Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena has never been afraid of the microphone.
He said it comes naturally to him after working in radio during the early 1970s, starting out as a part-time host at WSVP in West Warwick. He earned $5 an hour to do a segment on a random Friday night, which turned into a full-time gig at a few other stations.
So Polisena felt comfortable last week when he went on Bill Bartholomew’s “Bartholomewtown” podcast and made waves when he said he’s been approached to consider a gubernatorial run in 2022. The mayor told Bartholomew that people have asked him to think it over, but he’s focused right now on running Johnston for the remainder of his last term.
Polisena expounded on his comments during an interview with the Sun Rise on Monday morning.
“I’ve been approached by a union group, and I’ve been approached a lot of these different other organizations – businessmen and women asking me to run for governor or lieutenant governor,” he said. “Never say never, but at this time, I’m focusing on my 3½ years left in Johnston because we’ve got a couple of good things going on in the town coming forward with businesses.”
Polisena said his decision will depend on the other names in the race. He said he is concerned about some of the hopefuls whose names he’s heard for both posts, but he opted not to say any on the record. He did, however, say that if current Lt. Gov. Dan McKee made a run for governor, he would support his candidacy.
He said that he believes he would receive strong support from the police, fire and trades unions, and used Johnston’s financial turnaround over the past 13 years as an example of his track record. He joked, though, that he wouldn't receive the National Education Association’s endorsement, a reference to his fierce opposition against the so-called “evergreen” contracts bill.
“I’ve got a good story to tell, so it’d be up to my wife, and I want to say that my wife would probably tell me to go live in the garage if I did that. I don’t know that,” Polisena said. “My wife’s always supported me as a senator, supported me as a mayor, and it takes a lot of toll on your family. This job isn't just 8-to-5, this job is 24/7.”
Polisena said he would face an “uphill battle” if he were to make a statewide bid. When pressed to explain, he said that he isn’t a progressive and he views himself as a moderate Democrat.
“I think the governor has some progressive tendencies. Some of them I agree with, some of them I don’t,” he said. “So obviously, I have my own style of running a government. It’s a tough job, you’ve got to say ‘no.’”
Polisena, who is 64, said he has no issue finding energy every day and has passion for his work at Town Hall.
“I really love doing what I’m doing,” he said. “God wants and God gives me my health. I’ve never had a drink of alcohol in my life, never smoked a cigarette, never tried drugs. I could get hit by a bolt of lightning. I exercise every day.”
While he added that he didn’t think raising funds for a gubernatorial run would be a problem, Polisena repeatedly emphasized that his focus is on the town until his term is up.
“Right now, I’m focused on working for the citizens that put me back in. So I’m not even thinking of that,” he said. “You never say never, but I’m very concerned for the state on who the people are that are lining up after Raimondo and after McKee.”