The Pilgrim Political Involvement Club (Pil-PI) kicked off its second year of welcoming in local politicians to talk shop with politically minded students with Republican mayoral candidate Sue Stenhouse stopping by on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the upcoming election and her history in politics.
Stenhouse earned her first win in an election in 2000, following the appointing of then-mayor Lincoln Chafee to take his father’s seat in the U.S. Senate and Scott Avedisian’s win during the ensuing special election. Stenhouse, who helped run Avedisian’s campaign for mayor, said she had never considered a run prior to Chafee putting the idea into her head.
“That had never, ever, ever been on my radar screen before. As much as I helped other people with their campaigns, and enjoyed it,” she said. “I thought this was something I would really like to do. When I was your age I was involved in school politics. I had run for office from the 6th grade on.”
For Stenhouse, getting on the city council was an introduction to becoming a change agent for Warwick – the place she said she has no now spent more time living in than her native Minnesota. As the lone Republican, Stenhouse had a seat on every committee that had a hand in every element of city business, an opportunity she found to be profound.
“It was the best job in the world because I got such an education,” she said. “I learned about so many things. It was a ton of work, but I’m one of those people known for doing my homework.”
Stenhouse then talked about being tapped by then-Governor Donald Carcieri to become the director of community relations and emergency preparedness for the governor’s office. She said this gave her the opportunity to dive into an entirely new area of governance and found her in situations that were truly unbelievable – like the Station nightclub Fire that occurred on Feb. 20, 2003, where Stenhouse was tasked with being a liaison between victims and their families.
“There are things you experience in these roles that you never, ever anticipated, but because you’re a leader and are perceived as a leader, you get put into these incredible situations,” she said. “It’s about connecting with people, and that’s what why I love what I do and it’s a big reason why I’m running now.”
Stenhouse talked about how getting back into local politics is an exciting prospect for her because she feels that people have the most opportunities to enact real change for people from the positions of local government. She spoke with pride about starting the Wyman Historic Walking Tour in 2000, which still occurs to this day, and about utilizing her connections and position of influence to help out families in need.
“When I drive around the city, I’m like ‘I had a hand in that, I made a difference,’” Stenhouse said. “That’s probably the most exciting part about government, is knowing you made a difference for somebody.”
Stenhouse spoke about how the educational climate in the city was a big part of why she was running for mayor now. She feels that there is great potential in the school system – the same system in which her children were educated – and that Mayor Joseph Solomon has been ineffective in his ability to being people together to come to consensus regarding the financial situation occurring right now.
“Education to me is incredibly important. It is the foundation of our community. Everything else is a branch off of that,” she said. “I think it’s awful that we’ve started the school year in this disarray, and in my mind there was no need for that to happen. I understand that not everyone is always going to see eye to eye and people will value different things, but a real leader creates consensus.”
When asked where she saw the city in five years, Stenhouse said the scenarios would be “very different” depending on it was her or Solomon in the mayor’s office.
“He’s been there and part of the budget process for 18 years. So, if things haven’t moved or changed in that amount of time when he’s been at the helm, I don’t see a lot of change happening in the future,” she said. “I love change and I love trying to make new things happen. I see my trajectory as totally different than his.”
Stenhouse mentioned how “retail politics,” the process of going out into the community and shaking hands, meeting people and getting your face in front of more people, was more important to her than putting up lawn signs that will “wind up in the landfill in a couple weeks,” and more important than how much money is raised.
As of Oct. 8, Stenhouse had raised about $15,300 in total campaign cash, including $2,000 in loans and about $6,750 from private donations. Of that money, she spent over $11,000 on campaign-related expenses. Solomon, meanwhile, had amassed over $227,000 as of Oct. 8, of which he spent over $30,000 in the past month.
However, Stenhouse believes that her resume and experiences should speak for themselves in terms of preparedness to take over the role of mayor. She is also not deterred by vying for the role as a Republican, or a woman for that matter.
“Anyone can talk a big game, I am trying to show I have a big game,” she said, adding later that, “It really is important that it’s not seen as a male or female job, but who has the right credentials for the job. And I think I do.”