Flanagan promises local focus in campaign for District 4 council seat

Flanagan promises local focus in campaign for District 4 council seat

Joseph Flanagan, left, and his opponent, Alexis Schuette.

PAWTUCKET – Joseph Flanagan says his opponent, Alexis Schuette, is far too focused on national issues that she can’t control in her bid to represent a local Town Council district, saying his laser focus on life in District 4 is why voters should elect him to the seat on Nov. 3.

Flanagan, 68, said what he’s been reminded of as he walks the district is that people want answers about neighborhood issues, highlighting issues with a stop sign or dangerous intersection before anything else.

“It’s about where they live. It’s not even the next street, it’s their street,” he said.

As a lifelong resident, Flanagan says he’s tracking the same issues as those in the neighborhoods, such as complaints about too many fireworks at the Festival Pier over the summer.

“I’ve been here forever. For people in the area, these are their problems. They’re my problems too,” he said.

Flanagan, running as an independent against the Democrat Schuette, said she “lacks the focus” she needs on local issues to be an effective district councilor. He’s as in favor of renewable energy as anyone, he said, but “we’ve got plenty to do in the district,” he said, citing the planning and impacts surrounding the coming new riverfront stadium development.

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Schuette responded that she thinks Flanagan’s “points are valid in terms of what he believes a councilperson in charge of a smaller district should focus on,” but she said she tries to “think vertically” in seeing that something as large as climate change has trickle-down impacts on habits and decision-making.

With such initiatives as the new stadium project on the river, it’s important to think about natural resources, she said, and while it might seem “a little higher level,” environmental issues can be seen in such matters as garbage pickups being delayed or trash getting thrown around on the ground. From a policy perspective, she said she probably won’t be able to create new jobs through the Green New Deal, but she can help make Pawtucket greener through more sustainable choices, helping individuals and businesses in their own goals along the way. She said she wants to be that resource when someone does reach out on many issues, including the riverfront project.

Schuette said she agrees that the “nuts and bolts” of a councilor’s work are still paramount, including protecting public safety through repairs of sidewalks or roads and enhancing day-to-day business operations.

Schuette, who will turn 34 on Oct. 23, defeated Democrat John Barry III in the September primary, falling short on election day but coming back on the mail ballots to win with 52 percent of the vote.

During her primary run, Schuette, of 7 Howard Ave., emphasized a desire to see Pawtucket be stronger on environmental justice and affordable housing, among other issues.

Flanagan, of 96 Denver St., says he has plenty of time to devote to the position as a retiree. Schuette, meanwhile, is unemployed and has only been in the district four years, he emphasized.

Flanagan who retired from the Rhode Island School of Design after 42 years, said Schuette could bolt Pawtucket at any time if she gets a job offer. He said he doesn’t imagine she’ll be afraid to move if she does land a job.

Flanagan said he’ll approach the position as a full-time job. He said he’s loved getting out and meeting people, connecting over shared experiences and memories of Pawtucket past.

“I remember that,” he said. “She wasn’t here for it.”

He added, “I have the stability to work with the community. That’s where I’m going with it.”

Schuette responded that she is dedicating the next two years of her life, at a minimum, to the betterment of District 4. She said tat something about the city drew her here and and to buy a property, and she’s ready to give back.

As for being unemployed, Schuette said she’s been working toward building her own business since her previous employment ended. She was in talks back in February with someone about buying a bar and nightclub in Providence, calling it Ringside Bar, but once COVID struck, it became clear that it wasn’t the time to acquire a restaurant. She put those aspirations aside to run her campaign and generate other revenue streams, she said, and is now working toward starting her own venture in a virtual environment, also titled Ringside, meshing offerings related to entertainment, socializing and leisure time. The final details of that are being worked out, she said, as she continues to dream about what the future can really look like.

Flanagan said his campaign is targeting mail ballot voters, a number that keeps growing. Though he’s running as an independent after running as a Democrat in 2018, avoiding a three-way primary, he noted that he ran and won in the primary as a Democrat for the District 4 Democratic City Committee. People can certainly just vote party lines in the district race if they choose, he said, but in doing so they’ll lose out on his experience and longevity in the community.

Flanagan said Schuette’s progressive Democrat approach makes him nervous, saying he’s not sure the philosophy works for a district council seat. He said he’s not sure Schuette understands the day-to-day operations of the city, never mind the intricacies of District 4.

Schuette said a knee injury has kept her from doing much walking the district, but said she’s ordered an electric scooter she hopes will alleviate some of those difficulties. She said she’s also trying to be careful amid the pandemic about having physical contact with people, seeking other ways to reach out to voters.

Flanagan, she said, seems like a “lovely guy,” but from an experience perspective, what she’s trying to bring is “new energy and new ideas.” She said a shift toward digital won’t happen overnight, but she hopes to bring them along with her on the journey in finding new ways to interact and engage. Many are now working from home, she said, so everything, from communication to water usage, energy use to consumption of other natural resources, will be impacted.

She said she’s really glad to see Flanagan running again, saying he’s a great neighbor and community member, but she feels she has the skillset and drive to represent the district.