The City Council Chambers were slightly heated on Friday night as a longtime incumbent and a new challenger fought for the hearts of Warwick voters. The Warwick Beacon hosted a debate between Mayor Scott Avedisian, the city's leader for 16
The City Council Chambers were slightly heated on Friday night as a longtime incumbent and a new challenger fought for the hearts of Warwick voters.
The Warwick Beacon hosted a debate between Mayor Scott Avedisian, the city’s leader for 16 years, and opponent Richard Corrente, president of Bankers Mortgage Corp.
Students Matthew Forcino, Matthew Gage and Sean Noonan from Bishop Hendricken, Eddie Cascella, Collin Devine and Katelyn Medeiros from Pilgrim, and Rebecca Carcieri, Zach Colon and Veronica Weaver from Toll Gate High Schools moderated the hour-long debate. The students met at the Beacon newsroom in the weeks before the debate for intensive researching sessions where they came up with questions for the candidates. They also came up with plans for audience questions, some of which were used in Friday’s debate.
The candidates discussed their respective positions on questions regarding the airport, budget, taxes, education and other issues, sometimes agreeing and other times taking swipes.
“I am a working man and a businessman. He is a career politician,” Corrente jabbed in his opening statement. He proudly proclaimed that the first position he ever held was at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, while claiming Avedisian’s was being a political page for Lincoln Chafee.
Avedisian, however, had a different story.
“My first job was for John Howell of the Warwick Beacon,” he said later in the night.
(It’s true, the mayor was a Beacon carrier as a boy.)
But the debate wasn’t focused on the past – Avedisian preferred to detail “signs of continued economic growth,” including progress made at the airport, Apponaug Circulator, and the development of City Centre Warwick.
“Last summer, Hilton Garden Inn had some of the highest occupancy rates in the whole state... That type of revenue is what’s going to help build City Centre as the next economic engine in the city,” he said in response to Corrente’s claim that little has happened at City Centre.
Corrente hammered Avedisian on taxes, saying Warwick’s rates are higher than those of other cities. Over 5,000 taxpayers and over 4,000 businesses have left the city in the last 10 years, he claimed. Avedisian was quick to counter, pointing to a Warwick Post investigation that found Corrente’s claim was incorrect. He claimed Corrente shared the flawed statistic more than 30 times despite knowing it was erroneous. He also disputed the claim that Warwick’s rates are driving taxpayers out, saying the rate in Warwick on a home valued at $200,000 is lower than that of Cranston, Providence and Pawtucket.
Corrente touched on his plan to give tax rebates and to put a two-year moratorium on building permit fees to invigorate construction and bring people into the city. He claimed Avedisian’s plan was to lower the building fee by 1 percent. Avedisian said that was not his plan and that because of state laws regarding building permit fees, Corrente would not be able to carry out his plan.
The two also disagreed on the airport runway agreement, with Avedisian saying the deal was better than before and Corrente calling for a renegotiation. Ironically, the ability to hear all answers the candidates provided on the subject were obstructed by the loud sounds of airplanes passing overhead.
Education has been a contentious topic in all discussions, and this was no different on Friday night. Corrente said he had been to every consolidation hearing and all but one School Committee meeting, saying the mayor has a “hands-off” policy in regards to the School Committee.
“We have given over a billion dollars of our money to the school department and we don’t say ‘spend it wisely.’ We just say ‘spend it,’” he said. “Before I hand over $160 million a year, I’m going to require that they be required to be accountable to the mayor’s office because this mayor will be accountable to the taxpayers and the people who are paying the tab.”
Avedisian again countered, saying that just that week, he’d had numerous conversations on the phone with School Committee member Karen Bachus and email conversations with School Committee candidates David Testa and Danny Hall. He had also publicly endorsed the consolidation committee’s recommendation to delay consolidation implementation for another year.
“There is a lot of communication that goes back and forth. So maybe it’s not a press conference every day talking about what you think you might want to do, [but] we actually get things done,” he said. “There is a lot of cooperation that goes on and a lot of conversations that goes on.”
Teacher contracts were also on the table for discussion. Avedisian said he has met with the Warwick Teacher’s Union and has identified four or five issues that the sides “could really work on” if they had a small group of people analyzing issues and coming up with draft language for a contract.
“One group has agreed and one has not. I’m hopeful I can still persuade the other side to commit to those discussions and agree to that dialogue because it’s incredibly important to have teachers in the system voicing their opinions throughout this process,” he said,
Corrente was more blunt; he claimed the Teacher’s Union was more willing to negotiate than the School Committee and disagreed with the ending of mediation on contracts.
“If you haven’t reached an agreement, you should be having more meetings, not less,” he said, adding that he’d buy lunch for the groups to ensure they met to come up with an agreement.
The rapid-fire session had the candidates talking nationally. Corrente said he used to support Republican nominee Donald Trump as he admired his confidence but will no longer do so following lewd, inflammatory comments Trump made about women and minorities. If he had only two choices other than a write-in, Corrente said, he would vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Avedisian showed no preference for any of the four candidates vying for presidential office, saying only that he was largely disappointed in the tone of the national campaigns.
The candidates ended the debate by saying, in their own words, why they deserved to hold mayoral office. Corrente stayed on his “cut taxes, cut spending” message, detailing his plans and taking one last chance to criticize Avedisian.
“You have a choice on November 8 and it’s easy. Do you want a working man, a businessman, or a career politician?” he said, promising to treat the position of mayor as a full-time commitment should he be elected.
Avedisian took a bit more of a sentimental route, looking back on his time in office, describing his pride in new businesses settling in the city, and saying he hopes voters will let him continue serving in his position.
“Warwick is my home, a place that I love, and the only place I have ever lived,” he said. “It has been my privilege to come to City Hall every day and work with the best and most dedicated staff there is to address the issues that are most important to our residents. It is my hope that on November 8th, you will allow me to continue that in that role,” he said.