Dems prevail, but election had twists

With Democratic support, Republican wins seat; non-candidate gets 30% of vote; voters approve new high schools

Posted 11/9/22

Warwick Democrats showed on Election Day candidates don’t need a “D” beside their name to win, as they are credited with giving the only Republican to win on the Warwick ballot, …

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Dems prevail, but election had twists

With Democratic support, Republican wins seat; non-candidate gets 30% of vote; voters approve new high schools


Warwick Democrats showed on Election Day candidates don’t need a “D” beside their name to win, as they are credited with giving the only Republican to win on the Warwick ballot, Anthony DeLuca, the Senate District 29 seat.

While DeLuca’s win is comprehendible given the bitter primary waged for the party’s nomination, what left political analysts scratching their heads is how Michael Koemer could gain 30 percent of the vote in Ward 5 when he wasn’t a candidate for the post.

In what is believed to be the only mishap of its kind to have occurred in the state, Koemer’s name was on the ballot as a Republican even though after taking out declaration papers, he did not return them and was never officially certified. The error was discovered too late for Koemer’s name to be removed from the ballot. Despite mailers to registered voters in the ward as well as posters at the poll and advertisements, Koemer picked up 1,024 votes.

Political observers took Koemer’s showing as evidence of incumbent Ward 5 councilman Ed Ladouceur’s alignment with those calling for the rejection of the $350 million bond question to build new Pilgrim and Toll Gate High Schools. Ladouceur favors news schools, but questioned if they could be built for $350 million and if it makes sense too build two new schools with a declining student enrollment. He called for a 5-year city financial plan before incurring additional debt.

Traditionally, Warwick school bonds have garnered 70 percent or more of the vote. This bond issue, the largest in the city’s history, projected to cost $525 million over the 20-year payback, was approved by 58.7 percent of the voters – a total of 19,211 votes. In the closing two weeks of the campaign, former Mayor Joseph Walsh endorsed the bond. That prompted endorsements from former mayors Philip Noel, Charles Donovan and Scott Avedisian. Mayor Frank Picozzi, who voted for the bond but didn’t actively campaign for its passage, joined the ranks of the former mayors in publically supporting it.

In a statement Wednesday Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said, “I am thrilled that the residents of Warwick voted to support the bond for two new high schools.  It is a great day for families, students and the city of Warwick.”

Vella Wilkinson wins by 16 votes

In what was the city’s tightest straight-up Democrat versus Republican cleanest contest, incumbent House District 21 Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson eked out a 16-vote win over political newcomer Marie Hopkins. The two, who concurred on some issues and respectfully disagreed along party lines on others, waged a civil campaign devoid of personal attacks. Hopkins is expected to request a recount.

Covering an area with many of the same voters as House District 21 and Senate District 29, in the race for Ward 4, incumbent Democrat James McElroy handily won reelection. Michael Penta’s  hard fought campaign for the seat was blunted by what was seen as the “straw” candidacy of Ryan Kelly, who was rumored to have been talked into running as a Republican to siphon votes from Penta, who ran as an independent.

According to the campaign finance report Kelly filed Nov. 1 he had $100 in his account as of Aug. 22 and had the same $100 as of Nov. 1. McElroy’s account showed cash of $11,015 and liabilities of $4,000, while Penta recorded $5,472 in cash and liabilities of $2,000. Kelly garnered 29.2 percent of the vote. McElroy came in at 43.2 percent and Penta at 27.4 percent.

School Committee races

In the three district races for School Committee, Shaun Galligan came out the winner in the contest with Frank Brown in District 1. Galligan, whose kids attend Warwick schools, vowed changes and to actively engage the public in the running of schools. He emphasized that not all graduates attend college, calling for more funding in career and technical programs. His campaign was run by his father in-law, Donald Torres, a former Democratic councilman and president of the City Council. Brown whose three children attended Warwick schools offered a pragmatic approach, citing the need to perform school maintenance and increase state aid to our schools. Galligan garnered nearly 60 percent of the vote.

In School Committee District 2, Leah Hazelwood, who cited her experience as a teacher assistant and substitute teacher and touted her community involvement outpolled Steven DiPalma, capturing more than 64 percent of the vote. She ran a vigorous campaign, appearing at school events and walking the district made up of Wards 4, 5 and 6.

The District 3 race turned out to be a nail-biter between the more visible CJ Donovan, a former councilman and active in political circles and Michelle Kirby Chapman, whose first grade daughter is a student at Robertson School. Donovan, a senior policy analyst for the RI House of Representatives, offered a platform addressing different issues faced by the district and calling for improved long-range planning while Kirby Chapman championed greater citizen involvement in schools by PTOs and PTAs.  She won by a margin of less than 2 percent, or 132 votes.

The top of the local ticket, the corner seat in City Hall, went uncontested as independent Picozzi was handed a second term. With City Hall closed and no horse in the race, Picozzi used the day to erect his digital Christmas house display that catapulted into the public view and became the foundation of his following on Facebook.  Throughout the campaign, Picozzi refrained from endorsing any candidates with the exception of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, who reached out to him as soon as he was elected, offering assistance in whatever manner he could.

Found on a ladder chasing down faulty wiring circuits at about 3:30 p.m. on Election Day, Picozzi nonetheless had a good handle on what was happening. He forecast passage of the school bond as well as the question giving the mayor a maximum of two consecutive 4-year terms and council members six 2-year terms. It passed with 63 percent of the vote. Picozzi was off on his guess Republican Allan Fung would edge out a victory with Democrat Seth Magaziner in the race to succeed Warwick’s James Langevin who has held the Second Congressional District seat for 18 years.

Political pundits predicted whoever won Warwick would take the seat. They proved to be correct as  Magaziner took 51.3 percent of the Warwick vote and Fung 45.6 percent. Had there been a Republican in the mayoral contest, which in turn may have swept a Democrat into the race, the outcome for the Congressional seat may have turned out differently.

The read offered by former Cranston Mayor Michael Traficante Tuesday evening as results were tabulated was, if there had been a race for mayor in Cranston, Fung would have performed better in his hometown. Traficante was incredulous that Fung’s margin in Cranston after having served as mayor for 12 years was only 933 out of 28,469 votes cast.

Nastiest race

The race for the Senate seat being vacated by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey was surely the hottest and nastiest in the city.

Progressive Democrat and co-founder of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative Jennifer Rourke, making a third run for the seat, faced Warwick firefighter and president of the firefighters’ union, Michael Carreiro in the primary. Carreiro had the party’s nomination, but questions over his candidacy and a Black face photo from a party years earlier cast a shadow over this candidacy. Meanwhile, a Republican expected to run for the seat hit Rourke at the State House when a rally for reproductive rights turned disruptive. The incident put Rourke, who is Black, in the national spotlight, prompting an outpouring of contributions to her campaign. Meanwhile, DeLuca faced Christopher Barker in a GOP primary.

DeLuca, who works for the city’s Water Division, won the endorsement of Local 94 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees AFL-CIO that virtually endorsed all Democratic candidates on the state ticket.

Democratic support for DeLuca came from former senator Thomas Lynch, who was at the polls Election Day urging people to vote Republican, according to reports. Rourke’s loss wipes the House clean of progressive Democrats and seemingly ensures the reelection of K. Joseph Shekrachi as Speaker at a Democratic caucus to be held this evening at the Crowne Plaza. Shekarchi said the “ultra extreme left wing agenda (of the progressives) doesn’t play well.” He named defunding police and the blanket characterization of the establishment as being corrupt as part of their agenda.

In an interview Wednesday, Shekarchi noted his entire leadership team was reelected and that while the House lost one Democratic seat to a Republican it is expected to gain two formerly Republican seats. He said he contributed substantially to the campaigns of House Democrats spending $30,000 to $40,000. He said he contributed $1,000 to each of the campaigns of Warwick representatives.

Yet Shekarchi said, “I was surprised that the Republicans did as well as they did.”  He cited Wells’ performance in Ward 4, DeLuca’s win for Senate District 29 and Ashley Kalus’ turnout in Warwick where she tallied 41 percent of the vote to Governor Dan McKee’s 55 percent.

“She’s a formidable candidate,” he said.

As for the Fung/Magaziner contest, Shekarchi said a number of elderly voters he spoke with at the polls brought up the issues of possible cuts in Social Security and Medicare should Republicans win control of the House and Senate. He felt Magaziner’s shift from focusing on reproductive rights to Social Security and Medicare tilted the vote in his favor.

He found the vote for Koemer, the non-candidate mistakenly listed on the Ward 5 ballot, “the most interesting thing of the whole night … it goes to show you people don’t pay attention.”

He credited Koemer’s votes and those of other unsuccessful Republican and independent candidates as “a protest against incumbency.”

elections, race


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