If history is any indicator, Baldelli-Hunt is next mayor
If history is any indicator, Baldelli-Hunt is next mayor
WOONSOCKET - The results were decisive: challenger and current state Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt tripled the votes received by incumbent Mayor Leo T. Fontaine and got nearly six times the votes of the next closest runner-up, David Fisher, in Tuesday's mayoral primary.
By all accounts, voters' balloting confirms the age-old wisdom that cautions politicians against raising taxes. In this case, residents going to polls Tuesday were still feeling the blow of a 23 percent tax hike hit to their checkbooks.
Moreover, the balloting, based on Woonsocket's history of primary voting results, virtually confirms that Baldelli-Hunt is Woonsocket's next mayor, and that City Council President John Ward, like Fontaine a member of the state's Budget Commission, could well be finished.
The next mayor will serve a three-year term due to a Charter change approved by voters last year that will move future city elections to match "on-year" elections that will mirror elected state offices. City voters also eliminated the elected School Committee last year, and the new mayor, with Council approval, will name new members of that panel upon taking office.
The City Council is likely to be made up a mix of Baldelli-Hunt and Fontaine allies.
While an overflow of gleeful supporters and political allies celebrated Baldelli-Hunt's preliminary victory Tuesday, Fontaine and a somber crowd of friends blamed his poor showing on an unpopular Budget Commission and tough economic circumstances.
"He took us through the worst times Woonsocket has faced and he's getting blamed for it. Same with Council President Ward," said Anita McGuire-Forcier, a member of the current School Committee and one of seven challengers seeking a seat on the City Council.
McGuire-Forcier came in seventh of the 15 candidates on the ballot for the seven-member council with 1,493 votes, but said the promising results were bittersweet. Ward, meanwhile, one of the top vote-getters in the 2011 election - prior to his service on the Budget Commission - claimed only ninth place with 1,462 votes.
The primary eliminated the third- and fourth-place mayoral contenders: newcomer David Fisher, who received 466 votes according to the Board of Canvassers unofficial tally, and perennial candidate Michael Moniz, who won just 34. Baldelli-Hunt, who won more than 66 percent of the vote at 2,638 votes and Fontaine, who received 21 percent at 881 votes, must still face off in a non-partisan General Election on Nov. 5. The City Council primary, while ultimately inconsequential thanks to a last minute drop from the race by candidate Jeffrey Belknap, still served as a gauge of support for those seeking the seats.
"I think the mayor was in a tough position due to his role on the Budget Commission," said Christopher Roberts, another School Committee member now running for Council on Fontaine's team, who ranked sixth with voters. "I think the votes are a reflection of him being in both roles."
Meanwhile, shouts of excitement echoed down Main Street from the office building where Baldelli-Hunt received news that she'd dominated the primary. Even the turnout of post-election revelers was overwhelming in the state representative's campaign. Crowds in the open room at 1 Social St. Tuesday night were asked to move to a larger room just moments before results began streaming in. By the time the woman largely hailed as "Woonsocket's next mayor" by the rowdy group arrived, bystanders had to be parted to get her through the door, and fans held her atop a chair so she could address the crowd.
"The people of the city of Woonsocket have spoken loud and clear," said Baldelli-Hunt. "It's time for a new direction for Woonsocket. This is the first step in a thousand mile journey."
Standings were also positive for the members of Baldelli-Hunt's allies running for City Council.
Incumbent Councilor Albert Brien, now seeking his second term, came in first among the contenders with 1,940 votes. Three-term incumbent Christopher Beauchamp reacted to his 2nd-place standing at 1,886 votes in his typical down-to-earth fashion.
"I try not to get involved in the political squabbles that go on and I think that helped me," said Beauchamp. "I think people see that I'm an honest guy - that I have integrity and I'll continue to work hard for the people of the city of Woonsocket."
Longtime incumbent Roger Jalette finished fifth with 1,558 votes and Garrett Mancieri, a real estate agent making his second attempt at political office came in eighth with 1,471.
Robert Moreau, an incumbent seeking his second term, did not join either mayoral contender to view the results, and came in third with 1,854 votes.
Is Past Prologue?
If past primaries are any indication, the results predict that Woonsocket will likely have a new mayor come November. While the city typically sees a much higher turnout for the General Election, past standings have largely mirrored the primary showing, if on a smaller scale. Fontaine did not face a mayoral opponent in 2011, but when he ran for his first term against Todd Brien in 2009, he won close to 57 percent of the vote in both the primary and the general election. Looking back further, former Mayor Susan Menard was politically untouchable throughout much of her 14-year reign, but her 1995 primary win for the open seat against Vincent P. Ward foretold of her eventual general election victory.
Council primaries have historically shown a little more movement in the final placing, with one or two contenders landing outside the top seven in primaries before ultimately gaining seats, but the change is far from guaranteed. When 14 candidates battled for the seven seats in 2011, the top seven primary winners ultimately landed on the City Council.
Despite the obvious disappointment, Fontaine's camp vowed not to give up.
"It's going to be a lot of work and we're going to start out right away," the mayor told The Breeze, adding that Baldelli-Hunt had secured the win as a result of focused political moves over the past year.
"If people think that this hasn't been planned, this has been a clear strategy. The supplemental tax bill was delayed. It was stalled until this year and it plays in very well to make it happen right before an election," said Fontaine. "I just think that it's unfortunate that the community gets dragged into a political strategy."
Ward also pointed to his work with the Budget Commission as a explanation for his disappointing showing.
"I need to convey the message that the thing that I've done to come in 9th in the primary is the hard work to lay the foundation for Woonsocket's future and a lot of it is invisible to the public," Ward said, adding that he's shown a variety of standings throughout his political career on both the Council and School Committee. At times when he's lower in the ranks, "It's always been when I am in a situation of controversy or dealing with something that was challenging."
Daniel Gendron, another incumbent and member of Fontaine's team, placed fourth in the primary results with 1,561 votes. Gendron has said that if re-elected, he will seek the Council presidency and with it a mandatory seat on the Budget Commission. Asked if the prospect scared him politically after seeing Tuesday night's results, Gendron said no.
"I'm really not a political person and this is not a stepping stone to a bigger career for me," said Gendron. "I'm doing it because I think it's what the city needs. If I went on the Budget Commission and I did what's best for the city and it ultimately means my political demise, so be it."
Fisher, eliminated along with Moniz as a result of the primary, said he was pleased with his showing, adding that the city has not heard the last of him.
"This campaign was never about the mayor's office," said Fisher. "It was about changing the direction and conversation in Woonsocket. In that light, our campaign has been nothing less than a total success. We have gotten people to think about things in a different light, and have gotten our leaders to question their archaic thinking on how we need to move forward."