Mayor Joseph Solomon, in his first speech after being officially inaugurated as the city’s first new mayor in nearly two decades, could have easily spent his moment in the spotlight – with cameras and the eyes of hundreds of Warwick’s most politically and civically engaged individuals trained on him – thanking people and serving up vague platitudes about service and what it means to be mayor.
There was some of that, but the meat and potatoes of his inaugural address, true to his mantra throughout the past eight months since he was thrust into the starring role following the departure of Scott Avedisian last May, was all about getting to work to improve the city – and even further – to see the emergence of a brand new, even better Warwick.
“It is not lost on me just how meaningful this job is,” Solomon said from the podium in the grand ballroom of the Crowne Plaza. “To me, being elected as mayor stretches far beyond the title and the office. The people of Warwick have entrusted the city in my care. Over the course of my term, it is my goal to lead Warwick through a transformation.”
Solomon wasted no time getting down to brass tax, listing off a long series of ongoing initiatives he looks to see through to completion, cataloging improvements that are already complete or underway and thinking big about what needs to be done moving forward in order to position the city for success long-term.
Solomon said, first, that he will look to “build on momentum” that has been established through his one-on-one business visits, which has enabled him to see the needs of local businesses and think about how to better help them through legislative policy. He said he would continue these visits throughout the new year.
Looking to the health of Warwick’s economy, Solomon pointed out completed construction projects, like the $25-million Hyatt Place hotel on Jefferson Boulevard and the first phase of the Pontiac Mills mixed-use redevelopment that has opened the banks of the Pawtuxet River to businesses such as Apponaug Brewing Company. In addition, Solomon mentioned several anticipated projects that have recently been announced, such as the $30-million Marriott Residence Inn and Ortho Rhode Island, a four-story medical office and surgical suite that looks to be approved for a plot next to the Crowne Plaza.
Solomon mentioned the expansion of Greenwood Credit Union, which has been a Warwick institution for 70 years, currently expanding in the shadow of its original location on Post Road, the renovation of the Radisson Hotel and the continuing advancement of City Centre Warwick, the commercial-industrial, transportation-centered development zone that centers around the airport and train station.
On City Centre, Solomon said he was promoting the development of an “innovation hub” that would “combine medical, healthcare, and technology companies within a concentrated area supported by City Centre, further increasing economic development and creating high-paying jobs.”
Whether businesses are big or small, Solomon said work from his office and the City Council would be essential to continuing prosperous economic growth in the city.
“With economic development, we know that time is money. My commitment to making Warwick an easy and convenient place to do business is unwavering, and we can do better,” he said. “My first action will be to implement new policies to expedite the plan review process so developers and individuals aren’t experiencing unnecessary and costly delays to bring their projects – and the jobs and tax revenue that come along with them – to fruition.”
In a relatively short amount of time, Solomon went over several specific items that he feels will improve the quality of life in Warwick. These included things like strengthening minimum housing requirements in order to “more effectively address issues of blight and public health concerns to make our neighborhoods safer, more attractive and welcoming.”
He mentioned switching the city’s streetlights to LED lighting, which would not only provide better illumination but be more energy efficient and save money in the long run. He emphasized this would be done through a competitive bidding process, no doubt referencing a past effort the city took to look into the LED lighting issue that brought about only one bidder – a development that ultimately wound up with Solomon, at the time acting as Council President, tabling the bid offer indefinitely and subsequently going back out to a new round of bidding this past October as mayor.
Solomon put a focus on the city’s parks and recreation facilities, highlighting improvements underway at City Park, Rocky Point and Salter Grove. He mentioned the city would “soon” implement an “adopt a playground” program to “make modest aesthetic improvements and bring new equipment to our smaller neighborhood playgrounds and fields.”
However, perhaps one of the biggest issues Solomon has faced in his tenure so far, and will continue to face, is in regards to the city’s infrastructure. He has already been tested in his response to burst pipes that caused extensive damage to the municipal annex building (which remains closed without a permanent solution in sight). Elsewhere, sewer pipe and water line failures have brought widespread, comprehensive infrastructural issues to center stage. Solomon said he was proud that repaving of city roads has at least been given a new sense of priority, but emphasized a long-term infrastructure repair plan was a crucial part of his plans for his first term in office.
“[It] has become abundantly clear to me in the past six months that our work to fix our aging roads and infrastructure is certainly far from complete,” he said. “To address this, using the five-year capital improvement budget as a foundation, we will develop a comprehensive, 10-year plan that takes a thoughtful, effective approach – with real costs and funding sources attached – to fixing these issues and protecting the city’s assets.”
Also looming large in Solomon’s mind is the next budget, which isn’t as far away as it may seem. Solomon took office in May, right as the FY19 budget process was kicking into gear. In just a few short months, that process will start back up again. Actually, according to Solomon, the process may start even sooner.
“We’ll be starting the internal budget process earlier so that the fiscal plan my administration presents is thoughtful and reasonable, meeting the diverse needs within our community while keeping Warwick an affordable place to live,” he said, adding that input from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council has helped the city reorganize its finance department with a proper succession plan and that employees are being “cross-trained” so that the city “can meet its financial obligations and state requirements on time.”
Briefly mentioned was Warwick public schools. Solomon said that “the relationship between the City and the Schools has often been tumultuous,” but in recognizing the three new members of the School Committee, he is committed to working with the schools, department heads and city council to continue to push towards a better partnership. His comments on schools were followed by applause.
“I have great faith that with new energy and enthusiasm, we will return our educational system to one that is the best in the state, where students and teachers alike are reinvigorated and work side by side to ensure that our children are given the resources and experiences they need to lead successful lives,” said Solomon.
Solomon closed on a message of cohesion and collaboration, while not shying away from the tribulations that likely await him as the newest, duly-elected mayor of Warwick.
“To be sure, many challenges lie ahead of us in the next two years,” he said. “But I know that every person here tonight is invested in helping our community to succeed and transform. Because we live here. Because we work here. Because here, we have experienced great joy and even times of sorrow. Because it is the place we call home. Because I know each of you share my vision for a reinvigorated Warwick. Because like me, you know Warwick can be transformed into the best version of itself yet.”