Smithfield Democrats retake Town Council; bonds win passage

Smithfield Democrats retake Town Council; bonds win passage

Michael Minisce, left, receives his driver’s license back from Connie and Al Colannino as he votes at the gymnasium of Old County Road School on Tuesday. (Breeze photo by Robert Emerson)
Gizzarelli not conceding; LaGreca out

SMITHFIELD – Democrats took back control of the Town Council Tuesday in Smithfield. In the 11-member race, Democratic incumbents T. Michael Lawton and Suzy Alba won the top two spots, earning 4,307 and 4,300 votes, each getting 11 percent of the vote.

Newcomers Dina T. Cerra and Sean Kilduff, also both Democrats, took the next two spots, earning 3,651 and 3,625 votes.

Kilduff will become the youngest member of the council at 23.

With the council majority now switching back from Republican to Democrat, Alba said she is happy to see new faces with different perspectives in town leadership.

Voters were put to the test Tuesday and approved both a $45 million elementary school reconfiguration and $4.5 million fire station bonds.

With the state and local school bonds passing, Alba said while it is good people are willing to invest in schools and education, the goal for the next two years will be economic growth.

“We need to shepherd those bonds the best way we can for the taxpayers in a careful and systematic way,” she said.

She said there are pockets of Smithfield that leaders need to be aggressive about developing and making attractive to business, but should do so strategically to avoid interfering with the rural character of the town.

Republican incumbent Maxine Cavanagh appeared to grab the final spot on the council with 3,563 votes. Independent candidate Albert Gizzarelli, who was only eight votes behind Cavanagh, said the race was too close to call and is waiting for the “official” numbers to come in.

Missing his chance for an 11th term, Councilor Alberto LaGreca was the only incumbent who did not get re-elected. LaGreca landed in seventh place with 3,495 votes.

The last four candidates in Tuesday’s election, Ana Sara Pritchard, Republican, John Emin, Republican, Lauraine Ouellette, Democrat, and John Yoakum, Republican, earned between 7 and 9 percent percent of the total vote.

For School Committee, Rose Marie Cipriano, Republican, and Virginia Harnois, Democrat, will resume their roles on the School Committee for another four years.

The top vote-getter, Cipriano collected 24.2 percent of the vote, or 5,368 votes, in the five-candidate race for the three available seats on the committee. Harnois earned another 20 percent, receiving 4,439 votes.

Both Harnois and Cipriano led their campaigns in support of the school reconfiguration bond, hoping to serve another term to work on the committee through the process.

The pair will be joined by former School Committee member Richard Iannitelli, Republican, who will return after a four-year hiatus. Iannitelli earned 21.5 percent of the vote, with 4,756 votes.

James McNelis, Democrat, and Philip Hirons, Republican were not elected.

The elementary school reconfiguration bond passed Tuesday with the stipulation that the money cannot be borrowed without at least 40 percent reimbursement from the Rhode Island Department of Education.

With the simultaneous passing of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s $250,000 School Improvement Bond, Supt. Judy Paolucci is hoping the town can receive up to a 55 percent reimbursement.

Paolucci said she was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the election, and already called the Rhode Island Department of Education to begin the next steps of the process.

“And now our job begins,” she said.

William Winsor Elementary School is operating with a fire code variance until the end of the 2020 school year, so Paolucci said the reconfiguration process is working against a deadline. She said though there are many steps along the way, it’s important to keep the public involved, and keep the tax impact to a minimum.

Included in the school bond, safer entrances will be added to all the schools in the district. In addition to Winsor closing, a gymnasium will be added at LaPerche, an elevator at Old County Road School, and expanding McCabe to accommodate for students from Winsor.

The passage of the $4.5 million fire station bond will put a new station in the northern end of town by the Routes 116 and 7 corridors. Chief Robert Seltzer said the investment in the town will provide much-needed service, and offers added benefits for the entire town. Response times in areas near Bryant University, Limerock Road and the North Central Airport will drop significantly, says the chief, which in some situations can be a matter of life or death.