Insider vs. Outsider in Warwick’s GOP Mayoral Primary
While both Rhode Island gubernatorial primaries have been awash in revelations of party-switching and -line crossing, Warwick’s Republican Mayoral primary, pitting long-time Republican Mayor Scott Avedisian against political new-comer Stacia Petri, could also see widespread party-line crossing at the polls.
Petri is clearly the outsider and is supported by groups opposed to the way that Avedisian and the Democratic-run City Council have managed the city, citing increasing taxes, problems with the Warwick Sewer Authority (including increasing sewer assessments), employee bonuses, the burgeoning pension liability and decaying infrastructure as the key areas at issue. Petri’s is clearly a grass-roots effort with her campaign centering on a Facebook page where she publishes regular updates and information supporting her campaign positions.
One of Petri’s more vocal supporters has been former Democratic School Committee and City Council member (and long time Avedisian opponent) Robert Cushman. Interviewed about the race by GoLocalProv in July, Cushman laid out the dynamics of the race:
“With high profile races in the democrat party for Governor, Lt. Gov, and Treasurer, most independent voters who tend to vote Democrat will most likely vote in the democrat primaries. That will leave the field on Republican voters in the Warwick GOP mayoral race extremely small,” said Cushman.
Additionally, for tactical reasons, some Democrat-leaning independents could see voting for Petri as an opportunity to oust a strong incumbent and clear the path for a Democrat to hold the Warwick Mayor’s office for the first time in several years.
For his part, Avedisian has seemed at times surprised by Petri’s challenge, calling the primary “weird” while also explaining he’s been received well out on the campaign trail. He has also set up his own Facebook page touting his accomplishments as Mayor.
What has already been evident is that Avedisian–no stranger to crossing party lines himself as evidenced by his support for his friend and mentor Lincoln Chafee in the last governor’s race–enjoys the support of several Democrats in the City.
For example, in an unprecedented move, three members of the School Committee, led by Chair Bethany Furtado (who is also a member of the city’s Democratic Committee) endorsed Avedisian. Furtado was joined by the Committee’s vice-Chair Terry Medeiros and the Clerk Karen Bachus. Bachus also serves on the Warwick Democratic Committee and is a member and supporter of municipal unions. According Furtado, the three arrived at their decision to endorse Avedisian “independently but together.”
Fellow School Committee members Eugene Nadeau, a Republican, and Jennifer Ahearn were apparently not aware of the move to endorse the Mayor until a press release was issued. Nadeau was uncomfortable with the situation since the School Committee is supposed to be non-partisan. “To make political hay out of the School Committee is the wrong message to the people…It’s discouraging. It belittles what our job is.” Further, though he is a Republican and campaigned for Avedisian in the past, Nadeau disagrees with Avedisian’s approach to the city’s schools and hinted he may support Petri.
“To endorse him [Avedisian] in the primary, how do they know where Stacia stands on schools,” Nadeau said of his colleagues. “She says, in her campaign, that the tax increases need to stop and the money needs to go toward schools and road repairs.”
Avedisian has also long enjoyed the steady, if quiet, support of the city’s municipal unions, whose members regularly turn out to support him during City Council meetings and who have been seen putting up Avedisian campaign signs throughout Warwick. The question is whether they and their traditionally Democratic and Democratic-leaning cohort will eschew the contentious Democratic gubernatorial primary to throw their support behind Avedisian once again. If not, Petri has a shot.
Ideologically, Petri describes herself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal while Avedisian maintains he is a moderate Republican. To a conservative, those definititions sound alike. So if it isn’t party affiliation or ideology, what is the real difference between the two? It is that the Warwick GOP Mayoral primary is less about traditional party and ideology line-drawing and more about pitting those on the inside of government against those on the outside. Avedisian has long been viewed as a steady and capable manager though not necessarily a dynamic leader with vision. Petri is an unknown who has identified and campaigned on the deep-rooted problems that lay beneath the Avedisian administrations seemingly competent veneer.
So the question to be answered on Tuesday is this: are there more GOP primary voters in Warwick who benefit from the current administration and are satisfied with the status quo than there are those who don’t and aren’t?