PAWTUCKET — Following Wednesday's declaration deadline for political hopefuls, the Democratic City Committee held a meeting at the LeFoyer restaurant to endorse local candidates in the 2012 election.
The Democratic City Committee threw its full support this year behind incumbent Mayor Donald Grebien, who is being challenged in his re-election bid by independent candidate Michael W. Cooper.
In 2010, Grebien, as a mayoral candidate, had been snubbed by the committee when it endorsed his opponent, fellow Democrat Henry Kinch Jr. Yet, Grebien went on to beat Kinch.
The committee also endorsed all of the incumbent members of the City Council except for one, District 3 Councilor Christopher O'Neill. Although O'Neill is a Democrat, the committee chose to back O'Neill's opponent, fellow Democrat Terrence Mercer. O'Neill beat Mercer in the 2010 election, where Mercer had also enjoyed the committee's support, yet a glitch over a filing deadline from a committee chairperson had kept his endorsement from being noted on that year's ballot.
All three incumbent councilors at-large, Thomas Hodge, Lorenzo Tetreault and Albert Vitali Jr. were backed by the committee, as well as incumbent District 1 Councilor David Moran, District 2 Councilor Mark Wildenhain, District 4 Councilor John J. Barry III, District 5 Councilor Jean Philippe Barros and District 6 Councilor James Chadwick.
Of the incumbent City Councilors, Moran, Barros and Chadwick are also facing challenges from opponents. Running against Moran in District 1 is fellow Democratic candidate Michael Cassidy, while Barros has an opponent in independent candidate Christopher Caramela. Chadwick is enmeshed in a four-way race that includes a fellow Democratic candidate, Timothy P. Rudd Jr., and two Republicans, Scott M. Rotondo and Costantinos Stratis.
On the seven-member School Committee, only two incumbents of the seven who are seeking re-election were given the backing of the committee and only five candidates were endorsed in total.
Incumbents David Coughlin and Raymond Noonan were endorsed, along with newcomer Sandra Cano, former school board member Joseph Knight, who lost his re-election bid in 2010; and John Tellini, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in 2010. Both Knight and Tellini had been endorsed candidates in 2010.
What does an endorsement mean? Among other thing, those with the backing of the Democratic City Committee earn an asterisk after their name and an enviable top billing, alphabetically, on the ballot, listed ahead of the unendorsed candidates. For a city-wide seat like the School Committee or councilor at-large, where the top vote-getters are elected, being listed first above the unendorsed candidates can sometimes make a difference in who wins.
Basically, each of the six district voting wards have seven elected members, resulting in 42 voting members total. For district councilors, each ward endorses a candidate, while for the city-wide seats such as mayor, councilor at-large and school committee, the entire city committee votes and a candidate must garner a minimum of 22 votes to receive an endorsement.
The vote by the Democratic City Committee to support his opponent prompted Councilor Christopher O'Neill to issue a press release the next day calling the action “predictable.” “It comes as no surprise that my opponent, who embodies the old guard and old way of doing business in Pawtucket, would win the endorsement of the Democratic City Committee,” O'Neill stated. He added that Wednesday night's endorsement meeting “was a real opportunity for the committee to embrace the change and fiscal reform that I fought hard for during my first term in office.”
O'Neill continued, “While I have an enormous amount of respect for several individuals on the committee, I interpret their endorsement as a sign that the Democratic leadership is unfortunately clinging to the status quo and do not subscribe to the newer reform efforts, such as the cost-saving measures I've supported or introduced, that are vitally necessary for the city of Pawtucket to make a comeback.”
O'Neill added, “The taxpayers in District 3 need to understand what's at stake in this election: to continue working for reforms that I and others like Mayor Grebien are championing or vote for a return to the old ways of doing business, which put Pawtucket in the fiscal situation it's in today.”
When asked about O'Neill's comments, Mercer responded, “I have no idea what he is speaking about when he accuses me of being associated with the 'old guard.' No one in my family has ever held public office. I ran for the first time two years ago at the age of 44 and have been involved with no previous campaign or administration.”
Mercer added, “The only 'old guard' I know about is Mayor Metivier, whose administration's failure to put enough money into the pension fund put the city in this fiscal mess. And he is now the financial adviser for the current administration.”
Mercer said that for him, the committee's endorsement “clearly means that the people in the third ward regret the representation of the last two years that they have gotten from Chris O'Neill.”
For his part, Mayor Donald Grebien said that while he was obviously pleased to have the Democratic City Committee's endorsement, it means even more to him to have the support of individual members of the committee, some of whom have been involved for decades and who have known him before he embarked on his own political career.
Of having a challenger to contend with in his bid for re-election, Grebien said “it's a good opportunity to get out there and talk to people about the things we have done.” he added, “I would have been out there anyway, asking for support for other candidates.”
The mayor added, “It's exciting to have another young person, like myself, running for the position,” and said that having to actively campaign helps to keep him in the public eye and allows him to discuss the issues in the city that people are most concerned with.
Grebien also made it clear that, despite the committee's actions, he is supporting the re-election efforts of all incumbent members of the City Council, including O'Neill. He said that while he and O'Neill don't always agree on some of the issues, they share the desire to better the city and to keep it on the right fiscal course.
Grebien also said he intends to be out stumping for seven candidates who he would like to see elected to the School Committee: incumbents Raymond Spooner, Alan Tenreiro, Joanne Bonollo, Michael Araujo, and Nicole Nordquist, and newcomers Sandra Cano, a member of the city's Juvenile Hearing Board, and Gerard “Jay” Charbonneau, recently appointed to the Pawtucket Business Development Corporation. Of this group, Cano, a political newcomer, was the only candidate to receive an endorsement.