayor countered Corrente’s tax argument comparing the taxes paid on a home valued at $200,000. Warwick taxes were less than East Providence, Providence and Cranston, he said.
Avedisian became the city’s youngest mayor when as the Ward 1 councilman he successfully ran in a special mayoral election in February 2000 to complete the term of Lincoln Chafee, who was appointed to complete the term of his father, U.S. Sen. John Chafee, who died while in office.
Avedisian was born in Warwick in 1965 and educated in Warwick schools. He is a graduate of Providence College and earned a master’s in public administration from Roger Williams University and completed the state and local program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Corrente has been highly visible. He is a regular at City Council meetings, turned out when teachers conducted an informational picket of the school administration, and attended all meetings on plans to consolidate elementary schools, where he called for the plan to be postponed. He has attacked the mayor in political advertising and frequently comments online to stories posted on the Warwick Beacon website. In the last week of the campaign he has been running cookies, Coke and comments with Corrente events at elderly housing complexes, often extending into the late afternoon.
Apart from the issue of taxes, Corrente has focused on Green Airport and the memorandum of agreement, ironically largely crafted by the Democratic-controlled council, enabling the latest round of airport improvements including extension of Runway 5 to 8,700 feet. He says Warwick gets all the negatives from the airport from noise, air and water (storm water runoff) pollution and the loss of taxes from houses sold to the airport while the rest of the state gets the benefits. He says he would renegotiate the agreement with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation to the city’s benefit.
A longtime Warwick resident, Corrente is a graduate of Bryant College, where he earned a degree in business management. He has owned several businesses and, under the title of “business training and promotions,” has trained business owners in numerous states. In the 1970s he owned and managed Realty Center Inc. He is the president of Bankers Mortgage Corporation.
In an interview this week he said he is happy with his campaign. He said he has stayed on the message that he is not a career politician and that it is time to cut taxes. He was also asked about his personal taxes, an issue that Avedisian is aware of, but hasn’t raised during the campaign.
Corrente continues to live in a house that was sold in a tax sale for taxes due the city. As a mortgage broker, Corrente knows the law and he said his lender, Wells Fargo, broke the law on 14 occasions. He said he sued, won the case, and that Wells Fargo “agreed to clear the title and they didn’t.” He said the matter continues to be litigated and the city will get the taxes.
According to the Tax Assessors and Collectors, Corrente’s house sold in an August 2013 tax sale for $10,145.98 in back taxes. Foreclosure was processed in July 2014 and the property is currently owned by Red Stick Acquisitions, according to city records.