Warwick is blue. True blue to the core – not even a hint of purple – for the first time since Charles Donovan was mayor in 1992.
Backed by a party that didn’t become locked in bloodletting primaries, Mayor Joseph Solomon, who was handed the job when Scott Avedisian resigned in May, easily won election. Solomon outpowered his Republican opponent, former Ward 1 Councilwoman Sue Stenhouse, garnering 60 percent of the vote to take the corner City Hall office the Democrats have wished for so long.
The blue wave, as Democratic City Committee Chairman Rob Farrell appropriately named it Tuesday night when the outcome was apparent, swept through the city. The Democrats won every one of the city’s partisan elective offices, many of which went unchallenged either by Republicans or independents. The party’s influence extended to the three district races for School Committee where Warwick Teachers’ Union and Democratic-backed candidates won.
The Democratic tsunami was evident with the first returns that started trickling in at Stenhouse’s headquarters about 8:15 p.m. and before the candidate arrived. The first of the calls came from a Ward 3 polling location. Campaign treasurer Janet Russell took out a red magic marker to post the Stenhouse total and black for Solomon. Solomon stayed in the black all night long. There was silence from the 20 or so supporters, including Avedisian, who stood around.
By contrast, Hyatt Place on Jefferson Boulevard, where city Democrats rallied because Solomon headquarters wouldn’t have accommodated the crowd, was buzzing. The party faithful filled the hotel function room, where a large screen TV offered results on a statewide level. Unlike primary election night, where Solomon supporters posted voting district returns to cheers, there was no running tally of the race.
Rather, as District 1 School Committee candidate and winner Kyle Adams noted, this is the age when all the information can be found on a cell phone. Indeed, he was right. Adams was not alone in keeping the pulse of returns. A glance around the room found many scrolling through election returns on their phones, disregarding the TV news reports that in most cases came minutes later.
But Carlo Pisaturo, the former Ward 5 councilman, was not glued to his phone. It wouldn’t have done him any good anyhow; Piasaturo has a flip phone. Pisaturo spent 12 hours outside Heritage Christian Fellowship Church in Warwick Neck holding a Solomon sign and greeting voters.
“I like Sue, I was on the council with her,” Pisaturo said of Stenhouse. “But he’s a much better candidate. He’s a numbers man.”
A seasoned candidate, Pisaturo was impressed by the turnout in spite of the weather. He said many told him “I’m voting against.”
“They wouldn’t say,” said Pisaturo.
As Solomon entered the room with his wife, Cindy, and son, Rep. Joseph Solomon Jr., applause broke out. Solomon reached out to extended hands and hug supporters as they stepped forward, the whole time with Cindy wearing a wide smile.
Solomon read from a prepared text, keeping remarks brief and closing by thanking volunteers and saying it was time to party.
“Tonight’s results show that our residents believe in my desire to make Warwick even better, and that in the next two years they want to continue the momentum we have built in just a few months based on my experience and record throughout my two decades of public service. In addition to these initiatives, what I have greatly enjoyed has been the opportunity to be out in the community and hear our residents’ ideas and concerns firsthand,” he said.
Going ahead, Solomon faces a number of issues that have lingered since he became mayor – the most pressing being the school budget. Following the primary election and a school audit justifying the school request for an additional $4 million, the mayor’s office, City Council President Steve Merolla and members of the school administration and committee have met numerous times behind closed doors. The sides have called the talks “productive” without releasing details.
In her campaign, Stenhouse charged Solomon of “doing nothing” either on the school issue or those relating to the future of the City Hall Annex or irregularities and possible “gaming” of unused sick pay for firefighters. Solomon countered that he inherited the school budget and other issues from Avedisian.
Asked about the challenges he sees going forward, Avedisian said, “The biggest issues are, and how Warwick will change, will be: you’ve got to build a really strong relationship with the school committee and with the superintendent, and I’m not sure the council did that in the last few years. They saw Phil [Thornton] as being too close to me and they were really being negative toward him, and that is an important function and we need to really look at that.”
Asked what he sees for Warwick prior to the tally, Farrell said, “To be honest with you, it was pretty stagnant with the administration that we had. Now all the Democrats working together, I believe we’ll go 19 for 19 in the city of Warwick, with a lot of our leadership up at the State House that will make Warwick a good place for people to move back to. If the school committee works out, I think we’ll have people moving back to the city, businesses coming back to the city, and the city just prospering and being number one.”
Farrell was right; the Democrats now hold all 19 seats.
A majority of those council and state representative and Senate seats went unchallenged. Only two of the nine council seats were contested in the general election – Wards 1 and 4 – and in both cases independents vied for the seats. No Republicans declared for any of the council seats.
Now firmly in control, Solomon closed his victory speech on a high note.
“I am enthusiastic about what we have accomplished in such a short time and energized to continue to work on behalf of this terrific community my family and I have called home for more than 40 years. In the next two years, I will work every day to show our voters that their faith in me and my ability to lead our city is well placed,” he said.