The mayor doesn’t like to cry in front of a crowd.
Joseph M. Polisena is more likely to drop F-bombs than drip tears on the lectern.
Tuesday evening, General Election night, was different. This election was personal; it was blood; it was family.
As soon as the polls closed, results started trickling into Johnston’s Democratic Town Committee headquarters on Atwood Avenue. The room’s elder Polisena, Johnston’s current mayor, fielded phone calls with election results from each precinct in town.
He rattled off the totals. And with each phone call, his son’s lead grew.
Joe Polisena Jr. stood there, mostly smiling. Nervous at first, but the grin came easier as the numbers broke in his direction. He was about to follow in his father’s footsteps; sit in his father’s padded mayoral chair.
“Here’s the keys,” his father joked about halfway through the process. The younger Polisena’s lead was swelling as he picked up nearly 7 of every 10 votes cast in town.
Once the win was assured, Mayor Polisena addressed the crowd.
“I think he’s going to make a really good mayor,” Polisena said. “He’s got a lot more patience than I do. He has a different style than I do. Our styles are entirely different. I’m very proud of him … he is going to do a fantastic job … With that said, I can’t tell you how proud we are. My wife and I are extremely proud … Let me introduce the next mayor of Johnston.”
He turned red, looked away from the crowd and fell into his son’s embrace. He almost hid his tears.
Mayor-elect Polisena declared his 68.9 percent vote-share a “mandate.”
“This margin is a mandate,” Polisena Jr. told the crowd. “It shows when you listen to the voters and focus on the issues that matter the most to voters, you don’t lie to them, you tell them the truth. They’ll reward you. And that’s what they did tonight. A huge thank you to them for putting their faith in me.”
With all 10 precincts reporting, Democrat Joseph M. Polisena, Jr. won 68.9% of the vote (7,119 votes); independent challengers Karen E. Cappelli Chadwick and Brenda Lynn Leone won 16.4% (1,697 votes) and 13.8% (1,423 votes) of the vote, respectively, according to Tuesday night’s unofficial results.
The ballot was split in three, but Polisena Jr.’s win was decisive.
Chadwick awaited election results with a burger and a beer at the Bishop Hill Tavern, 2868 Hartford Ave., in Johnston’s west-end.
“First of all I would like to thank everyone who took the time to cast a ballot yesterday,” she said Wednesday morning. “ I think it is one of our most important privileges. Thanks to all who supported me in my campaign. It has been quite the adventure. The absolutely best part was having the opportunity to meet so many different people. Even better than that is that I have reconnected with a couple of old friends and will hold them close. I even made a couple of new ones. Not to shabby for a gal who had no idea what she was getting into.”
With the race behind her, Chadwick said she walks away with an overall positive impression.
“Everyone around me played nice as the kids say,” Chadwick said. “Politics are what the people make of it. I have the most amazing people in my corner. I am very thankful.”
Chadwick and Polisena squared off face-to-face at the Johnston Sun Rise Mayoral Forum last week. Following the vigorous discussion of local issues, Chadwick said she was impressed by Polisena Jr.’s grasp of the issues and hopes she found a new friend in the mayor-elect.
“I would like very much to congratulate Joseph Polsena Jr. in his bid for mayor of Johnston,” Chadwick said. “He is a very smart, engaging young man and now has the opportunity to make some significant changes. When we met at the Sun Rise we had a great conversation about many different things. During the question and answer period he was cool, calm and collected. My hope is that he does have an open-door policy as many people want to know, want to be involved. Community participation is vitally important. It is up to you all to tell him and his administration what matters to you most. Together, great things can be accomplished. Don't give up.”
As for me, this is another chapter in the "You would never believe this" book. Go to meetings, get to know your representatives. Make a connection with them. Only then will they know what your hopes for the town are. Take good care.
A political newcomer, Chadwick doubts she’ll run for office again.
The third-place finisher in the race, Brenda Lynn Leone, spoke to campaign supporters at her General Election headquarters in the Berkshire Hathaway Real Estate Office at 1251 Atwood Ave., Johnston.
On Tuesday night, she was optimistic. On Wednesday morning, she had very little to say.
“The voters have spoken,” Leone said. “We gave the voters a choice and they’re obviously content with what they have.”
His first term
Polisena Jr. said he takes after his mother. The crowd gathered in Town Hall Plaza offered laughs and applause in agreement.
“This isn’t just about a candidate,” he said. “It’s not about a last name. It’s about a message. I said it from the beginning. It’s what I ran on. It’s the only thing I focused on: taxes, schools, public safety, town services.”
On Wednesday morning, the mayor-elect wanted to drive that point home:
“This election wasn’t about one person, or one last name, it was about a consistent message that economic development promotes not only job growth, but helps stabilize residential property taxes and also gives us additional revenue to further improve our town,” he said. “I believe people want moderate government. Too extreme to either the progressive left or conservative right has taken a lot of states and municipalities off course, but in Johnston, we’ve stuck to the issues that impact all of our residents regardless of political affiliation.”
While most of Rhode Island stayed reliably blue (all of the statewide officers remained in Democratic hands), Johnston voters turned out heavily in favor of underdog Republican candidates. Several incumbent state representatives, including Rep. Edward T. Cardillo, Jr. (District 42), Rep. Deborah Ann Fellela (District 43) and Rep. Gregory J. Costantino (District 44) narrowly held onto their seats.
“My son, I know he’s going to follow in my footsteps as far as he will help people that even didn’t vote for him,” the elder Polisena said Tuesday to end the evening’s victory remarks. “Because he represents everybody in this town, not just the people who supported them. I can tell you that he’ll have an open door just like I did. I look forward, before he changes the locks, to come and see him. One thing I’m going to be … really proud of, is the night of inauguration, when I get to swear in my son as the mayor of Johnston.”
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