By ARDEN BASTIA City Council President and Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla doesn't favor one Ward 9 Council candidate over the others, but instead believes that the contenders are in for a surprise should they make it into office. "e;I hope they're all on
City Council President and Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla doesn’t favor one Ward 9 Council candidate over the others, but instead believes that the contenders are in for a surprise should they make it into office.
“I hope they’re all on the same track. Everyone talks in broad generalities, so does that mean that they understand the significance of what’s happening and how to address it? I don’t think anybody does until they get into office.”
The Ward 9 City Council candidates, on the other hand, believe that they are each the most qualified for the job.
The two Independent contenders, Sean Henry and Aaron Mackisey, both say that Ward 9 needs an independent voice. Vincent Gebhart, Democrat, and Armand Lusi, Republican, are passionate about their dedication to Warwick.
In a forum hosted by the Warwick Public Library and the Warwick Beacon Tuesday night, the candidates had a chance to flex their skills and voice their perspectives on the important topics pertinent to Ward 9: roads, education, and taxes.
The most important takeaway from the forum was the distinction between the candidates.
The candidates unanimously agreed to keep Potowomut as part of Warwick, even if it could become part of East Greenwich. Potowomut takes up a good portion of Ward 9, but is geographically removed from the rest of the city, and it has an East Greenwich zip code. The candidates agreed that Potowomut needs more representation, and not a sale to East Greenwich.
Gebhart believes that he stands out from the rest of the candidates because of where he’s at in life: “I think that for each of us, we’re at different places in our lives. I think the other three candidates are great people and truly have Warwick’s best interest at heart. The phase of life I’m at, our kids are in Warwick schools, we own our home here, my wife and I are small business owners, and we plan to be in Warwick for quite some time.” Gebhart, a native of Cranston and a graduate of Providence College, now raises his two children, Jack and Charlie, in Warwick with his wife Jill. He has 15 years of private sector experience, and is currently the VP of operations at Powerhouse Dynamics, an energy management company.
What sets Henry apart is his background. With experience as a municipal employee and a Master’s degree in public administration, Henry can provide “a unique perspective that’s forward looking,” and wants voters to know that he understands the lasting impact that decisions made today will have on Warwick decades in the future. A born and bred Rhode Islander, Henry attended West Warwick public schools, and graduated from URI before pursuing a Master’s program at Roger Williams University. He and his wife, Jess, chose to start their family in Warwick as residents of Potowomut.
Mackisey sees the City Council position as a way to serve his community, and the way he approaches the job is the defining feature of his campaign. “I see it as a public service to help my neighbors. I was taught that if I have the chance to better the life of my neighbor, then I should take that opportunity. I think we need a new attitude of public service, and I think I’m the most qualified person to bring that.” The youngest of the candidates, Mackisey, when not running his campaign, is a graduate student at Boston University studying international affairs and a waiter here is Warwick.
According to Lusi, he is an asset to the city council because of his extensive construction background. Lusi has “building experience at the federal, state, and local level,” and has constructed some of Rhode Island’s notable buildings, like the State Police Complex and Meeting Street School. Lusi, his wife Leslie, and their 3 daughters, have called Ward 9 home for the past 30 years. Lusi attended Bishop Hendricken High School and Boston University, and is currently the President of A.F. Lusi Construction.
To address one of the biggest concerns in Ward 9, the roads, Mackisey has developed a 311 program to bring accountability, and community responsibility to issues of infrastructure. This program is modeled after the successful 311 program in Providence. Mackisey plan to set up a website and app where residents can report potholes, broken curbs, and downed trees.
Should Gebhart be elected to City Council, his plan for the roads is based on data from the engineering report, eventually promised by Mayor Joseph Solomon. Gebhart says that he’d consult the report and form a “prioritized plan instead of the ad hoc response to constituent complaints.” Henry shares a similar position. Henry’s plan for the roads also involves taking a deeper look at the engineering report, and establishing a regime to tackle the order of the roads.
In an interview on Monday, Lusi disagreed with Mayor Solomon’s decision to borrow $10 million to fix roads, but didn’t elaborate on his plan to repair roads.
When it comes to schools, Mackisey acknowledges the concerns of many young families: “Younger families don’t have the fullest confidence that their children will get the same education that they got in Warwick. We need to improve outcomes for our students.”
Gebhart’s “biggest priority is to use bonding and matching state and federal funds to leverage grants, in order to do a big overhaul of these schools and bring them up to modern standards.”
In an interview, Henry stated that he would “work with the school committee and the [school] department to get students what they need,” and stands behind his message of collaboration for efficiency. Lusi had little to say about education, but is committed to improving the recreational assets of the city by “protecting watersheds, rivers, and coastline” as well as “leveraging Warwick’s cultural and arts activities as a key component” in Ward 9. He does favor a proposal to use bond funds to improve Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools instead of funding the construction of a new, central high school for the city.
In terms of taxes, Lusi wants to “expand the commercial tax rate to take the burden off of residents.” The other candidates seemed to share a similar perspective to one another: making sure residents see a return on their taxes. Mackisey is determined to improve services in the city so residents can witness “a daily return of their taxes.” Henry is aware of the tax burden on residents, and believes that Warwick has good public services. With his background in public administration and experience with municipal issues, Henry is confident in his budget-handling skills. “As citizens and taxpayers, we are the customer,” Gebhart stated in an interview, and he is committed to optimizing services and experiences while minimizing waste.
To watch Tuesday night’s forum, visit the Warwick Public Library Facebook page, the Warwick Beacon Facebook page or the Warwick Beacon website. Also on the pages are forums with the candidates for Ward 1 and Ward 3.