Mayor Joseph Solomon has been in office since May and tomorrow he faces the test as to whether Democrats want him as their candidate going into the November election.
If money and lawn signs are the measure, Solomon is a clear winner over his three opponents: Richard Corrente, a mortgage broker and the party’s standard bearer two years ago; Gerald Carbone, an author and former Providence Journal reporter and Vincent Ferla, who owns and operates C&L Auto Sales on Warwick Avenue.
Solomon has served on the City Council for 18 years and was council president when former Mayor Scott Avedisian resigned in the spring to become president and CEO of the Rhode Island Transit Authority, thereby making him acting mayor.
It has been a civil, low-volume contest for the Democratic nomination. In the only forum of the race sponsored by the Warwick Beacon, taped by PEG RI-TV and broadcast on public access, Corrente stayed his course as the cut taxes candidate and Carbone as the self-proclaimed outsider and “true” Democrat. Despite efforts to accommodate his packed campaign and mayoral schedule, Solomon did not appear at the forum and Ferla could not make it because of a medical procedure.
On Friday Solomon took an hour to talk about his tenure as mayor and what he would do should he win the primary and beat Republican mayoral candidate Sue Stenhouse in November.
The mayor was prepared as he sat at the polished oak table in an office that remains remarkably stark following Avedisian’s departure and the removal of photographs, plaques and mementoes from his 18 years as mayor.
Asked what he considers his major achievement during his nearly four months as mayor, Solomon reached for a Hallmark received earlier in the week. In carefully penned script, the writer talked how important it was for her to look out at Greenwich Bay from Oakland Beach and thanked him for his executive order to suspend beach fees and his efforts to reopen the Buttonwoods Community Center.
“To me that’s like high octane fuel to continue doing the job to my utmost abilities. That’s why I do it,” said Solomon.
The executive order suspending the beach fees that as council president Solomon voted for was listed as a significant action in a press release on his 100 days in office. In the interview Solomon underscored his love for the city and goal to spur economic growth and make it a “hub” between New York and Boston, noting the convergence of highways, rail and the airport. Warwick as the ‘hub’
“Hub” was a word used at the announcement that Ortho Rhode Island would build a medical facility adjacent to the Crowne Plaza.
So, is Solomon thinking Warwick could become a regional medical hub?
“If the shoe fits, wear it,” he said. “If that’s who we’re attracting, that’s what we’ll be promoting. A lot of these places require, whether it’s short term stays for patients – we’ve got the hotel rooms, the restaurants in the areas to welcome the families or relatives or the patients themselves in a comfortable environment while that patient is going through their medical procedures. We’ve got the international airport that flies people from all over the world. It’s like an international gateway.”
The announcement of new construction, the ribbon cuttings events of new businesses opening and Solomon’s weekly visits to businesses along with the Eagle Scout ceremonies, events at the Pilgrim Senior Center and the co-appearances with statewide elected officials when they visit the city have been the visible part of the job. Solomon has been out there, not only at public events but also stopping in at department offices and saying hello to city workers.
Yet he has been beleaguered with issues – a School Committee that maintains it needs at least an additional $4 million; the lack of a firefighters’ contract which has not been budgeted and an annex office building city employees were forced to evacuate when a pipe burst in January. All three issues remain unresolved, although Solomon did offer an additional $1.75 million to schools, money that he suggested could come from the $5 million budgeted for repaving.
“Yes, I came into office and there were certain things that existed,” Solomon said. “I’m not going to point fingers, I’m not going to point blame, I’m not going to get personal. I’m going to remain positive, and I’ve remained positive from day one. You will see that I will remain positive as long as I’m mayor of this community to address the issues that affect the community.”
Might the possibility of a lawsuit over the school budget be avoided if the allocation were sweetened?
Solomon said he would like to avoid a suit that he estimated could be a $1 million waste of money, but raised the issue of where additional funds might come from.
What about city undesignated reserves that were placed at $22.6 million according to the last city audit? Before leaving office, Avedisian projected the current audit would show even greater undesignated reserves.
Solomon is not about to go there.
“I’d like to believe what was said earlier that we have $25 million in our reserve account. We never had $25 million in our reserve account…I wish we had $20 [million],” Solomon said. The mayor was not prepared to commit to a number.
Nonetheless, he maintains the city is in “a pretty dangerous in category of what we should have in reserve, but we had to keep the city floating and that’s what we’ve done…It’s very difficult for me to nail down an exact number, and I’ll tell you why. A day and a half into this job, I lost the finance director. I’m still putting things together.”
“We relied on certain information, which I’m hoping some of it was fairly accurate, because if it wasn’t, that will come out in the audit. I’m not going to come out with a figure, certainly, at this point in time. I can tell you with certainty it was significantly less than the $25, $26 million in reserve that was represented to the media at the change of guard.”
Would he spend reserve funds on the schools?
“If I had $25 to $26 million? Absolutely, absolutely. I would do it with hopefully the representation and the constraints that it would be spent responsibly,” he said.
What about the annex building, a topic raised by candidate Stenhouse who said he had been given data on the proposed insurance settlement on the building – about $200,000 – as well as alternatives to reconstruction in April and has done nothing.
Solomon is rankled by the criticism and feels it is misplaced.
“Everything was on hold because there was a request for a structural engineer report. It was not in this file and it was not in the file I received from the adjustor hired by the previous administration,” he says lifting a file as thick as a phone book.
Solomon said he received the structural engineering report about a week ago. “I can tell you conservatively, based on the findings, if you took one appraisal, it’s probably a tenth of what it should have been. If you take another appraisal based on the structural report, it’s probably a twentieth of what it should have been,” he said.
Solomon said the annex is structurally unsafe and left little doubt that it should come down.
“No one can ever say that I’m just sitting doing nothing. I take a lot of pride and I take it personal. I don’t get mad, I get hurt when people make statements that, clearly, they do not have all the information to justify that statement,” he said.
As for a contract with the firefighters, Solomon said he believes negotiations are ongoing.
“I think there’s talks, and the chief is talking to the union and legal counsel has been present there, but nothing has been brought to the table at this point of anything of a resolution,” he said.
Should he win tomorrow, Solomon said he would participate in a debate with Stenhouse provided it is “held in an objective environment where the rules are delineated and the moderator is agreed upon by the parties and things of that nature.”
In a pitch to city employees who have their jobs because of the prior administration, Solomon said, “I plan on establishing permanency for all those people that do a great job for the taxpayers of the City of Warwick.”
When asked to sum up why voters should choose them in tomorrow’s primary, challengers to Solomon responded as follows:
Carbone said in a statement, “I built a successful career explaining to Providence Journal readers the actions and consequences of their local officials. As a career journalist I will enter office knowing how government works, and as a first-time candidate I enter without political encumbrances, freeing me to make decisions based on merit. I served as chairman of the Warwick Public Library Board of Trustees, where we fostered a creative environment by employing the leadership philosophy of George Washington, who declared: ‘partiality shall never bias my conduct, nor shall prejudice injure any.’
Corrente said, also in a statement, “Readers; please vote for me tomorrow. I am not a political insider. I will serve the 80,000 taxpayers that are paying the tab. I have campaigned to ‘Cut Taxes – Cut Spending’ for almost 1,000 days in a row, spent over $40,000 of my own money, accepted ZERO Political Action Committee checks, earned over 14,000 votes in the last election and I believe I am the most recognizable candidate. ‘The Corrente Plan’ can be seen at www.correnteformayor.com or you can call me at 338-9900. My opponent just slapped Warwick taxpayers with the largest tax increase allowed by law. If you want to pay MORE taxes, vote for him. If you want to ‘Cut Taxes – Cut Spending,’ please vote for me, Richard Corrente, the Taxpayers’ Mayor.
Ferla, through his campaign manager Ken Murphy, announced on Monday that he would not accept the nomination if elected due to ongoing health concerns. He has effectively dropped out of the race.