December 21, 2014
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Mayor’s challenger targets taxes, GOP voter
John Howell
Warwick Beacon photo
GATHERING SIGNATURES: Republican mayoral candidate Stacia Petri as pictured recently outside City Hall where she was gathering signatures as so to be placed on the ballot.

When Stacia Petri became disenchanted with her property taxes, she started asking questions, and she started attending City Council meetings. That was more than four years ago.

Now Petri is running for mayor as a Republican and, as Republican primaries in this city draw only a handful of voters compared to Democratic primaries, some believe she has a chance of bumping off Mayor Scott Avedisian, now seeking his eighth term in office.

Petri sees it that way.

In an hour-long interview Friday, Petri said she is “targeting” about 2,000 regular Warwick Republican voters. She says her message that Avedisian has consistently raised taxes and that continuing down the same path is unsustainable is resonating with voters. She has built a core group of six to 10 volunteers and hopes to expand on that base following a meet and greet tomorrow at the Islander Restaurant. Roy Dempsey, who has been especially vocal in the last couple of years over the operation of the Warwick Sewer Authority, is acting as her campaign manager.

“The Republicans are not happy with the mayor,” Petri said.

According to Board of Canvasser records, the city has 6,093 registered Republicans, 19,085 registered Democrats and 32,056 unaffiliated voters. In his last primary in 2010, Avedisian garnered 2,064 votes to 635 for Richard Langseth, or 76.5 percent of the vote.

Petri, 43, grew up in Smithfield and, before buying a house in Warwick in 2006, lived in Providence. She graduated from Rhode Island College, where she majored in psychology and occupational therapy. She wasn’t sure where her future was, but in her search for a job, her ease in talking with and interest in people was quickly recognized. She ended up working as a sales representative for the pharmaceutical company, Astra Zeneca, doing face-to-face sales with physicians.

She can think of no other group that can be as demanding of precise information.

She had to know the product and be prepared for a barrage of questions.

Petri now works for Summit Pharmacy. She feels it has prepared her to deal with detailed technical information.

Petri’s timing in purchasing her home in Cowesett, however, couldn’t have been worse. Home values were up and she bought at the top of the market.

She doubts that, in any time soon, the market will climb to the point where she can break even, and she believes many Warwick homeowners are in a similar situation. It is why, she said, so many people have chosen to walk away from their homes. They can’t afford the mortgage payments and they can’t pay off the mortgage by selling.

As a relatively new homeowner, Petri said she questioned why taxes kept going up. She directed her question to then city tax assessor and collector Ken Mallette.

“He said it was because [city] health care costs had gone up,” she said.

Petri said she found it tough to believe that health care costs were solely responsible for a tax increase.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m going to learn more about what’s going on in the city,’” she said.

She started attending council as well as budget hearings.

Petri picked up on what former councilman and school committee chairman Robert Cushman had to say on the city’s unfunded pension and employee post retirement benefit costs. It is an issue that she feels Avedisian has failed to address and will have serious consequences unless the administration can make contract changes, including cost of living adjustments for police and fire retirees being linked to the pay raises of active members. She also said retirees receiving health coverage should pay a percentage of those costs, as do active city employees. If those changes can’t be negotiated, she argues, the city should unilaterally make adjustments and let the courts decide the outcome.

“Retirees get gold coverage for health care,” she said. Maintaining the present course, she argues, “is unsustainable.”

“This is a matter of protecting our future,” she said.

Petri is also irritated by what she perceives as the mayor’s attitude.

Recalling the 2012 budget hearings, Petri said Avedisian sat facing the council the entire time even when members of the audience asked questions.

“He never turned around. He just didn’t want to hear what they had to say,” she said.

And she is confused by Avedisian’s plan to give city employees a $1,000 bonus at a cost of $800,000 to the taxpayers while at the same time dipping into city reserves and hiking the tax rate to balance the budget. Avedisian has justified the bonuses on the basis that three years of no salary increases has reduced the city’s unfunded pension liability and that they are due the gratitude.

“How can he say we have a surplus when he’s tapping into the rainy day fund?” she asks. “And how can he say we have a surplus when the taxpayers are getting squeezed?”

If elected, Petri said she would bring greater transparency to city operations. She also, as did some members of the council argued, would like to see more funding for roads, although she didn’t offer a plan for how much is needed or where the money would come from.

As for her campaign, Petri doesn’t see pumping a lot of her own funds into the effort because she doesn’t have the money.

“This is about very smart targeting,” she said.

She aims to meet as many traditional Republican primary voters as she can. She has also resolved to build her campaign around her first name – Stacia – as she will be marrying in August. She intends to take on the surname of her husband, Jay Huyler, although she will be listed Petri on the Sept. 7 GOP primary ballot.

And she favors Ken Block as the Republican candidate for governor.

“He’s an outsider, just like me,” she said.

She said she especially likes Block’s drive to uncover waste and fraud.

And as to why she wants to bring change, Petri said, “I don’t believe pulling up and moving out is an answer.”


Comments
13 comments on this item

Stacia, the 2,000 votes that Avedisian got last election are all going to go to him this year. These are public union retiree's, current workers, their families and low information voters. You can educate the LIV but the rest have a vested interest in the status qou. You can't rely on the usual primary voters. You need a get out the vote drive. 4,000+ people show up at the primary you have a good shot at it. Good luck!

I don't remember the mayor getting even 2,000 votes in his last primary. It is true that there is a nest of Avedisian voters that he relies on to keep going - but it is no where near the 2,000 that Patientman talks about. Some will be sucked into the Democratic primary. With the tax mess what it is - the administration lost my 2010 tax records recently, there is a chance to shake things up. Keep up the good work.

Richard the article states that Avedisian got 2064 votes to your 635. If that is incorrect take it up with JH.;-)

sick of scottie raising taxes just to give it all to the gov't workers. roads stink, pilgrim has yellow tape in spots. taxes should be less than half of what they are for what we get in return.

Another quality candidate- let's review:

Makes wise financial investments -given a house at peak of market - and whines about it - probably wants a government bailout (how republican)

Wants to fill potholes but doesn't know how to pay for it nor knows how to fund it - maybe raise taxes??????!!! (again, how republican)

Financial house in disarray - can't fund small campaign in small city;

full of clichés that mean nothing and accomplish even less . . .classic politician

Good luck with that . . .

HeDog, what are you talking about the Mayor raising taxes and giving it to gov't workers?? Try no raises in three years, more concessions prior to that and at the same time increases across the board for employee contributions to pension, Healthcare and copays. Speak factually please

Winning a city of 84,000 by fewer than `1500 votes -- is a sorry state of affairs. Clearly a target within Stacia 's reach. The tax situation is a very big mess that the mayor needs to explain. Are there 1,500 Republican or Independent taxpayers among a base of about 40,000 who have had enough????? If so, Stacia could win!

97% of new taxes created since 2004 have gone to city workers and retirees.

How many years has it been since you've seen a road paving crew anywhere in this town?

I agree with patientman that the outreach needs to be greater than 2,000 republican primary voters. I believe it was a mistake to bring any of that up in the first place in this article. Local elections aren't as divided by party as state-wide or national elections. To suggest that those are the only votes she'll need is a mistake. There are plenty of independent voters who have had enough of this mayor. There are also plenty of democrats who need this mayor to stay in office. I believe Stacia has a very, very good chance of winning the primary I just hope the people around her don't screw this up. In a campaign based on raising taxes bringing up roads and then not having any way of paying for it suggests they might just screw it up. How to pay for it? How about by not giving every city employee a $1,000 bonus and saving the $800,000 in the budget( you're welcome for the free advice, I'm available if needed). If you take that with the weak $400,000 amount the mayor budgeted for road paving, the city would have a $1.2 million dollar road paving fund for this budget year.

This woman is a nut - just google her and look at all of her crazy posts - presents well perhaps, but she is loony-toons

Iamindependent: What politician isn't a little "out there?" I remember when I was running against the mayor, he did some pretty odd things too. Every mayor since Joe Walsh seemed to be out there in some way or another. At least she does not cover up her posts with surrogate names.

She is more than out there - her rants and posts show a lack of intellect, integrity and ability to listen; she clearly has a extremely poor judgement and her posts appear that she is under the influence of some substance. Mr. Langseth, you always give careful thought and consideration to the issues; she doesn't.

Iamanindependent, She may not be the best candidate, but getting rid of the current administration so the city can get a true understanding of our situation is a good thing. Don't let perfect be the enemy of progress.

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