Former GOP leaders seek ward seats as independents

Posted 5/18/22



For years Mike Penta and Tony Corrente held leadership positions in the Warwick Republican City Committee.

This year both plan on having their names on the ballot but …

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Former GOP leaders seek ward seats as independents




For years Mike Penta and Tony Corrente held leadership positions in the Warwick Republican City Committee.

This year both plan on having their names on the ballot but next to their names won’t be an “R”

Instead, this year Corrente and Penta will be running for the City Council as independents.

Corrente plans on challenging Ward 9 incumbent Vincent Gebhart, while Penta faces off against Ward 4 incumbent James McElroy.

Ward 4

Active in the community, Penta ran in 2012 as a Republican in Ward 4 against then incumbent, the late Joseph Solomon and then in 2016  made an unsuccessful bid to unseat against Camille Vella-Wilkinson for the House District  21.

In 2018, Penta shed the Republican label and ran as an independent for Ward 4, losing to Democrat McElroy.

This year he faces a rematch against McElroy.

“Some people would just walk away and give up. I just can’t give up, I love the City of Warwick too much,” said Penta.

“I think it's time to get someone in there that wants to do something for the people,” said Penta.

Penta is concerned with seeing things diminish in Warwick.  Looking at Conimucut, Penta sees the opportunity for business development and greater vitality.

Penta, who owns Gels Kitchen with his wife Angela said that he wants to work to bring more small businesses to Warwick.

“We need small businesses, mom and pop shops,” said Penta.

He relates when he and his wife visited to Grainsley's for two hours the restaurant only had four customers.  Penta decided that they needed to do something to help so they posted on their business’s page to help draw more customers.

On the issue of new high schools, Penta said that they are needed, saying that Pilgrim and Toll Gate aren’t in good condition.

“It's not fair to our students that they have to go to these schools,” said Penta.

Penta isn’t convinced two schools are needed, noting that the comprehensive plans show people are leaving Warwick.

Penta said that more information needs to be brought to the attention of voters before a decision is made and that the city needs to know what they can afford.

Penta currently serves on the Planning Board but if elected said he would resign since he can’t serve on the Council and Planning Board at the same time.

“I will continue on the planning board until  my term expires if for some reason I don't win and will continue in the future on planning board if the mayor decided to reappoint me,” said Penta.

Before running as an independent Penta was Vice Chair of the Warwick Republican City Committee from 2009 to 2013 and was Chair from 2013 to 2015. Penta then served as Second Vice Chair until Scott Avedisian left office in 2018.

“I don’t agree with either party 100 percent,” said Penta.

McElroy won in 2018 against Penta, after Solomon became Mayor. Since there was less than half of Solomon’s term left it wasn’t filled.

“It was something I’ve always been interested in,” said McElroy.

McElroy the father of four children including Municipal Court Judge Kelly McElroy said he has always been involved in the community including coaching Warwick Junior Hockey and little league.

He is proud that during his time in office the Council passed a zero tax increase budget the past two years.

Asked before this year’s proposed budget came out if he thought that it may be the case in FY 23  McElroy said,  “hopefully it will be that way.”

Asked about new high schools McElroy said that the city needs to upgrade them but said that the question of cost is a critical question.

“The only question is can the city afford to do that,” said McElroy.

McElroy, whose wife Charlee is the principal of Sherman School, said that new schools could be a draw for bringing new families to Warwick.

“If you have a new state of the art school people will want to come in,” said McElroy.

McElroy also recently introduced a resolution to the General Assembly asking for permission to put the question of term limits for mayor and city council on the ballot in November, which the Council passed.

“It's something that the voters should decide,” said McElroy.

On the issue of term limits Penta said that for mayor he thinks there should be two four year terms, as well as for Council.

“Every two years is horrible as the people only get one good year and  the second  year is spent on reelection,” said Penta. “The council may be called a part time job but it's really not if you're the right person to serve the people. A council member not only should be always answering the phone but should also make themselves present to any constituent in need no matter what. That's what makes it a full time job. Other cities and towns have the four year elections and it works. The people deserve the long time service. In eight years there are only two elections instead of the proposed 12  years with six elections.”

Ward 9

Corrente, a 1994 graduate of Toll Gate High School chose to run “because there are serious financial issues facing our city.”

“A current budget with an 11.4 million dollar built-in deficit that utilized 5.5 million dollars of American Relief Funds and 5.9 million dollars from the city's reserves to balance the budget.  We cannot afford to continue draining our savings account to balance future budgets or the city will be broke in a few years,” said Corrente. “ Inflation is at the highest it has ever been, gas costs approaching $5 per gallon, escalating grocery costs, supply chain and labor force issues driving up the cost of mostly everything.  Now more than ever I'm concerned about the effects of our city's budget deficit and the impacts it will have on our neighbors but especially seniors and families that are already struggling to put enough food on the table each week.  The city council's biggest annual responsibility is passing a budget that is cost effective and positions the city well for the future and this must be accomplished by a thorough line by line review of the city budget and not by raising taxes.  Folks cannot afford a property tax increase this year.”

Corrente spent 14 years working for the city, leaving in 2019. He is currently working as an office manager with the town of West Warwick.

Corrente said his top priorities if elected would be addressing the city's built-in budget deficit, advocating for more funding to be allocated to repair city roads, water and sewer infrastructure including implementing an annual maintenance schedule. 

“We must spend our tax dollars wisely, prudently and efficiently,” said Corrente.

One of the biggest questions for Corrente is why he decided to make the switch and run as an independent.

Asked about it, Corrente said “we have seen more and more divisiveness along party lines in our country today which isn't serving anyone well.”

“I'm running to represent all  of the residents of Ward 9, and running as an independent will help to assure folks that my decisions will be informed by what I believe is best for the ward and our community as a whole, and not based on what a political party thinks I ‘should’ or ‘shouldn't’ do,” said Corrente.

Corrente pointed out that Mayor Frank Picozzi won his race in 2020 against the late Joseph Solomon as an independent.

“We have seen firsthand here in Warwick in the past year and a half that one doesn't need to run under a political party banner to effectively collaborate with people from all walks of life and points of view and do what is best for the community,” said Corrente.

Corrente will be facing off against Gebhart who won against Zach Colon in the 2020 Democratic Primary. Gebhart went on to beat two independents Aaron Mackisey, and Sean Henry, along with Republican Armand Lusi.

Gebhart pointed to his focus on constituent affairs as major accomplishments during this first time, pointing to successfully resolving over 120 constituent issues “by directly advocating for my residents to department directors and the administration.”

Gebhart  also pointed to integrating technology, so residents can report issues on his website, and building a “strong two-way relationships with council members, administration, boards, commissions, and members of the public to ensure all stakeholders voices are heard and considered,” as two examples of his focus on constituent affairs. He also pointed out that he was “Integral”  in the community-driven process for the solar ordinance.

Regardless if he wins or loses Gebhart and the rest of the Council still have a few more months left in their terms.

“We have a busy few months ahead of us, between evaluating the High School Building proposal which we need to ensure meets our community’s needs and is affordable before we send it to the legislature,” said Gebhart.

Other big decisions  coming up that Gebhart pointed to include executing the allocation of the American Rescue funds, voting on a new fire contract along with the 2023 budget.

“Being a member of the finance committee is a privilege, and also a formidable challenge,” said Gebhart.

If elected to a second term Gebhart said he would hope to “partner with the administration to identify opportunities for cost-savings, efficiency, and to lean on technology to deliver city programs and services more efficiently.”

Gebhart also pointed to continuing to work on legislation including a city-wide management of short term rentals and solar ordinance. Gebhart also pointed to continuing to work on the preservation of Dawley Farm.

Asked why he thinks voters should re-elect him Gebhart said “I’m a level headed and thoughtful individual, who has greatly improved access to services and information for our Ward in my short time on the City Council.”

“Prior to my arrival Ward 9 was often overlooked, by building relationships, effective communication, and partnership with City Departments I’ve been able to get our Ward back on track,” said Gebhart.

GOP, independent seats


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