The race for mayor door-by-door


"Tell me why I should vote for you?”

Keith Stenmark asked that question as he stood in his driveway Saturday afternoon.

Jack Kirby, wearing a heavy woolen jacket over a yellow sport shirt open at the neck, launched into his spiel about increasing taxes and his goal to eliminate the motor vehicle tax. Stenmark stood listening politely and, when Kirby was finished, accepted the palm card the independent candidate for mayor handed him.

This is Kirby’s third run for mayor. As in previous campaigns, this one is financed on a shoestring and, from all appearances, is being completely run by himself.

Kirby didn’t get too far with Stenmark. He didn’t have time to tell him that the airport should be giving the city the taxes lost on houses taken for expansion. The man was busy and Kirby knew it was time to move on.

That wasn’t the case a couple of doors down at the Tessier home. Christine Tessier came to the door and listened to what Kirby had to say. They talked about conditions – mostly taxes and the high cost of things, including a higher education. When it came to education, Kirby talked about another one of his platforms – greater emphasis on career and technical training so that young people can step into good paying jobs after graduating from high school.

Kirby didn’t make any promises.

“You can’t take 10 years of mistakes and it’s all better,” he said.

Twenty-four hours later, Mayor Scott Avedisian and Ward 1 Councilman Steve Colantuono were walking the Gaspee Plateau neighborhood near Colantuono’s home. Mist was blowing, leaves were flying and the threat of heavy rain and Hurricane Sandy hung in the air. Nonetheless, people were outside and when they spotted Avedisian in his white shirt, suit trousers and tie, they welcomed him with a “Hi, mayor.”

Avedisian carried a palm card, listing some of his accomplishments during his 12 years as the city’s top elective office holder, which he handed out as almost an afterthought. Cards were wedged into doors or left curled in door handles when no one was home.

As they started, Avedisian pointed to one of the practices of effective door-to-door campaigning.

“You don’t want to start a street and not finish it,” he said, pointing out it can be difficult to recall where one left off. The danger is ringing the same doorbell only a few days later.

As they went, Avedisian pointed out certain houses, mentioning who had previously owned them and recalling such arcane information as to what grass grew best in the area, details he learned while canvassing the neighborhood in past elections. He knew many of those he met. He made quick connections with those he met for the first time, such as Richard Pond. Pond moved to Warwick from Cumberland and, as they talked, Avedisian learned that fact. Avedisian lived in the area some years ago and recalled the treacherous conditions of a snow-covered Diamond Hill Road. Pond knew exactly what he was talking about. They laughed.

“You’re doing a great job,” Pond told Avedisian. Pond’s only suggestion was to try to hold the line on taxes.

At another home, Avedisian became engaged in a discussion on the building code and suggested the homeowner send him an email on what he was looking to accomplish and he would see that the request was followed up.

Even though it was Sunday, the mayor’s day was packed. After an hour of door knocking, Avedisian raced to join a Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency conference call on Hurricane Sandy. The decision was reached to close school Monday even though Avedisian thought the call premature. As other schools across the state were closing, he saw no alternative. After that, he would return to Colantuono’s home for a party celebrating the recent adoption of a child who has been in their foster care for years. Avedisian is out in the community, even though he is well recognized, and he’s engaged in the campaign.

That wasn’t the case earlier this year.

He delayed announcing his candidacy until late in the spring and there was speculation he would run for higher office. The only spots up for election are in the House, where he would have faced James Langevin, a friend, or incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse for Senate. A run for a state office seems more likely, but those seats won’t be on the ballot until 2014.

Avedisian put the Warwick Station Development District, Apponaug Bypass and Rocky Point high on his list of what he wants to work on if re-elected. The bypass that would reroute major traffic from the village center offers an opportunity to revitalize Apponaug. As for the remaining 82 acres of the former Rocky Point Amusement Park, Avedisian looks to be engaged in the discussion of how best it is developed when acquired by the state.

The Station District is the largest challenge, offering the greatest change to the city. How it is developed could significantly redefine the city. It’s the kind of work Avedisian likes.

But those are not issues he talks about, at least not on his brief walk about Gaspee Plateau.

As both Avedisian and Kirby recognize, people like to talk about things that affect them and weekends is their time. In the case of the mayor, the chat was about what’s happening in the neighborhood, some questions about building codes and a brief mention about taxes. Kirby, on the other hand, stuck to taxes.


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Although Kirby has done nothing and never spoken publically, this story still has an obvious slant.

Thursday, November 1, 2012