Anthony Pilozzi looked like he had spent the day at the beach. He had great color, although it was more than he cared for.
But he hadn’t been at Mantunck or another of the South County beaches. Rather, he was outside one of the town’s polls for the better part of 10 hours and he experienced firsthand the evening surge of voters that gave Johnston one of the state’s highest voter turnouts in Tuesday’s primary.
“I don’t know how you did it,” he said to Peter DelPonte at Democratic headquarters that night. “All of a sudden people started coming in.”
Around him people were still in celebration mode, clapping one another on the back and hugging, especially District 1 Councilwoman Eileen Fuoco. Fuoco fended off an especially hard fought challenge from Ed Cardillo. Fuoco polled 351 votes, or 46 percent, to Cardillo’s 307 votes. Paul Crowell trailed with 109 votes.
Reached for comment yesterday, Cardillo extended his congratulations to Fuoco, but said he would continue to closely watch Town Council operations.
“I want to wish her good luck and I hopes she holds true to her word. I hope she makes her own decisions,” he said.
Cardillo said he is particularly concerned with growing the commercial tax base, eliminating the motor vehicle tax and improving infrastructure.
When asked if he would run for the seat in the future, Cardillo said he was unsure.
Of the town’s 22,427 registered voters, 3,312 cast ballots – just 14.77 percent of the electorate. That is higher than was seen in other municipalities. In Cranston, for example, less than 11 percent of voters cast ballots. Comparatively, though, that number is still low for Johnston. In the 2010 primary, which featured a title race between Mayor Joseph Polisena and Victor Cipriano, voter turnout was more than 30 percent.
Up until 4:30 p.m., Pilozzi said, there was a trickle of voters and then everything changed.
Making the difference, said Polisena and Democratic Town Committee Chairman Richard DelFino, was the computer program system developed by DelPonte and his daughter, Christine, who is working on her master’s in computer sciences at Boston University.
“This is a very interesting night, to say the least,” Polisena said once it was clear the party-backed candidates Fuoco and Senator Frank Lombardo III had won. The polls closed at 8 p.m., and by 8:15 the celebration was underway. Lombardo polled 1,828 votes to challenger Nicole Amelia Acciardo’s 1,058.
Polisena identified the DelPonte family as making the difference before going on to name Peter, his wife Pam and their daughter Christine. “The system we have here is used in other communities.”
Naturally, it wasn’t all computers.
“Everyone worked extra hard. We have proven to them [those who would challenge the endorsed candidates] that we have a phenomenal team,” Polisena said.
Those candidates not facing a primary spent the day at the polls, greeting voters and working to get the vote out. Polisena tipped his hat to “the team.”
“This happened because of the people in this room. We’ve got a Super Bowl team,” he said.
DelFino called it “a very hard fought campaign. The organization put in place resulted in what you see today…we’re all on the same page and working together.”
Fuoco kept her remarks brief, extending her thanks to those who supported her and reading a poem that essentially said the same thing. Later she said she felt confident going into the primary, although the effort was draining. She said she walked the district twice and spent about $3,500 on her campaign. Wearing a wide smile, she said she planned to take three days to decompress but would then be back on the campaign trail even though Tuesday’s primary decided her race. She said she would be working to help other members of the Democratic team who do face races in November.
Lombardo called Polisena “a warrior for me.” He also mentioned Mary Cerra, whom he said was beside him for 11 ice cream socials. A petite Cerra was at his side again Tuesday night.
But again, it was the DelPonte family that found themselves in the spotlight.
“DelPonte changed the game of politics in this town,” Lombardo said.
Asked what the computer program does, DelPonte said it is a matter of “simplicity and speed.” Essentially, he said, the objective is to identify the vote and then ensure that the vote is cast. To do it, party poll workers are armed with wireless laptops that enable them to feed Democratic headquarters who is voting at that very moment. This enables the tracking of votes and gives those at headquarters the information they need to call known supporters in cases where they haven’t yet cast their ballot.
DelPonte is no stranger to the election process. He served on the School Committee and was its chairman. However, when he ran for State Senate he lost in a primary.
“I don’t like to repeat mistakes,” he said when asked what motivated him to come up with a computer program. He and Christine have spent countless hours on the system. The version used in Tuesday’s primary has enhancements over the program used two years ago and the one for this November will take it to yet a higher plateau, DelPonte promised.
Christine couldn’t put a number to the hours she has worked on the system.
“It started with paper and pen and moved up from there,” she said.
Also in Johnston, Gregory Costantino defeated five-term incumbent Rep. Peter Petrarca. A resident of Lincoln, Petrarca’s District 44 is split between Lincoln, Smithfield and a piece of Johnston. Costantino fought hard for the seat, bringing in nearly 60 percent of the vote. In Johnston, his margin of victory was smaller, defeating Petrarca by only 22 votes by local voters.