Mayor Joseph Solomon wasn’t elected to become mayor when Scott Avedisian resigned in May for a new job at RIPTA, but he’s certainly hoping that the citizens of Warwick will choose to do so this fall.
He will have to face a competitive primary first, with three candidates running for the Democratic nomination besides him in Gerald Carbone, a longtime journalist and local historian; Richard Corrente, a mortgage broker who advocates for lowering taxes to stimulate growth; and Vincent Ferla, owner of a used car business for many years and whose family owned Rocky Point Amusement Park.
Should he earn the nomination, and he’s already gained endorsements from powerful Democrats such as Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi, House Majority Leader, he will have to win out in a primary election against Republican candidate Sue Stenhouse.
Despite the competition ahead, Solomon thinks his performance as mayor through the coming months will allow him to prevail.
“I’m the only candidate for mayor that has the proven experience and is currently doing the job as mayor. I don’t think anyone else possesses those credentials,” he said in a recent interview from his office. “I’m performing the duties and have been performing the duties through quite a tumultuous period of time and I’ve been doing it in a way where, maybe we have a couple bumps in the road but ultimately, we’re operating smoothly and efficiently.”
Solomon, who spent 18 years as a member of the Warwick City Council and was the president of the council when Avedisian resigned (rendering him mayor), believes that this long tenure as part of the legislative branch will prove valuable in keeping branches of government on the same page, resulting in better results overall.
“It will be very productive, for not just myself but for all taxpayers of the city because I’ve developed a report with this council,” he said. “They believe in me, they know where I’m coming from, I have credibility and I like to think integrity, experience and knowledge that they know of. They chose me as council president two years ago and I don’t think any of them are unhappy with that choice.”
In working with the council, Solomon has often expressed it was difficult to get information from Avedisian’s administration in regards to city issues and projects. Now, he stresses that there is an open door and an open dialogue between the executive and legislative branches at all times.
“I think that line of communication benefits everybody in the city,” he said. “I don’t care what your political affiliation is, what your religious denomination is, your nationality – open communication, honesty and integrity and putting everything straight on the table; that’s what’s going to make this community even better.”
Making the city “even better,” as Solomon has proposed to do, has so far included some actions that conflict with actions of his in the past, such as his decision to waive beach fees that were originally proposed and voted in unanimously by the council he presided over. However, Solomon maintains he made the decision in the best interest of the city taxpayers, and in light of information that wasn’t available to him while on the council.
“I was presented with certain information [while on the council],” he said. “As mayor, I started a comparison of numbers relative to expenses, economic benefits and noneconomic benefits…When I had the accurate figures before me, I made an informed decision not to implement fees at this time. That was not just arbitrary or capricious, that was based on facts that were not privy to me in the legislative branch, nor any of the other council members who voted unanimously in support of it.”
Similarly, Solomon had staunchly defended the council from public comments criticizing the city for raising taxes too often, as he was proud of the fact that the council succeeded in getting a budget passed last year with no tax increases. This year, however, Solomon had to put forward a budget with the maximum possible tax increase.
This, too, he said was a result of the prior administration providing him with a problematic budget that didn’t adequately fund large liabilities, such as the school department providing raises to teachers that were negotiated and finalized well prior to Avedisian leaving.
“If someone is critical of that they clearly don’t understand this year’s budget,” he said. “We had schools looking for eight million dollars, we had raises that had to be paid that weren’t accounted for in the budget. We had $4 or $5 million in raises to the school department, and they were level funded, so where was that to come from? These are the cards the council had to deal with.”
“To do anything that would be irresponsible, there was nothing irresponsible or over-taxing on behalf of the council addressing the former mayor’s budget,” he continued. “They did the best thing they possibly could do to keep the city floating with the underfunded budget that was presented before them. Anyone, to make that statement, clearly didn’t go to any budget hearings.”
Other issues on Solomon’s radar is what to do with the city’s annex building and reopening the Buttonwoods Community Center. He has stated he is actively working on both issues, but there haven’t been major developments at this time.
Looking back, Solomon talked about two initiatives he was particularly proud of as a member of the City Council. One was introducing legislation to acquire Conimicut Point Light from the state so they could prevent dredge spoils from being dumped off the coast of Warwick. The other was forcing the city to go out to bid for healthcare costs, which he argued has saved upwards of $20 million in healthcare costs to the taxpayers over his political tenure.
“I’m a results-oriented guy,” he said. “I’m not into campaigning, so to speak. I want to do the job and that’s where I’m spending all my resources and time right now – performing my duties as the mayor of Warwick.”
While he doesn’t yet have a campaign headquarters, he said he would looking into acquiring a space to run his campaign. He says while he doesn’t consider himself an active campaigner, he has been going out and knocking on doors and talking to people in the community.
“I’m not shy,” he said. “I walk up to people and introduce myself and listen to what their concerns are, what they think can be improved or would like to see or if they’re happy with things. I’m getting input.”
As for why he’s seeking the seat, Solomon reiterates that it’s the place he chose to settle down and start his family, and that he has never once regretted that decision.
“Warwick is the greatest city in the state of Rhode Island, and I love it,” he said. “As a young man I didn’t have coastline or waterways. We used to come to Warwick and that was like coming to heaven. I think people are more and more discovering what Warwick has to offer.”