Contrasting styles in Cumberland’s District 1 race

Contrasting styles in Cumberland’s District 1 race

CUMBERLAND – Incumbent freshman Councilor Jim Metivier is seeking to fend off an election challenge from Democrat Stephanie Gemski and independent Adam Samir Khoury, though both Metivier and Gemski say they haven't heard much from Khoury in this race.

A first-time candidate, Gemski, a 30-year-old marketing consultant, says she's running as a “new voice” on the council,

“My whole thing is I've lived here in the Valley in District 1 my whole life, and I haven't seen District 1 get the attention it deserves,” said Gemski, of 24 Silva St.

Near the top of her priority list is the revitalization of Broad Street, says Gemski. At the very least, she said, she wonders why the Cumberland section of the roadway doesn't have the flower baskets and flags Central Falls has on its telephone poles, a simple addition that's made a big difference on the attractiveness of the roadway in the neighboring city.

Metivier, 53, of 231 High St., is running on a council record he says has shown a strong attention to the district's needs. He says as he's walking local streets in the southern end of town, he's getting positive responses from residents on the job he's done.

The council member said it's great that Gemski favors the revitalization of Broad Street, as it's a project he's been working on for three years, with plans from the state due back at the end of this month based on the wish lists presented by officials in Cumberland, Central Falls and Pawtucket. While he fully agrees with Gemski on the idea of flower baskets – “I'm pro flower baskets” – he said the $11.5 million reconstruction of the roadway is his first priority “because the drainage needs to be fixed before anything.” The road project is “just the beginning, a first step” in the overall rebirth of the roadway for owners of homes and businesses, he said.

Khoury, of 29 Garden St., hasn't returned calls this election season.

In being a stronger voice for her lifelong home of Valley Falls, Gemski says the natural job of a council member is to speak up. She described Metivier as “very quiet,” saying he “doesn't speak up as often as he should for our district” when issues arise.

Metivier, an IT manager for Amica Insurance for the past 30 years, responded that he speaks out when necessary, saying he's taken up a number of issues impacting the district, including circulating a petition to maintain town ownership of the Kent Street highway garage. An official vote on that ownership was scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 17. He's also advocated for development of a new dog park near the old animal control facility, among other issues, he said.

“I don't sit on a soapbox like some people do, and give half-hour diatribes, but I say what I need to say and move on,” he said.

Metivier is single with no children. He fosters disadvantaged youth through Foster Forward.

Gemski is also single with no children. She said she has a “fur child” dog.

Metivier said he's been attending council meetings since well before he was on the elected board. He said he's an independent because he believes in having his own voice in leadership and not feeling like he has to vote a certain way.

“I didn't start going to town meetings to run for Town Council, I ran for Town Council because I went to the meetings and saw what was going on, that everyone was in lockstep, and I wanted to have a voice for people in District 1,” he said.

Gemski said she's always had a love for her town. The Democratic party has the core values she believes in, she said, but the letter after someone's name isn't the most important factor, she said. She said she would make good, level-headed decisions based on what she thinks is right.

A 2006 Cumberland High School graduate, Gemski said she's always had a “weird” love of politics, and has long thought about getting involved. It was the development of three Blackstone Valley Prep charter schools in her immediate neighborhood that “got my engines revved” to finally jump in, she said. A sign at B.F. Norton Elementary School has a plaque dedicated to her late father, Kenneth Gemski, who was very involved in improving that school, she said.

As a member of the Town Council, Gemski said she'll be an advocate for making sure schools have the funding they need and that's been lost to the charters. This is another issue that Metivier has been silent on, she said, and he should have been a voice against developing three schools in such a small and densely populated area. One of the schools took away one of the area's last park spaces across from Town Hall, she said, and the sense of neighborhood that was once here has in some ways been lost as the park hasn't been replaced.

“I'm sad that District 1 has again been left behind,” she said.

Metivier said the first of the charter schools was voted on before he was councilman, and previous Councilor Manny DaCosta voted no on it, and other school development was done privately.

“I have never placed a vote for or against a charter school,” he said.

He added that he's been committed to improving local public schools, voting for full funding in this budget while also voting with a 4-3 council majority on a lower tax levy. He said he's all about fair funding for schools as well.

Metivier says he supports developing an open park space at the Kent Street garage property, perhaps putting a combined senior center and youth center there as well. He said he's not generally in favor of a skate park being added there.

Gemski said she wouldn't be opposed to replacing the park lost on Broad Street by developing a new one on Kent Street, but said she thinks it would be better used for recreational uses such as a dog park, splash park, basketball courts and playground rather than a new senior center or skate park.

Asked for his biggest achievements on the council, Metivier says it's the “stuff that goes on behind the scenes more than anything,” answering weekly constituent problems or questions when residents have nowhere else to turn on issues such as fallen trees, blackened streetlights or crumbling sidewalks.

He said he's also proud of his votes to keep taxes low, to purchase open spaces, to create management plans at Franklin Farm and Diamond Hill Park, and to maintain ownership of the Kent Street garage.

Metivier defeated Democrat Dave Wagner two years ago.

On her philosophy about spending, Gemski said it should never be about raising taxes but looking into each issue for savings. She said she's also a big advocate for transparency on all decisions.