By JOHN HOWELL In some ways you couldn't find two candidates more different than Joseph Solomon and Frank Picozzi, and in others they are alike. Both are long-time Warwick residents and have no ambition to go on to higher office. Both are plugged into
In some ways you couldn’t find two candidates more different than Joseph Solomon and Frank Picozzi, and in others they are alike. Both are long-time Warwick residents and have no ambition to go on to higher office. Both are plugged into the community, albeit different constituencies, and both want the best for Warwick.
They are also dramatically different.
Solomon has identified himself as the tested administrator with the experience to guide the city in these uncertain times.
Ever since he was not reappointed municipal judge over 20 years ago and ran for City Council from Ward 4, Solomon has honed his political skills and exercised them to promote an agenda. He understands how a political machine operates and how to use power.
Picozzi has had his brush with public service, serving on the School Committee and its chairman. Members of both political parties would have backed him as a candidate, but he wanted to break from whatever commitments he would have had to make running as a Democrat or Republican. Picozzi decided to enter the race late in the season because of what he was seeing during this pandemic. Being mayor was not the long-sought goal it has been for Solomon.
The approach to winning the corner office in City Hall is likewise different, although from the plethora of signs throughout the city this may seem no different than any other hard-fought campaign. The pandemic has changed the ground rules. Gone are the fundraisers where incumbents can count on pulling in the party faithful and those who want to have the ear of the mayor. Rallies and door-to-door campaigning are off the board, and live streaming and Zoom have replaced the traditional Warwick Beacon sponsored debates organized by high school students.
Ironically, while the virus has kept us apart, the internet has brought us together. Mayoral debates and interviews conducted by the Beacon, WPRI and WJAR have had have thousands of real-time views. That wouldn’t have been the case with in-person debates held at City Hall. Furthermore, those streamed events remain online to be seen at any time.
Recognition that would have taken months, if not years, to build by attending neighborhood events, municipal meetings and working with nonprofits from churches to schools and community organizations is now possible over social media. Picozzi has built that base with his digital Christmas show and efforts to help the Tomorrow Fund at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
It’s a far stretch from the conventional political machine Solomon is relying on. Solomon has picked up union endorsements; he has the people who know how to identify the vote; he has the money to run the machine, whether mailers and advertising or the professionals to advise him and sharpen his message. Social media plays a role in the Solomon campaign, but it is not the spring from which Picozzi’s message and strength flows. And with the pandemic, social media has become a powerful campaign tool that has gone far to level the playing field for the candidate who like Picozzi neither has deep pockets nor the connections with those who do.
Solomon has the incumbency. It makes for a lot even at a time where the virus has cast a financial cloud over the city, not to mention concerns from the reopening of schools to the loss of jobs. Solomon recognizes the anxiety and fear the pandemic has spawned and his message is that he has kept the ship on course while maintaining key municipal services and taking on much-needed road repairs. His poof is in the city’s bond rating and Warwick’s ability to borrow $3.2 million from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank at a rate of 0.7 percent.
In July, S&P Global Ratings assigned its AA long-term rating to revenue bonds issued to the city and reaffirmed the AA long-term rating to the city general obligation debt. In a call with the authors of the report last week, Christian Richards and Victor Medeiros said their review of city operations and their findings were based on an historical knowledge of the city from prior rating reports, the most recent city audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, the city budget and a conference call that included the mayor and his team. The report takes into consideration the impact of the pandemic.
The report cautions, “there remains significant uncertainty stemming from the potential effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic recession, resulting in unknown and unquantifable potential revenue and expenditure expenses.”
Had it not been for the pandemic, Solomon could have teamed up with other Democratic candidates attending their events and walking door-to-door with them. Those opportunities to meet and talk with voters have been virtually eliminated.
As Election Day nears, the Solomon campaign has stepped up its direct mailers with the most recent picturing the mayor’s extended family and speaking about his value of family. The mayor’s office has issued a series of releases highlighting his support of various activities, ranging from the distribution of 200 free smoke detectors to online services for the elderly offered by the Pilgrim Senior Center. He has also reminded residents of his role in advancing a $10 million, three-year program to repave the worst of Warwick’s streets. The program approved by the City Council is underway with signs bearing his name in neighborhoods where the work is being done. In the past week, the mayor also addressed the Warwick Rotary Club [see separate story], attended the Halloween festival hosted by the Pontiac Village Association, visited the Outside Marketplace in Pawtuxet and stopped at the 95th birthday drive by celebration for Governor Francis Farm resident Peggy Dolan. He is most frequently accompanied by Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi.
The first indication of Picozzi’s following came as he held a drive-by signing of his nomination papers in June. He posted the event on Facebook and so many people showed up that cars were lined up on West Shore Road, a good four blocks from his home. While there was some social media chatter of his candidacy, he largely went silent through the summer. Immediately following the September primary, the campaign came alive with the posting of 400 large and small Picozzi signs in a matter of a couple of days. Since then, he said he has had difficulty keeping up with requests for signs and as of this weekend had 1,100 signs across the city.
Should he win, Picozzi said he’ll ask for the signs to be returned. If he loses, he’ll be glad for people to keep them as souvenirs.
According to the latest campaign financial reports, Solomon has raised $140,401.55 and has a balance of $59,021.55 as of this week. Picozzi has raised $13,306.63 and has a balance of $2,883.10.