Not since February 2000, when Scott Avedisian first ran in a special election for the city's top office, has there been such an unclear outcome to a mayoral election as there is this year. A variety of factors are at play, with the pandemic taking center
Not since February 2000, when Scott Avedisian first ran in a special election for the city’s top office, has there been such an unclear outcome to a mayoral election as there is this year.
A variety of factors are at play, with the pandemic taking center stage. The virus has dramatically altered the conventional grassroots campaigning of meeting voters at their doorsteps, in front of supermarkets, at school and nonprofit events. There have been no debates whether run by this paper or hosted by community organizations where the audiences were in person and could ask questions if not applaud the candidate of their choice. There have been no fundraisers or rallies where the candidates can charge up their campaign war chests and their supporters.
As explored in stories in this edition, the campaigns of incumbent Mayor Joseph J. Solomon and independent candidate Frank Picozzi are using social media in addition to conventional methods of getting out the word – including signs that by their ubiquity tell us this is a contest – to get out their message. But the pandemic has also changed the environment. How can you feel a part of the crowd – cheer your team – when cardboard cutouts fill the stands and the cheers are from previous games? And news from the virus battlefront offers little to applaud, with the numbers of those infected rising daily, a vaccine uncertain, businesses closing, legislators incapable of reaching consensus on a stimulus and staggering debts looming on the city, state and national levels. Anxiety grips us, whether it is over our children and grandchildren and when they will return to a path to pursue their education and lives or whether we can pay the next round of bills.
Both candidates recognize this. They offer different approaches to addressing these uncertain times.
Mr. Picozzi, who runs his own contracting business and has been involved in the community as a member and chairman of the School Committee and leading youth athletic leagues, is the “surprise” candidate. He had not thought of running for mayor until the pandemic, when his Facebook friends urged him to put on his Christmas digital display to bring some joy into a dreary COVID-19 shutdown. Picozzi realized that wouldn’t work, as it would bring people together. Instead, he built a display on his truck and brought it to the people. Picozzi for mayor signs appeared and at first Picozzi dismissed the suggestion. Now he is engaged in a campaign that shuns the old way of politics and promises change in City Hall.
Mayor Solomon looks to bring stability and a measured response to the future. He cites his experience as an attorney and accountant. Recognizing the city’s deteriorating infrastructure, from sewers to roads and schools, he has backed bonds for repairs. As evidence of the viability of his approach and the city’s strength, he holds up the city’s AA/Stable S&P Global Ratings bond rating and the recent sale of $3.2 million in revenue bonds at 0.7 percent to give the city LED streetlights that will pay for themselves and start generating savings in a few years. Indeed, this is sound footing in a rushing stream of financial pressures. The mayor’s handling of issues generated by the pandemic has been cautious and without community consensus. His refusal to reopen McDermott Pool, which he bases on the up tick of the coronavirus, seems unreasonable to those who cite the reopening of other pools. Yet, his concerns are legitimate. How can he be faulted for erring on the side of safety?
Mayor Solomon dangles the prospect of new development as evidence of the city’s bright future and how the city was able to delay the payment of taxes and utility bills as proof of its economic viability, although in a March 2019 state of the city address he said the city faced a structural deficit approaching $18.6 million. He said, “In short, in the many years leading up to my being sworn into office as mayor, our community had been led to believe that we were sailing along on calm, tranquil waters. Instead, the reality is that we have been heading straight into a perfect storm, without proper warning, preparedness or safeguards.”
How did it change so quickly, or did it? Were we really better off than we were told last year, or are we worse off now than we’re being led to believe? The mayor promises to guide the city through financial storms, to “do more with less” and give us a “better Warwick.” As a vision of the future he talks of a state-of-the-art athletic facility at Mickey Stevens Sports Complex. It’s enticing although fraught with questions of whether it’s possible financially and environmentally safe.
Mr. Picozzi offers to break with the old political ways of running a city. He follows the mood of the community though social media. He places schools as a high priority. He answers calls. He listens. He says he doesn’t have all the answers and he will recruit those with the expertise to address key issues from finances to means of addressing our deteriorating infrastructure. Who are these people? He hasn’t told us. That’s understandable, as who would jeopardize their existing job to sign on with a candidate who has not proven himself at the polls? Nonetheless, it would be good to know who will be his associates should he win election.
Yet Mr. Picozzi has proven his love and concern for community, for why else in these difficult times would so many place their faith in him?
We will know next week whether Warwick wants to follow a beaten path or is ready to risk further uncertainty for the prospect of a new Warwick.
Our choice is Mr. Picozzi.