Blackmail Allegations Beset Johnston Mayoral Race
Ask too many questions and raise too many objections about the size and scope of public employee benefits, and you can expect to come in for rough treatment. That is what Peter Filippi has been telling concerned citizens in Johnston, where he is running for mayor as a Republican against incumbent Joseph M. Polisena, a Democrat.
After penning a series of editorials detailing the lavish benefits and perks attached to the police and firefighters, Filippi claims he became the target of a blackmail effort. Letters and photos were sent to his home, some addressed to his wife and two sons, that included copies of his arrest record and several photos that show Filippi with bruises and marks on his face from an altercation with bouncers. Filippi blames Mayor Polisena, and the police and firefighter unions, for the mailings. Mayor Polisena denies the allegations and described Filippi as “unstable” in an interview.
“Everyone knows what kind of person Mr. Filippi is, and it’s sometimes not worth dignifying innuendos for the sake of his failed campaign,” Mayor Polisena said. “I would never tell someone not to run; I believe in the process, and I believe in competition. But with Mr. Filippi’s bizarre, erratic behavior, he is an incumbent’s dream.”
Alleged Blackmail Campaign
Nevertheless, Filippi believes union leaders and government officials have made a concerted effort to force him out of the race. The pressure tactics applied against his campaign can be traced back to July 2, he said. That was the day when Arnold Viccione, the head of the Public Works Department, left a business card at his home and asked for a meeting.
“A few days later, he [Viccione] came to my house at about 1:30 p.m. and I sat in his car, and he showed me the pictures that were in a large manila envelope,” Filippi wrote in an email. “There were two sets of pictures with police reports; one was from an incident 11 years ago in which I was the victim of three brutal bouncers in which I was thrown down a flight of cement steps at a local strip bar and falsely arrested by the Johnston Police Department. The others were when I was arrested in South Attleboro for sleeping in my car in the lot of a lounge because I didn’t want to drive in which I had drank a little too much in which I was a victim of police brutality.”
Filippi also said that Viccione informed him that Mayor Polisena wanted him out of the race. State police detectives recorded messages on Filippi’s cell phone in which he was urged repeatedly to drop out of the race, according to Filippi’s email message.
“I’m a registered nurse,” Mayor Polisena said. “And I do question his stability. But I repeat, I would never tell someone they couldn’t run. I’m absolutely not part of any blackmail campaign, or any mailings that are going his home.”
Filippi’s “personal baggage” has distracted public attention away from legitimate concerns about pensions and public employee benefits, the mayor added.
“I agree with some of what Peter Filippi says about pensions and benefits,” Mayor Polisena said. “But this is a state that is very pro-union. His idea is just to take everything away, and you can’t do that; this is a union state. He’s got no solutions. He just wants to throw out rhetoric.”
Filippi’s Reform Proposals
Filippi’s editorials, which can be found on the JohnstonPatch.com, include an extensive list of proposed reforms called “The People’s Platform.” He favors a “voter initiative process,” a searchable database that lists the budget for each department, a citizen oversight committee, and various pro-business initiatives.
“I have presented many alternatives that would reduce taxes substantially via privatization and only providing benefits and wages that reflect the private sector, including school vouchers,” Filippi wrote in one of his more recent opinion pieces. “For decades unions have worked hard keeping the Democratic Machine in power to enable early retirements, extravagant pensions, and endless provisions that are now descending upon us in unsustainable taxation. Our mayor served 12 years in the Legislature and 3 terms in Town Hall but recently said our town is ‘cash strapped’ in which the pension fund will go busted in 5 ½ years; taxes are on the verge of going beyond our worst fears that need not be. Just six years ago he said he was going to conduct a ‘forensic audit,’ and it was time to ‘think outside the box.’ What happened? Our state is ranked 45th for highest state and local taxes and 50th for being the worst state for businesses to come to in which our children must now move away in search of hope and opportunity… Of the 113 legislators 94 are Democrats, and the above pending gloom can only be blamed on them.”
This past summer, Filippi’s commentaries focused attention on the bonuses, vacation time, and pension benefits public employee unions have secured for police officers and firefighters on top of their regular salary.
“Local 1950 demands there must be 21 firefighters on shift at all times, referred to as ‘minimum staffing,’” Filippi explained in an editorial. “As a result of this clause, the combined overtime over the last three years was approximately $5.5 million. Also, if an employee works 15 minutes over shift they get an hour at overtime and if called back in an emergency and work only 15 minutes, they receive four hours at overtime. Next, longevity bonuses averaged $5,134, with some as high as $8,523, $8,111, and $6,813, for a total of $349,171. However, at present there are 16 employees that are ineligible, but when they become illegible it’s going to add approximately another $55,872 to the budget. Next, you have 15 holidays, double holiday pay, 8 weeks vacations; $19,500 healthcare packages for only $2,340 a year, and Hazmat and EMT certification in which employees receive an additional $1,100 a year.”
In separate column, Filippi turned his attention the police.
There 70 officers in the department and 71 retirees excluding civilian personnel, he noted.
“The average yearly pensions are $39,000 and the same for healthcare for a total $56,000 a year,” he wrote. “In addition to the above, town workers receive 15 holidays, three personal days and 20 sick days that can be accumulated up to 200, in which when they retire receive approximately 145 plus up to 180 accumulated vacation days. Vacations are as high as eight weeks. Healthcare plans cost approximately $19,400 including dental, and the maximum contributions are $45 a week. When you do the math, the unions are killing us, however, when you consider the alternatives that could save millions of dollars annually and the fact that the voters keep electing the same people who know all this very well means that taxpayers are killing themselves.”
Karin Gorman, an independent running for the state assembly seat in District 43, credits Filippi for raising awareness about public employee benefits, which she described as “unsustainable over the long term.”
“I think everyone knows something has to give,” she said. “Given where the state is financially, we have to address our pension situation at the local level, and we have to ask ourselves if all of these additional benefits public employees now receive are something we can afford.”
Instead of falling back on personal attacks, Filippi’s opponents should offer up their own reform agenda, Gorman suggested.
“I don’t think blackmail is too strong of word to describe what has transpired,” she said. “Peter Filippi has no chance of beating the mayor, but he is raising legitimate questions about state finances that will need to be addressed in short order after the elections.”