In their last meeting of their inaugural year, the Pilgrim Political Involvement Club welcomed Mayor Joseph Solomon on Tuesday afternoon into the classroom to talk about all things Warwick – including his hopes to be elected to a full term and the economical outlook of the city moving forward.
Beach fees at the city’s public facilities were also one of the issues to come up, which is a hot topic as Solomon – who had helped champion enacting the fees at beaches last year as the concept was unanimously approved by the city council – decided to put the brakes on those same fees this summer.
“The reason those fees were withdrawn was because the numbers didn't make any sense,” he said, adding that the fees would adversely affect citizens who enjoy parking at the beach for a short period of time to sit and enjoy looking at the water.
Solomon broke some news by saying that he would be implementing a system of city “interns” who would monitor the beaches for litter and “assist visitors” but did not expand on more details regarding this system, such as whether or not these interns would be paid positions or how many would be hired. However, he said he was confident such a system, which includes working with DPW to “streamline” services, would have a positive impact on the cleanliness of the city’s public facilities.
“I think with the assistance of these monitors, these students, in all those areas, I think that people will be more conscientious when they utilize the facility where they're going to respect the facility because it shows we're respecting the facility,” he said. “We're not locking anybody out. We want everyone to come to the community. We want them to go to our local businesses. We don't want to keep them away.”
In response to a question about people leaving versus staying in Warwick, Solomon reiterated his prior belief that, despite new census data showing Warwick to be the third most populous city in Rhode Island – now trailing Cranston for the first time since 1950 – he doesn’t take the numbers so seriously, as it includes thousands of inmates who “reside” in Cranston’s Adult Correctional Institution (ACI).
“So, if we have about 300 people paroled, guess what?” Solomon said. “I feel Warwick is number one, and I'm going to head in the direction to keep Warwick number one. I love this city.”
Originally from Providence, Solomon moved to Warwick to raise a family with his wife, a Warwick native. Now Solomon and his son, Joseph Jr., both have tenures of representing the city through political endeavors – the senior Solomon for 18 years on the City Council and now the mayor, and the junior Solomon as a state representative for Warwick.
“My days right now are 12 to 14-hour days,” Solomon said in response to how he has handled the quick transition from council president to mayor, which happened abruptly when former Mayor Scott Avedisian announced he would be leaving to pursue a new career as CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority with about a month’s notice.
Despite the long days and missing time usually spent on the weekend with his wife, Solomon told the small gathering of politically-minded students that the hard work of the job comes with the reward of being able to do events like this one, in addition to showing appreciation to the generation of people who now make up the city’s senior citizen population.
“That really makes it all worth it, it makes all the hard work worth it,” he said. “From the school sense, you people are our future. From the senior sense, it's gratitude to them for giving us the present. Those are the things that are important, and you can't lose sight of that.”
Students were curious as to how Solomon aimed to drive the city forward economically. Solomon indicated the importance of continuing to emphasize the city’s role as a transportation center, with both T.F. Green Airport and its train station that can open up the doors of Warwick to people from all over the world.
“We all know the airport is an economic locomotive to the community right now. You're not going to move the airport, the airport is here to stay,” he said. “I'm optimistic we can grow the base in the city, both economically and with great citizens…You’ve often heard Boston be called the hub, well we're going to make our city the hub.”
One student asked if there was any progress on finding a new use for the former Aldrich Junior High School, where he had once attended as a student. Solomon said that marketing surplus school buildings was a high priority part of his mayoral duties, and that he hoped that whoever winds up acquiring Aldrich will keep its architectural integrity while re-purposing it to become a revenue-generating resource to the city, suggesting a housing complex as an example.
“We are going to actively market that this year,” he said. “I'm hoping that whoever acquires Aldrich will keep that facade in place. When you look at it from the curb, it's a beautiful spot. Maybe it's an older person thing, but you'll appreciate the architecture as you get older.”
Solomon spoke at length about his pride in working with Avedisian to acquire Rocky Point as a city/state-owned partnership, with the city owning the waterfront and opening that up to the public.
“It has a very historical significance, it goes back to the turn of the century, even before, and everyone who is a native of Rhode Island, at some time that has been a part of their life,” he said. “Whether it be when you went on your grammar school field trip or your first date with your girlfriend or boyfriend...I used to fish off those rocks when I was a kid.”
Political Club adviser Paula Merdink recalled seeing the Three Stooges at Rocky Point when they performed. “I did too! I was there!” exclaimed Solomon. He urged students to pursue their dreams wherever they wanted but to eventually return to the place they know as home.
“Go out, get your education and get your experience,” he said. “Then come back and utilize those tools in the community that you grew up in and invested in you. Sometime in the future you're going to have to visit me at the Pilgrim Senior Center one day and say hello.”
Solomon spoke briefly about school safety implements saying that, “Anything that is going to increase the safety of our children, to me, is well worth the investment.”
When asked if he had any specific goals in mind for the months leading up to the election, Solomon indicated he was looking beyond November in terms of what he hopes to accomplish.
“I'm hoping that by viewing my performance, that they will give me the additional two years that I need to complete the things I'd like to see happen,” he said. “I think we can get a lot accomplished.”
Solomon was the final guest of the year at the Pilgrim Political Involvement Club, which since its inception in December last year has welcomed guests including former mayor Avedisian, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, school committee member David Testa, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix and candidates for public office such as school committee candidate Nathan Cornell and Republican Lt. Gov candidate Michael Pence.
The club now enters an uncertain future, as Merdink’s hopes to become a compensated adviser for the time she puts into the club does not appear to be in the cards. Regardless, on Tuesday she said she would keep her door open to all kids who want to continue using her room as a meeting space to discuss modern issues of circumstance and politics.