Primary could be game changer
There’s a lot at stake next Tuesday.
That’s easy to conclude from the television ads and the direct mailers from just about every statewide candidate facing a primary. But while the “big money” races for governor, treasurer and secretary of state dominate the airwaves, there are also five primary contests on the local ballot, headlined by the Republican contest for the mayoral nomination that pits incumbent Scott Avedisian, now running for his eighth term, against political newcomer Stacia Petri.
There are Democratic primaries for City Council in Wards 7 and 2, a Republican contest in Ward 3 and a Democratic face-off in House District 22, where the incumbent, Frank Ferri, is not seeking re-election. Ferri is one of three Democrats vying for the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor.
Petri has mounted a spirited campaign for mayor, getting out to meet voters and using Facebook to comment almost hourly on city developments and push her message that 14 years of increased taxes is enough. Avedisian has countered with his own Facebook page, which is restrained and filled with feel-good comments and photos by comparison. He is emphasizing his financial stewardship, the city’s quality of life and economic development.
And while the mayoral campaign has gained visibility not just because of all the lawn signs, but also because of media coverage and an hour-long debate between the two, they are playing to a relatively small audience. Of the 60,000 registered Warwick voters, about 10 percent are Republicans. The greatest block of registered voters is unaffiliated. What’s unpredictable is how many will choose to vote in the primary and whether they will cast ballots in the Republican or Democratic primary.
This has not only cast an element of uncertainty into the Republican nomination for mayor, but also raised questions over the turnout in other races. Could, for example, the race for mayor pull away unaffiliated voters, who if they voted as Democrats, could decide the outcomes in the two council races or that for House District 22?
Reflecting on the campaign Tuesday, Avedisian said he hasn’t been in a contest like this before and called it “weird.” He said he has held his traditional clamcake and chowder events at senior housing complexes, gone door-to-door campaigning in different neighborhoods and sent out direct mail flyers to registered Republicans.
He said he has found considerable “excitement” over developments at Rocky Point, the announcement that the Rhode Island Mall will become an outlet mall and the “boutique” hotel planned for Apponaug. He said he also heard questions about the Apponaug Circulator and how its series of five roundabouts would work.
He said he was not questioned about taxes, nor the city’s “crumbling schools” and “pot-hole filled roads” that Petri has pledged to repair if elected. Petri likewise sent out a flyer to Republicans in which she pledges to “open the city books and promote transparency,” as well as repair schools and restore school programs while holding the line on taxes.
Petri said she’s picking up a different message from voters than that heard by Avedisian.
“The number one thing I hear is that it’s time we need a change, we can’t continue the way we’re going,” she said yesterday. “People are fed up.”
This is Petri’s first bid for an elective office, and she said the experience has been “rewarding, fulfilling, eye-opening and emotional.” The campaign did not interrupt her wedding to Jay Huyler this past weekend, although it did put on hold her honeymoon. Should she win the primary, she said she would not change her name until after the general election.
The strategy at both the citywide level for mayor and among those running for council and the House seats has been to identify potential supporters and target them.
In Ward 7, where incumbent Charles Donovan Jr. faces a challenge from Kathleen Usler, both candidates have concentrated on their longtime knowledge of the ward and involvement in local organizations as their base. As there are no Republican or independent candidates running, the winner in Tuesday’s Democratic primary will be the next Ward 7 council member. Both candidates have lawn signs and are walking the ward.
In another of the more active local primary campaigns, Joseph Solomon Jr., the son of the Ward 4 councilman by the same name, faces Jennifer Siciliano for the Democratic nomination for House District 22. The winner will go on to face Republican Ralph Leone. Siciliano, a planner for the city of Woonsocket, and Solomon, who left his job at the State House, have named the economy and jobs as key issues.
The Democratic primary campaign in Ward 2 and the Republican primary in Ward 3 have been strangely lopsided.
Ward 2 incumbent Thomas Chadronet has not returned repeated phone calls over the last three weeks and has not been accessible for interviews, while his opponent, Michael Zarum, has been going door-to-door and actively defining what he considers critical issues facing the ward. The winner of the primary will go on to be the councilman, as there are no Republican or independent candidates.
In Ward 3, John Falkowski of Everglade Avenue has been accessible. His campaign signs are sprinkled throughout the ward. His opponent, Henry Williams Jr. of Julian Road, could not be reached for comment. There isn’t even a sign of his candidacy on his property.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m.
According to Dottie McCarthy of the Board of Canvassers, 225 to 230 poll workers will staff the city’s 33 polls. Workers, who are required to report at 6:15 a.m. and can expect to finish the day by 8:45 p.m., are paid $150 to $200.
“We’re always looking for good poll workers,” said McCarthy. She said the 3-Rs are what she looks for in poll workers – responsible, reasonably intelligent and reliable.
McCarthy put the cost of conducting the primary at about $50,000, which is not much different than the cost of the general election.
“It’s the same amount of work for us whether there’s a turnout or nobody shows up,” she said.
Given the board had issued 376 absentee ballots as of Tuesday, or about half of 1 percent of the city’s registered voters, McCarthy concludes, despite all the attention given to the primary contests, it would seem not many people are paying attention.
Tuesday will tell and conceivably, as some think possible, a relatively small group of voters could decide the outcome.