Anxious to serve the public and believing his best chances of getting elected are if he runs as an independent, Michael Penta has disaffiliated as a Republican and announced he is running for City Council in Ward 4. Penta, who ran for Representative District 21 in 2016, also stepped down as a member of the Republican City Committee.
With Mayor Scott Avedisian leaving as mayor on May 15 to accept the leadership post at the Rhode Island Transit Authority and incumbent Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon announcing for mayor, Penta is the first candidate to declare for the council seat. He said he is running because of “my love for the city and the people.”
A small business owner, Penta and his wife, Angelica, run Gel’s Kitchen in West Warwick, Mike & Gel’s Pizza in Warwick and M/C Renovations Inc. of Warwick. They employ 40 people.
“I feel that I can step in and really work with not only the people in this city but also with the administration and the council to achieve what matters the most and to get things done,” Pena said in a statement. “My wife and I are always reaching out to others to make sure that nobody is forgotten about or left behind.”
In an interview, Penta said he is confident he can work with Solomon, should he be elected, adding, “I can work with both parties.”
Penta listed schools and the condition of Warwick roads as priorities. He added, “Playgrounds aren’t what they used to be.”
Penta would make small business a “big focus” should he win. He aims to streamline the permitting process to open businesses, saying it can take six to 18 months to line up the required permits to open a business in the city. Penta sees businesses as vital to keeping and bringing people to Warwick.
“Warwick is the future for my children and grandchildren, and I would want nothing more than to be a part of the city’s direction. Seeing our schools become safer, playgrounds and ball fields become more active, cleaner and modified, working with small businesses and making it easier for them to come to the city and become successful,” he said.
Penta has been working with Rep. Robert Lancia of Cranston on legislation aimed at stopping “lunch shaming,” where students who are delinquent in paying their lunch fees have been denied a meal. He intends to create a non-profit organization that would address the aim of the legislation to ensure children don’t go without a lunch.
Penta lost to Camille Vella-Wilkinson in a three-way race where Michael Underwood ran as an independent. Underwood has declared he will run again for the Representative District seat.
During the Representative race two years ago, Penta made it clear he wouldn’t let the campaign stand in the way of his friendship with Vella-Wilkinson. While arguing the state needed more Republican legislators and the incumbent Democrat Eileen Naughton had held the seat long enough, he wished Vella-Wilkinson well and even attended one of her fundraisers.
Penta, who grew up in the city, has an unusual personal story that he shared during his 2016 campaign. At the age of 14, he lived on the street taking care of his younger brother. He said his abusive father left the family, and soon thereafter they were forced to leave the house on Beach Avenue. Penta took his brother, Gary, under his care, and the two lived out of boxes near the Salvation Army on Warwick Avenue. The boys continued going to school, with school authorities being none the wiser to what was happening.
Penta found work, scraping together enough money from a janitorial job to eventually buy a car that became their home and stove (they wrapped hamburgers in foil and cooked them on the engine).
From the car and living some time with his sister, Dawn, he moved to an apartment, where he connected with Warwick realtor Don Morash. To help offset the cost of rent, Penta did odd carpentry jobs for Morash. Penta credits Morash with mentoring him and giving him the confidence to start his own construction business.
Penta made his initial bid for public office in 2012, when he ran for Ward 4 as a Republican against Solomon. Of that campaign, Penta said he enjoyed walking the ward, meeting people and sharing his ideas. He aims to do that again, and should he and Solomon both win he looks forward to working together.