Kevin Millonzi has been managing budgets for several years, whether it be at his catering company or the board for Meals on Wheels of RI, and he wants to take his experience to the Town Council.
Millonzi is set to face incumbent Town Council President Robert V. Russo in the District 4 primary this fall, and the winner of their Democratic race will oppose independent candidate Raymond M. Cianci in the general election.
He said that, as a small business owner himself, he has had the “opportunity” to pay his share in taxes and has been involved with organizations where he sees how the funds are spent. A seat on the council would allow Millonzi to examine those figures more closely.
“I think with a more innovative approach and a more hands-on approach, we could be doing a better job dispersing where this tax money is going,” Millonzi said. “That’s probably the biggest thing, and I also think that [I can use] my ability to help people, I enjoy doing that. I think that’s what a politician is supposed to be doing.”
He’s chaired Meals on Wheels of RI for just more than a year, overseeing what he said is more than $5 million in revenue. He has also seen the number of people who need Meals on Wheels double since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the group to lobby Congress, adjust its budget and secure private industry donations.
Millonzi said Meals on Wheels of RI was able to add 2,000 people to the daily program.
“People are starting to feel comfortable to entertain under fairly heavy restrictions, but I think it’s going to take some time before that sort of gets back to any type of normalcy, and I think it’s going to be some tough decisions for leadership,” Millonzi said.
He added, as a veteran of the hospitality industry, that the pandemic has been a “perfect storm” to those in his profession.
“Everyone was pushing to open up the economy, but our business was pretty much canceled and postponed. You saw that from festivals in Newport to the Jazz and Folk festivals, and the Air Show, everything just got kind of put on hold,” Millonzi said. “So most of the business that caterers rely on and event planners and rental companies rely on sort of is just not existing this year.”
He said the state “may have gone a little overboard” with its restrictions, but overall he approves of the serious response to COVID-19. While some have been able to survive economically, he said he has seen friends and former colleagues who run successful businesses “sitting at home doing nothing” because of the pandemic’s ramifications.
“It’s been tough. The thing to look forward to in my opinion is a vaccine. We push for that, we plan for that,” Millonzi said. “The [Paycheck Protection Program] loan system has helped a lot of businesses. The unemployment taking care of employees that certainly didn’t deserve to have their jobs taken away from them, I think has been a big help. It’s a balance, you know, we want to get some of these people back to work. My hope is that in the fall we start to get more work that we can put them back to work with.”
Millonzi said he thinks Russo has had some “good highlights” throughout his tenure on the council, but mostly praised Mayor Joseph Polisena for the town’s continued commitment to economic development.
He said Polisena “initiated a heavy push for economic growth,” and noted the Citizens Bank and Market Basket developments as key examples.
“He’s been the champion of that, he’s been the spearheader,” Millonzi said. “Obviously the council has been a helping hand in all that, but I think after 26 years, I look at the national political scene and I look Congress now and they can’t agree on anything … I think there’s reasons for term limits in a lot of these key positions – presidency, a lot of mayor races in various towns now have term limits – because I think it’s very healthy and important to bring new people in.”
Millonzi said that, if he were elected in District 4, he would like to establish better communication and accessibility for his constituents. From storm updates to school closings, he said a larger social media presence could be important in disseminating “articulated information that the district needs to know.”
“I think I will be really good at doing responsiveness to constituents,” Millonzi said. “I think that’s something that I’ll take a lot of pride in. I think I’ll do a really good job getting to people.”
Millonzi also pointed to increased road repairs and taking a “real interesting look” at the Johnston landfill, even though it sits in District 1.
“I’ve walked this district for the last going on 2½ months, and I see a lot of roads that don’t look like they’ve been paved since the ’60s or ’70s. I start to wonder why, why are certain roads paved more than others?” Millonzi said. “We’re housing stuff that really we don’t know what the long-term ramifications are going to be for people who live here 20 or 30 years from now. I think the least that we could be doing as taxpayers, we could be getting some more relief from having to be the host community for [the landfill].”
When asked what makes District 4 unique from the others in Johnston, Millonzi said he has seen the diversity and population of the area change over the past four years. He said there are 26 new registered voters on his street alone, and younger people are moving into the area.
“It’s becoming more diverse,” Millonzi said. “Things change, people change, homeowners – the millennial generation is now starting to get into homeownership … I think there’s definitely a mixed bag of ethnicities in different parts, and not just in certain areas, it’s across the board. That’s exciting, because that’s kind of what the world was based on. We’re a melting pot of different cultures, different ethnicities, different types of people, different ideologies, and I think that’s actually a positive thing for our town.”