Winner takes all in Ward 3 primary
The heat is on and it’s not just the weather, as the Sept. 11 Democratic primary is 12 days away.
Ward 3 Incumbent Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who was first elected in 2010, faces Paul Machado, a master electrician at ADT on Jefferson Boulevard, who says he’s interested in “change.”
Since no other candidates filed for the seat, the winner will be the next Ward 3 councilperson.
While they share the same party, their interests are mostly different. Machado said he is particularly interested in keeping down property and car taxes, as well as advocating for animals.
Vella-Wilkinson said if re-elected, she would continue efforts to advocate for economic development, military veterans, environmental issues, social justice and open government.
They contrast in experience, as Vella-Wilkinson has served on the council for nearly two years and Machado is yet to attend a meeting.
Perhaps, the main thing they both consider of utmost importance is the concern residents have about T.F. Green Airport.
Machado, 28, originally from Portugal, moved to Rhode Island as a toddler and grew up in Oakland Beach. Now, he has his own home in Ward 3, which he purchased nearly five years ago.
“I live in Warwick and I want to continue to live in Warwick, so I want to try to make things better around here,” he said during an interview Tuesday.
He said he’s been walking the ward to get a feel of what people will expect from him if elected. Two issues on top of the list include property taxes and car taxes.
“Property taxes are going up and I want to stop them from increasing,” Machado said. Of the car tax, he said, “I think it’s foolish and I want to get rid of it. I would say 80 percent of the people I talk to complain about it and say, ‘I don’t want the car tax.’”
Another concern is T.F. Green Airport.
“Some people want to move and say, ‘I want the airport to buy my house,’ and there are others who don’t want to move,” Machado said. “They are happy and they don’t want to be pushed out.”
Also, he’s interested in being an advocate for animals. He calls his pit bull, Rocco, his “best friend.”
“I love animals,” he said.
Machado, who graduated from Warwick Veterans Memorial High School in 2003 and went on to earn an associate’s degree in electrical technology from the New England Institute of Technology, said he’s thrilled with the feedback he’s been hearing.
“I’m getting awesome results,” he said. “I have [1,000] flyers that I’ve been passing out. I love listening to people and hearing what they have to say. Everyone has opinions. I write everything down to remember, ‘This person has this issue.’”
While he is yet to hold a fundraiser, he said he plans to schedule one if he wins the primary. Yet, that won’t be necessary if he wins the primary, as the race will then be over.
His family and friends are helping fund his campaign. He’s grateful for their support, as well as the emotional support of his girlfriend, Meghan Walsh.
“My father [Henry] has always worked very hard and taught me, ‘If you want something, you have to work for it,’” Machado said. “He always said, ‘Go to college and make something of yourself.’ I’m for the working person. I know how it feels to work.”
Speaking of work, he said he believes skills he uses at his job make him a great candidate, such as customer service, as well as his strong set of ethics.
“I deal with people for a living and I love it,” he said. “I love helping people. If you [ask] anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you I’m an honest person and that I do things right. There are electricians who do things quick because they want to go home and then there are electricians who follow the actual code. I can bring those skills to the council.”
But what made him want to run in the first place? He says it’s the desire to “do better.”
“Taxes are going up,” he said. “I just bought a house five years ago so I’m starting to feel what my mom and dad felt – the responsibility. That was it and I said, ‘I can do this. I can make things better.’ And here I am.”
Like Machado, Vella-Wilkinson, 55, also enjoys walking the ward and listening to constituent concerns. Monday evening, she donned a blue baseball cap with her name on it and stopped by the home of Christopher Lally, who she spoke with about issues he has with speeding on Liverpool Street, located off Main Avenue near Lippitt Elementary School.
Lally explained that he has lived on the street for 13 years and speeding has always been a problem. The only time it wasn’t an issue, he said, was when the Warwick Night Program was enforced.
During springtime, Vella-Wilkinson drafted a resolution to reinstate the Warwick Night Program, which would have allotted each ward $5,000 to fund police details in residential areas. The resolution failed on a 6-3 vote.
This fact baffles Lally. Speed bumps have been set up but they don’t make much difference.
“There used to be nine officers during the day and then it went down to three and now it’s back up to six, which is really ridiculous,” he told Vella-Wilkinson. “It should be nine. People come by here at 60 miles an hour. It’s an accident waiting to happen. What am I getting for my increased taxes? I have no children in the school system – it’s just me and my wife.”
Vella-Wilkinson noted that Lally and many of his neighbors brought the issue to her attention in 2010 when she first ran. She said they were the reason she drafted the Warwick Night Program resolution.
“It wasn’t successful this year, but I’ll be bringing it back,” she assured him.
But Lally is thrilled with progress Vella-Wilkinson and the rest of the council has made with the airport. The councilwoman served as chair of the Airport Litigation Committee, a committee Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla and Council President Bruce Place also served on.
“I’m so happy about the airport,” Lally said. “It’s jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Other residents expressed their appreciation for her dedication to the ward. A few said, “Thanks for stopping.”
“The benefit of walking the ward is the fact that you’re getting direct feedback from the constituents and they feel more comfortable because they are in their own homes. They’ll tell you exactly what it is that they are thinking about,” Vella-Wilkinson said. “Not everyone can make it to council meetings and not everyone feels comfortable at a mic. They have a home court advantage when you are talking to them at their house. If you have the patience and the time to listen to them, it gives you a hell of an agenda to work on during the upcoming term.”
Vella-Wilkinson said she spends three to six hours a day, depending on the day of the week, walking the ward, seven days a week. She begins anywhere between 3 and 5 p.m. and continues until sundown. She has passed out more than 2,500 of her 3,000 palm cards.
Her husband of 30 years, Ken, is her campaign manager and accompanies her on walks. He keeps track of homes she’s visited.
“With him being a retired policeman, he has such a head for detail,” she said. “And the fact that he’s an Army guy [allows him to] use his logistic skills. Don’t get me wrong; it’s hard work, but the campaign portion is a lot of fun and it’s especially fun going through it with him.”
K. Joseph Shekarchi, who is running as a Democrat for State Representative in District 23 against Republican John Falkowski, also joined her. He, too, was meeting and chatting with residents.
“If you’re a first-time candidate, people appreciate that you take the time out to walk,” he said. “You want to hear about what they have to say. Camille always asks, ‘Is there anything going on in the ward that you want to talk about?’”
Also, Vella- Wilkinson is sharing headquarter space with Shekarchi, as well as Joseph Gallucci, a candidate for Ward 8 council. The office is located on Jefferson Boulevard.
As noted, some of the issues citizens talk about with Vella-Wilkinson include speeding, as well as the airport. For the most part, she said the feedback has been positive.
“There’s some concern over the schedule for the takings and all of that is built into the MOU,” she said. “We’re going to be on time with getting that information out into the public.”
It is expected an agreement will be made by Oct. 1. At the moment, she’s working on a PILOT program with the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation on behalf of the airport.
“My focus is bringing in more businesses and residents so that we aren’t overtaxing the people that are currently living in the state,” she said.
If re-elected, Vella-Wilkinson said she plans to continue her efforts to advocate for military veterans, environmental issues, social justice and open government.
“I have two major programs that I will be looking to bring into the city and I’ll have an announcement within the next week,” she said.
For now, she is content walking the ward and sending out mailings to areas she is unable to visit. Wethersfield Commons, a private residential community, is one of them.
“Although it’s not a gated community, they have a no solicitation policy, so any of the communities in Ward 3 that don’t allow solicitation, there’s got to be a way for me to reach out to them and let them know what I’m about,” she said.
Other than that, Vella-Wilkinson and Machado said they are both excited for Sept. 11.
“It’s getting close to the end,” Machado said.