Holding no city offices, Republicans look to change image, build party

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Richard Cascella is out to change the image of the Warwick Republican Party to a more community engaged organization that doesn’t just come knocking for money and votes every two years.

In may not be an easy task, but he made a start last Thursday night at the first city committee meeting since the General Election.

Cascella, who ran as the Ward 1 City Council candidate in 2016 and last year for the nonpartisan School Committee, is chairman of the Warwick Republican City Committee. He lost both bids for public office although, as he told a dozen people at the Coffee Grinder, the coffee shop he owns in Governor Francis Plaza, he enjoyed campaigning and meeting and talking with people. He believes the results would have been different had he walked more.

Now he’s faced with running a city party that doesn’t hold a single elective post in the city and on a state level is vastly outgunned by the Democrats.

Cascella believes the name Republican is galvanizing and makes for division, with the focus centered on President Donald Trump and those who support or don’t support him. To avoid such debates, Cascella would like to change the name of the Warwick Republican City Committee to the Warwick GOP.

While members of the city committee and ward committees must be registered Republicans, Cascella is opening meeting doors to all those interested in the city. He’s looking for ideas, volunteers and, eventually, candidates.

“Everyone is welcome. There is no ‘You have to be a Republican’ to come,” he said.

Those who attended Thursday’s meeting – meetings going forward will be held the first Thursday of every month – were a mix of new faces and a few old timers. Sue Stenhouse, the Republican candidate for mayor last year, could not make the meeting but, as Cascella reported, plans to be active in the party. Conspicuous by their absence was the team that worked election after election to get former Mayor Scott Avedisian reelected. Avedisian chose not to comment for this story.

Stenhouse said Monday that she plans to be active.

“I was impacted last year by the lack of membership. I feel I need to be part of the solution to get a party going. It is so important to have that dialogue and give people choices. I want to make sure the party is viable,” she said.

Stenhouse, who won 40 percent of the vote in the contest with Joseph Solomon, said, “Fourteen thousand believed in me. Something has to represent those people, [there] needs to be an organization and outlet.”

With a paucity of Republicans active in the party and having difficulty filling the nine committee seats for each of nine wards, Cascella questions if the city committee might be better off made up of members from three districts, with each district representing three wards.

“We don’t have the numbers to fill 81 slots,” he said Sunday.

With fewer slots he feels those on the committee would feel more engaged and overall the committee would be more vigorous.

Can a name and composition change be made?

Republican National Committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick, who attended Thursday’s meeting, thought it is a matter of changing the bylaws.

Cascella suggests the party “stay out of the fray of what’s going on in the city [politically]” and concentrate on community service. He sees doing this by holding events and raising funds for scholarships for high school students looking to pursue studies in government, political science and administration. He sees that as building a party reputation of community involvement.

As for the issues, Cascella says, “There are a lot of challenges going forward.” He puts school funding in the forefront.

Cascella aims to put together a slate of candidates offering voters choices.

“I would like to try to get back to a two-party system…try to find new young candidates,” he said.

One of his immediate challenges is filling the positions on the executive committee and coming up with the delegates for the state party convention. The first and second vice chairmen position on the executive committee are vacant.

Cascella plans for candidates for chair of the state Republican Party to address the Warwick group on Thursday, March 7. A location has not been selected. He expects a larger turnout than last Thursday, as four people have said they are running and there’s talk of a fifth. A chair will be elected at the state party convention March 30.

Those in the race are Michael Veri of Woonsocket, Rebecca Schiff of Jamestown, Sue Cienki of East Greenwich and former state representative Robert Lancia of Cranston.

“I think we’re lucky to have four candidates,” said Stenhouse. She feels it is a reflection of the interest in the party and of offering “another voice” than that of the Democrats.

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