By JOHN HOWELL Frank Picozzi, a former School Committee chair and a man who has an active following on Facebook and social media, announced this week he is running as an independent for mayor. He has launched his bid for the city's highest elective
Frank Picozzi, a former School Committee chair and a man who has an active following on Facebook and social media, announced this week he is running as an independent for mayor.
He has launched his bid for the city’s highest elective office in the midst of a pandemic and using a medium to get across his message that circumvents the traditional means of walking door-to-door at gain visibility and holding fundraisers to finance his campaign.
In part, Facebook and the comments he received on social media played a role in his decision.
Picozzi said in an interview Sunday his efforts to bring a smile to people faced with a stay-at-home order during the pandemic gave him an insight to how the residents of Warwick feel and how he wants to change the city.
For the last 13 years, Picozzi has transformed his home on Gristmill Road in the Hoxsie section of the city into a Christmas computerized light show, with each year being more elaborate than the preceding. Two years ago, he took the show a step further, creating a scaled-down version of it in the bed of his pickup truck. Weekly, he brought the show to Hasbro Children’s Hospital as part of the Good Night Light Program in which businesses and people flash lights to wish “good night” to the children. Armed with flashlights, the children flash back.
With the governor’s stay-at-home order in effect, Picozzi wanted to bring cheer into the neighborhoods. He built a show, vowing to take it to every street in the city. He posted the schedule on the Positive Warwick Facebook, as well as his personal and Christmas lights pages, and came up with an app that let homeowners know where he was on his route and when they could expect him to drive by their home.
It’s a tour that has now set him on another quest, to bring pride of place back to Warwick and restore Warwick schools.
Over 34 days, he brought his digital light show to 1,997 Warwick streets.
He found welcoming families, many of whom stood outside their homes to see the dancing lights put to music while other from inside their homes flicked off and on their lights in acknowledgement. He also found people holding homemade signs reading “Frank for mayor” and scores of online comments thanking him and suggesting he run.
Picozzi doesn’t know how it started, but he remembers his reaction.
He dismissed the suggestions and confesses to feeling flattered.
He says he started analyzing what was happening.
“People are discontented. People are not excited about the city. There’s no confidence in the school department,” he said. “It was a lot of people. People looking for something different.”
In the interview, he said he started getting calls urging him to consider a run and “they started to wear me down.”
“I have a happy life and I don’t know why I would want to do this to myself,” he said.
Over the last week, after talking with several people, he went from dismissing the thought to a commitment to run. The administration’s response to the rioting and looting in Providence following a peaceful protest in the wake of the death of George Floyd also played a part in his decision.
As was done in Providence and Cranston, Mayor Solomon issued an executive order declaring an 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. curfew on June 2. While the executive order was posted on the city’s website and Facebook, Picozzi thought the mayor should have put a message on the city’s emergency alert system and addressed questions from the media as Cranston Mayor Allan Fung did on television news casts.
As he monitored social media, Picozzi said, “I saw how distressed people were because they didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know what was happening. We got nothing.”
He was especially troubled by the creation of a new Facebook page, “Defend Warwick from violent looters and robbers,” that called on residents to arm themselves and come to the assistance of Warwick Police.
“We have a system to do that [inform the public], but that wasn’t used,” he said. “Fung did what he could to make people feel safe and protected, and that didn’t happen in Warwick.”
On Sunday, he handed out a press release in which he talked about living in the city for more than 52 years, raising his two daughters here and looking forward to his four grandchildren growing up here.
“At one time, Warwick residents were immensely proud of their city but that it no longer the case. Although there is still a fierce sense of community and people helping each other, morale is very low amongst the residents,” reads a statement.
Picozzi said he is not seeking the endorsement of unions nor would he pursue a party endorsement. As a member of the School Committee, a nonpartisan post, he did not run under a party label.
Nonetheless, Picozzi has ties to the political scene, the most obvious being his brother, David, who served as director of public works and then chief of staff for former Republican Mayor Scott Avedisian. If elected, Picozzi does not see bringing his bother into his administration. He said he would call on his brother for assistance in understanding how things work, “but he’s not going to be any part of the administration.”
He said he would continue his Christmas light show should he be elected.
With the candidate declaration period of June 22-24 approaching, no other candidates have stepped forward to challenge Mayor Joseph J. Solomon, who is seeking a second term. While there were rumors of potential Democratic challengers in the last two years, which would mean a primary, those have gone silent in the last year.
In response to an inquiry whether he would seek reelection, Solomon highlighted his no-tax increase budget and efforts to rebuild city roads. In his statement, he said, “Politics have been the furthest thing from my mind. However, steady leadership has never been more important than it is now. For that reason, be assured that my name will be on the ballot for reelection. It is a privilege to serve this great city and I will continue to do so.”
In a telephone interview Monday, Richard Cascella, chair of the Republican City Committee, said the party would meet this Saturday to put together a slate of local candidates. He said there has been mention of a mayoral candidate, but he was not prepared to make the man’s name public.
Cascella said Picozzi has high recognition and called him a “good man.”
Picozzi said he has no ill feelings toward Solomon.
“My desire and goal is to make Warwick be a place that young families desire to move to because this no longer is the case.” He said the “cornerstone” to his plan “is to improve the school system.”
A self-employed home improvement contractor, Picozzi attended Veterans Memorial High School and has a GED. He has been married to his wife, Kim, for 41 years. He transformed his home into computerized digital light show as a means of celebrating Christmas and spreading the joy of the season. Every year he added components to the point where he has swirling trees, dancing candy canes, spinning stars, rolling wreaths and sparkling fireworks – all programmed light pixels – set to a 45-munute show. The display draws from out of state and has raised thousands of dollars through donations for the Tomorrow Fund.
In addition to his tenure with the School Committee, Picozzi has served as a sponsor, coach, board member and President of the Apponaug Girls Softball. He also served as coach, sponsor and treasurer of the Warwick North League. He was named Rhode Islander of the Year in 2018 by Rhode Island Monthly for his community work and was the recipient of the Good Will Award from the Tomorrow Fund of Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Picozzi has built a strong following on Facebook. He said he has 6,000 likes on his Facebook Christmas light page and another 2,500 on his personal Facebook page. His strong suit is Positive Warwick with 22,000 followers that he and Joyce Currier Brown put together. The page purposely avoids political controversy and makes a point of highlighting personal achievements and good news. Picozzi announced he is running on the site, but made a point of stressing he would not be using it to campaign and that if people were interested they could go to his Facebook campaign site.
Twenty-four hours after launching his campaign site, Picozzi received 2,381 likes and 2,436 followers.
Picozzi said there is a lot of time between now and the election.
“I’m not going to jump out of the gate and go for the finish line,” he said. Piciozzi said he intends to deliberatively unveil his platform over the next several months.
“It sounds corny,” he said, “I love people in this city.”