He has done it again.
In the face of a challenger who launched his campaign two years ago and stuck to a message that it was time for a change and an end to 16 years of tax increases, Scott Avedisian won every district in every ward in Tuesday’s election. He captured nearly 65 percent of the vote.
Yet, despite his popularity, Avedisian failed to carry in a single Republican, even though there were really only two on the entire ballot of council and state legislative candidates – Mike Penta in House District 21 and Richard Cascella in his home Ward 1 – who he actively campaigned with. Independents outnumbered Republicans on the local ballot.
Since winning a special election in 2000, Avedisian told his crowded headquarters at the Airport Plaza, “I never lost a polling place or district in this city.” Avedisian attributed his success at the polls to city workers and how they deliver services, to improvements such as the Apponaug Circulator that is restoring two-way traffic to the village after 42 years, and to being positive.
“Being positive about the future always trumps being negative,” he said to twitters over his choice of words. Avedisian did not support Donald Trump.
But the wave of Trump support and the unpredictability of the national campaign had Avedisian supporters wondering if it would impact the local vote, especially for a candidate who has so consistently won as much as 75 percent of the vote.
His Democratic challenger, Richard Corrente, believed this was the time and he would bring change.
Corrente increased his drumbeat that the city needs new leadership in the final months of the campaign, citing the loss of businesses and Avedisian’s hands-off approach until recently to intervene in the stalled School Committee and Warwick Teachers Union contract talks.
Corrente flooded the city with signs and advertising. In a unique effort to become a familiar face to voters, he stood at various major intersections nearly every morning in the closing days of the campaign, holding a sign and waving to commuters. He had a core of loyal supporters, but not the numbers needed to give him a presence at polling places. He had signs outside the polls, but not the people to greet voters. He said he put out 350 to 400 signs at polling locations on election eve.
Even in defeat, Corrente said, “We ran the exact race we wanted to run. I give myself a 100 on ethics, a clear message, and the reception I got everywhere I went was overwhelmingly positive.”
Corrente said Avedisian owed his re-election to the 237 political action checks given to his campaign and the more than 1,000 who owed more than $1,000 on their water bills and haven’t had their service shut off.
“This is the one percent tip of the iceberg on kickbacks,” he said.
Asked to explain, Corrente pointed to Donna Travis’ endorsement of Avedisian, saying he “owed her” because of her daughter’s job at the library.
“My ethics are not Avedisian ethics,” he said. “The PACs wanted to talk to me, I didn’t talk to them.”
Corrente also pointed to voter machine breakdowns and alleged some machines were not set at zero when voting started.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all that the machines were rigged,” he said.
In response, Dottie McCarthy of the Warwick Board of Canvassers explained there are two counters on the machines – the “protected count” that keeps a tally of all the ballots counted since it went into service, and the “public count” for that election.
“That’s your odometer,” she said of the protected count, “and that’s your road trip,” she said of the public count.
McCarthy said there were ballot jams and a situation where ballots weren’t dropping into the box secured beneath the machine. In these cases, ballots were placed in a locked box beneath the electronic feeder and then counted after a certified technician cleared the problem.
Corrente offered a scenario where Avedisian will resign after serving a year because he will have accumulated 80 years between his elective service and age to retire. He said had he won, he would have saved the taxpayers $1 million because Avedisian would otherwise have to wait another 10 years until he is 65 to collect retirement.
In a bizarre twist in the last week, Progressive Democrats who were successful in their campaign to give Bernie Sanders the vote over Hillary Clinton in the state presidential primary endorsed Avedisian. They argued Corrente, who voted in the 2014 Republican primary and told Warwick Democratic Committee early this summer he favored Trump, is actually a member of the Tea Party. They gave Avedisian the endorsement on the basis of his performance and that his administration has been scandal-free.
Had he won, Corrente said he would have been “a Donald Trump with a nice attitude.”
With none of the three Republican and two independent council candidates winning, all nine city wards will be represented by Democrats. Nonetheless, the council will undergo change as four incumbents chose not to seek re-election.
In Ward 1, Richard Corley garnered 53 percent of the vote to beat Cascella. A write-in campaign by Patrick Maloney failed to make headway with less than 2 percent of the vote. Corley succeeds Steve Colantuono, the lone Republican on the council, who chose not to seek re-election. In Ward 2, Jeremy Rix handily beat Republican John Silvaggio, who waged a quiet campaign but made an appearance Tuesday night at Avedisian headquarters. He also conceded in person to Rix, who was across Airport Road at Camille Vella-Wilkinson headquarters.
In Ward 3, Timothy Howe, who worked closely with Vella-Wilkinson in her role of councilwoman, beat independent Kenneth Nelson with more than 57 percent of the vote. A fourth new face on the City Council will be Steve McAllister, who narrowly won the September Democratic primary in Ward 7 and was unchallenged in the general election.
Incumbent Joseph Solomon in Ward 4 beat independent challenger Ernest Flagg with 61 percent of the vote, and in Ward 6 Donna Travis, who openly endorsed Avedisian over Corrente, beat Republican challenger James Ferola with 61 percent of the vote. Incumbents Ed Ladouceur, Ward 5, Joseph Gallucci, Ward 8, and Steve Merolla, Ward 9, went unchallenged.
Of the Warwick state legislative seats on the ballot, Avedisian campaigned actively with Mike Penta for House District 21. Penta was in a four-way contest for the seat that incumbent Eileen Naughton lost in the Democratic primary to Vella-Wilkinson.
Penta, who was labeled as a “Trojan Horse” to spoil the chances of independent Michael Underwood in a letter to the editor to the Beacon, polled second in the contest with 35 percent of the vote. Vella-Wilkinson won with 44 percent; Underwood picked up 17 percent, and Andrew Knutton garnered almost 3 percent of the vote.
A close friend of Vella-Wilkinson, Penta reasoned his good showing is illustrative of his campaigning and, if anything, Underwood was the “Trojan Horse” that eroded his chances of winning. Penta was warmly received at Vella-Wilkinson headquarters, where he conceded the race even though she had just left to join state Democrats.
Stacia Huyler, the only other Republican to vie for a totally Warwick House or Senate seat, understandably did not have Avedisian’s support. She ran against Avedisian in the 2014 Republican primary. Evan Shanley won the House District 24 seat that had been held by Republican Joseph Trillo, who did not seek re-election.
In House District 22, freshman incumbent Joseph Solomon Jr. beat a challenge from independent Elizabeth Kennedy Smith, garnering nearly 64 percent of the vote. In District 19, which also includes a portion of Cranston, Rep. Joseph McNamara, who is part of the House leadership and chairs the state Democratic Party, won 60 percent of the vote to beat independent David Mastriano. Incumbent David Bennett, who likewise represents a slice of Cranston, returns to office after beating independent Daniel Elliott in District 20 with 57 percent of the vote.
In House races where only a slice of Warwick makes up the district, incumbent Republican Patricia Moran beat Democrat Anthony Paolino and independent Vincent Marzullo to keep District 26. Morgan won almost 55 percent of the vote. In District 27, incumbent Patricia Serpa won about 56 percent of the vote in a race with independent Mark Bourget.
In District 23, K. Joseph Shekarchi, who went unchallenged, picked up about 96 percent of the vote. The offset was write-in votes.
In Warwick state Senate races, incumbent Michael McCaffrey beat a challenge from independent Ronald Loparto with 64 percent of the vote. McCaffrey had a strong presence at the polls, with family members and friends greeting voters. Progressive Democrat Jeanine Calkin, who beat incumbent William Walaska in the primary, was unchallenged in District 30. She won about 95 percent of the vote. Running for re-election in District 31, Erin Lynch-Prata likewise garnered 95 percent of the vote as she went unchallenged.
Corrente suggested Election Day would be enhanced if the council limited the number of signs posted at the polls to one per candidate. He also suggested that only the candidate be permitted outside the poll, not their supporters so that “voters don’t have to push through the gauntlet.”
He said he was “proud” of his run. “I won the hearts and minds of over 12,000 people…it was the happiest time of my life.”