The first name in the race to succeed four-term Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena has been thrown into the ring.
The mayor told the Sun Rise on Monday morning “it’s no secret” that his son Joseph Polisena Jr. is looking to run for his father’s seat in 2022. Polisena Jr. confirmed his interest to the Sun Rise later on Monday.
“He’s educated, he’s a lawyer, he’s going to have his MBA by this year,” Polisena said. “He knows the importance of public service, keep things going, keep things moving in a positive fashion. He obviously talked about running. I think he’d make a great mayor, absolutely.”
Polisena Jr. told the Sun Rise in a phone call Tuesday afternoon that his prospective candidacy is centered on “continuing the progress that his [father’s] administration has made.”
“It’s also being in public service, I enjoy what I do on the [Town] Council now,” he said, adding that he likes taking on challenges that “make a big impact.”
As far as criticisms of handing off from one Polisena administration to another, Polisena Jr. said that everyone has a parent or guardian in their lives who has served as an inspiration.
“Someone that they looked up to personally or professionally and even jobs that don’t include politics,” Polisena Jr. said. “A lot of people who are firefighters, their father was a firefighter, [and in the] nursing field, teaching field. A part of who you are is who raised you and who you grew up with. The big thing I think people will find is just because you look up to someone, it doesn’t mean you’ll walk in lockstep with them.”
Polisena said his son has a different style than he does, relying on a more methodical approach. He said he would be an “ideal candidate” to take his spot at Town Hall.
“My son, obviously he’s been asked by several people in the town that, ‘When your father leaves, why don’t you run,’ and so forth,” Polisena said. “I’m the kind that will jump over my desk and scream and yell when I fight for my residents. He’s got a different attitude … he’s firm and he’s a smart kid, and he grew up with it and he knows the importance of making sure that you represent all of the people, all of the time and the importance of holding the line on taxes. That’s key. I would love to see him, obviously, in my seat. He would obviously continue to carry on the policies that we created over the 16 years.”
Polisena Jr. agreed, saying he and his father shared “very different personalities [and] temperaments.”
“While I want to continue the message that’s put out there of stabilizing taxes, being pro-business, the message will be relayed a little bit different,” Polisena Jr. said.
Polisena will head into the final two years of his tenure looking to hold taxes stable while continuing to court large businesses into town. In addition to Market Basket and Encompass Health Corp., Polisena was quiet on another development “that will be very advantageous” to Johnston.
Polisena emphasized a need for more green energy initiatives, which have allowed the town to bank more than $750,000 in scholarships for Johnston High School students. Polisena said any agreement includes $5,000 a year for scholarships across 20 years, and there are more potential suitors looking to use the real estate in Johnston.
He said his goal is to get the fund over $1 million by the time he leaves office.
“I’m anticipating more green energy programs to come in, and my goal is to reach over $1 million in scholarships over 20 to 25 years,” Polisena said. “This will be going on long after I’m gone, and I just think it’s important. Every year we give 15 $1,000 scholarships to our students at Johnston High School, which I think is just amazing. This is something that I kind of designed years ago when we started getting these renewable energy programs into the town – solar, wind turbines. We’ve got more that are coming.”
Polisena said the town is still waiting on the General Assembly’s budget action, pleading for level funding as he has in several past interviews with the Sun Rise. He said the town recently purchased a new rescue vehicle and has continued with its road repaving program, but spending remains frugal.
“We don’t spend money unless we have to. I’ve said that before. We’re buying two dump trucks, two brand new Mack trucks to plow,” Polisena said. “We try to maintain our infrastructure and, as I’ve said, we’ve done this without spending and saying, ‘Well, I’ve got to raise the taxes because I overspent.’ I’m hoping that the General Assembly level funds us, so we don’t know what they’re going to do with their budget.”
Polisena pointed to the latest election results as an indication of how residents feel about maintaining the status quo. District 43 Rep. Deborah Fellela defeated her Republican opponent, Nick Grasso, and other Johnston incumbents at the State House largely cruised to reelection as well.
Four Town Council members ran unopposed in the general race, with only District 5’s Robert Civetti facing a challenge from James Florio Jr. Civetti won by 20 points. All three School Committee members up for reelection had no opposition.
“I think people are happy,” Polisena said. “If you look around, from the town finances to the way we run government, we’re running on all 12 cylinders. Same thing with COVID, we never really closed down. We never skipped a beat, so to speak. We have stringent protocols in place. Being a nurse, I know the importance of protocols.”
As for his own political future, Polisena said he has been asked to seek statewide office. Most conversations have been about bids for either lieutenant governor or governor, but he stayed away from discussing those interests to focus on town matters.
“You never say never,” Polisena said. “I still have two years to focus on making sure this is the best town, the best-run town in the state as well as the envy of others cities and towns. We’ve got more construction going on – I’m not digressing with you, but our zoning department is busier than any other zoning department around. Once again, getting back to COVID, my employees handled this COVID very well. Some communities shut down, you have to have an appointment, we never did that. We’re keeping people safe.”
He said he hasn’t made a decision on whether he will actively seek higher office. He said that, if he did announce his candidacy at some point, it would be as a Democrat.
He views himself as aligning with the party’s moderate wing. He said in an August 2019 interview with the Sun Rise that the progressive wing is “going to be the demise of the Democratic Party in this state.” When asked during that conversation if he would considering leaving the party, he said, “I hope not.”
“I’m sure the progressives don’t like me, which that’s fine, you can’t be liked by everybody, but I’m a moderate Democrat,” Polisena said this week. “I think that’s what this state’s all about. I think if this state goes too far left, and if they start raising the taxes, you’re going to see people kind of go back to the way it was with the moderate Democrats. I’m a solid Democrat, there’s no doubt about it.”