Four candidates in the running for open council seat

Four candidates in the running for open council seat

WOONSOCKET – Four candidates have declared their candidacy for the open City Council seat in Woonsocket, setting the stage for a July 2 primary ahead of an August special election.

Alex Kithes, Roger Jalette Sr., Anita McGuire-Forcier and Michael Disney all filed their intent to run last week with the Board of Canvassers, which was set to issue nomination papers Wednesday, May 29. Candidates must return their nomination forms with the required signatures by June 4 for the ballot to be finalized for the July primary, which will narrow down the field to two.

With more than a month to go until the primary, one candidate, Kithes, has gotten a head start on fundraising, raising $10,000 in the first three weeks of his campaign. Kithes and Jalette both announced campaigns back in April hours after former City Councilor Julia Brown announced she was stepping down from her seat to take an out-of-state job. The field has since expanded, with McGuire-Forcier, a former member of the School Committee, and Disney, a perennial candidate who has unsuccessfully run for nearly every seat in city government, throwing their hats in the ring. Disney could not be reached for comment for this story.

While Jalette is a seasoned city politician, previously serving as council president and narrowly missing election to the seventh council seat by 15 votes last November, Kithes is a newcomer to city office, a quality he highlighted as a strength during an interview with The Valley Breeze this week. The chairman of a group called Rhode Islanders for Reform, he has advocated for legislative rules reform on the state level and said he sees many of the same problems in the city’s factionalized politics, stating he does not plan to align himself with either of the city’s two main political factions.

“I see a lot of problems with corruption and establishment good old boy politics, and I see the same thing in the city,” he said.

With $10,000 in fundraising and a paid campaign manager, Kithes’ campaign shows an unusual level of organization for a council candidate in a special election. Most of the funds, he said, came from friends and family, with the exception of contribution from the Woonsocket Teachers Guild, which declared its support for him in early May. As a student at Woonsocket High School several years ago, Kithes was active in organizing against education funding cuts, and has also declared his opposition to publicly funded corporate charter schools, including RISE Prep Mayoral Academy.

“I’m in this to win it. I’m trying to prove that, and I’m trying to run a campaign with that as the underlying understanding. I think this city needs new leadership,” he said.

While the first-time candidate is confident in his campaign, Jalette, Kithes’ senior by 50 years, is less certain of his opponent’s prospects for success. Jalette pointed out the younger candidate skews liberal in his state politics and questioned whether that message would register with the voter base in Woonsocket, a community he thinks leans conservative.

“Unfortunately, money doesn’t always win elections,” he said. “I think when people get to see what he represents that they may not be apt to vote for him because he’s leaning very liberal. And I think that’s going to make a difference to a lot of people in the city of Woonsocket, basically, because I believe the majority of Woonsocket is somewhat conservative and don’t want to see taxes going up.”

Last fall, Jalette ran alongside a group of candidates who now hold a majority on the City Council and advocated lowering the commercial tax rate and controlling spending. He said he believes his experience can help continue the work of the current council.

Finalizing her participation in the race last week was McGuire-Forcier, a former School Committee member who made an unsuccessful bid for the council in 2013. She told The Breeze this week she made the final decision to run to help address the city’s financial struggles, particularly those facing the pension system and Education Department.

“There’s some hard times we’re going to be facing, and they’re going to come fast, and you’re going to need level-headed people to be able to deal and work through these issues. And I’ve been one of them,” she said.

While the WTG and Education Department finalized a three-year contract last week, ending a yearlong debate over proposed pay raises, McGuire-Forcier said she believes the contract’s dependence on reserve funds is going to prove a problem in the future, when the City Council could be asked to continue increasing its funding to the Education Department. She said she believes all city boards need to be more active in lobbying the state for a change in the education funding formula.

“Come next year, the city is going to have to come up with money to fund these contract negotiations, and that’s probably going to mean raising taxes,” she said. “I believe we all need to come together now and go to that Statehouse and say you need to fix the education funding throughout Rhode Island. Each child deserves to be treated fairly.”

She added she does not intend to support any one faction of city government or accept campaign contributions, choosing to run instead on family money.