Running for mayor of Warwick is not a whim for Sue Stenhouse. She was prepared to run in 2010 and, in fact, laid out her campaign to the point of designing signs, identifying those issues she wanted to focus on and developing a website.
That didn’t happen.
“Then Scott [Avedisian] realized there were some other initiatives he wanted to take to the finish line, like Rocky Point, things with the airport. He then decided to stay, and I totally supported that,” Stenhouse said in a recent interview.
There wasn’t any such advance warning this year when Avedisian resigned as mayor to accept the lead post at the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.
Stenhouse was surprised and soon found she was being urged to run by friends – many of who had supported her in her bid for City Council (she was elected in 2000 and served three terms) and that for Secretary of State in 2006.
The Warwick City Republican Committee was also looking for a mayoral candidate. Along with Stenhouse, Anthony Bucci and Thomas Stone considered running, but didn’t throw their hat into the ring. Stenhouse will not face a primary as the case with the four declared Democrats: Joseph Solomon, who is completing Avedisian’s term, Richard Corrente, Vincent Ferla and Gerald Carbone.
Stenhouse is already revved up for this race even though she doesn’t expect to start a sprint to Election Day until after the primary on September 12.
With unabashed enthusiasm, she starts the interview saying, “I just knew I had an incredible résumé for being a mayor.”
Indeed, Stenhouse’s governmental experience is extensive, first as a legislator on the City Council and then working as director of community relations for former Governor Donald Carcieri. She talks about her involvement with the initiation of the United Way 211 information service, emergency preparedness work that started with the Station Nightclub fire and later being in charge of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.
Stenhouse considers bringing people together to bridge their differences and cooperatively work together as one of the strengths she would bring to the mayor’s office. Following her work with Carcieri, Stenhouse worked for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.
“I was instrumental in a series of programs to make them [businesses] feel more connected. I feel like the Chamber was being viewed as being big-business oriented, so I started all new programs for small businesses down there. It was all started from scratch, and that’s what I love. Getting a problem and figuring it out through people I know, partnerships, and then making something happen,” she said.
One of her efforts to bring people together, later as director of the Cranston Enrichment Center, is certain to haunt her campaign.
As the Cranston director of the department of senior services, Stenhouse looked to showcase a new program where youths would help seniors by shoveling snow. With a lot of ballyhoo, Mayor Allan Fung and a lineup of officials posed in front of the senior center. Stenhouse had not found a senior to join the group, so a staff member dressed as an elderly woman. The stand-in was quickly exposed, making for amusing national and international stories and just as quickly ending Stenhouse’s Cranston job.
Since 2016 Stenhouse has worked as the director of partnership development and community outreach at Mulligan’s Island Golf Entertainment.
Stenhouse is not naïve. She anticipates the Cranston incident will be brought up by her Democratic opponent, but she looks for voters to measure her accomplishments and what she would do as mayor.
How would she handle the city’s current budget situation where, despite a raise in taxes and $1.5 million in additional school funding, the schools are faced with making more than $6 million in cuts in their requested budget?
“If I were the mayor, I’d be looking at those kinds of budgets very differently,” she said.
Leaning on the side of schools, she adds, “I’m always going to be an advocate for making it easier to do business and to streamline the process, but businesses are not going to come to Rhode Island if we don’t have a properly trained and educated workforce.”
She expands her thoughts on education later in the interview.
“I think if we don’t invest in education, it has a trickledown effect,” she said. “Young families won’t want to move here, which impacts enrollment and educational opportunities for teachers. To me, it’s education, education. Businesses want to invest in communities where their employees can bring their families and become part of the community. Community development starts with the schools. With our aging community, we need to incite young families to move here.”
Until recently, a member of the Warwick Zoning Board of Review when she resigned after declaring her candidacy for mayor, Stenhouse is an advocate of City Centre and creating a district of business, residential and hospitality uses at the confluence of highway, rail and air transportation.
“I love the City Centre project near the airport; I love the energy,” she said. “And that’s what I would want to see. Because I’ve worked on the comprehensive plan for that area, I would love to shepherd that as mayor and make sure it comes to fruition as envisioned. That is going to be a vital and energetic project.”
Stenhouse favors a charter review commission and advocates four-year mayoral terms and term limits.
Stenhouse doesn’t go into too many specifics, saying it is still early in the campaign and she is working on a detailed platform. She has started to assemble a team, the first of who is Janet Russell. Russell and her husband, Mark, worked with Avedisian since he first ran for office. Janet Russell is her campaign treasurer.
As for what it will take to run a viable campaign, Stenhouse put the cost at $150,0000. She didn’t appear perturbed by the amount. Rather, her focus is on what she feels she could bring to Warwick.