WOONSOCKET â€” She did it.
After publicly hinting of a possible return to electoral politics, former Mayor Susan D. Menard raised the stakes Tuesday, filing preliminary declaration papers to challenge her successor, incumbent Mayor Leo T. Fontaine.
But the suspense isn't over. Menard may withdraw if she isn't showing satisfactory support among likely voters, she said.
â€śI'll be doing a poll,â€ť Menard said. â€śAfter that I'll decide on my next step.â€ť
The veteran pol filed papers at the Board of Canvassers about 11:30 a.m. on the final day of the week-long declaration period. She was accompanied by two longtime political allies who also filed papers to run for other positions, School Committeewoman Eleanor Nadeau, 73, and Albert G. Brien, 70, a former state lawmaker and the father of State Rep. Jon D. Brien (D-Woonsocket).
Menard denied taking out papers just for the sake of making a political nemesis uncomfortable for a while. She said she has the time to devote to the job and is seriously interested in playing a role once again in shaping the future of the city.
â€śI'm very disappointed in how the city looks and where it's going,â€ť said Menard as she boarded an elevator with Nadeau and Brien. â€śI put my name in and that's the beginning of the process.â€ť
â€śI guess the question you can ask people is are they better off today than they were two years ago,â€ť she added. â€śI'd have to say from my perspective the answer is no.â€ť
Menard reiterated her pledge to waive the mayor's $80,000 a year salary if she's elected and live on her state pension.
But Fontaine is unconvinced that Menard is a serious contender.
â€śObviously everyone has a right to declare,â€ť he said. â€śIf in the end she returns signature papers and decides to run, we'll be well prepared to let the voters compare our records.â€ť
Menard, 62, of 2 Marian Lane, was elected as the first woman mayor in the city's history in 1995 and went on to serve a record seven consecutive terms. For much of that time, Fontaine was a rising star on the City Council, serving 16 years in all on the panel, many of them as its president.
After appearing indecisive on whether to run for re-election in 2009, Menard finally bowed out after her 31-year-old daughter, Carrie Pilavin, died from an accidental medication interaction that spring, leaving behind two small grandchildren.
With Menard out, Fontaine won a four-way primary and went on to a decisive victory in the general election against former police sergeant Todd R. Brien.
A BONA fide battle between Fontaine and Menard would surely dredge up some skeletons of past political frictions, but the only rhetoric to surface at this tentative phase of the game has been over the so-called beautification issue.
Menard had made decorating highly visible traffic islands and mini-parks with colorful flowers and shrubs a signature program of her administration. Now she says the city just doesn't look as cheerful and blames Fontaine for slashing her popular program.
But Fontaine says that in a new age of fiscal austerity, the city simply can't afford to spend the kind of money on plants that Menard did when coffers were flush. Indeed, Fontaine openly wonders whether the scale of the program â€” an average of $27,000 a year between 2002 and 2007 â€” was ever justified. City records indicate that in 2007 alone, the Menard administration spent $43,154 with just one vendor.
Fontaine has spent much of his first two years as mayor pinching pennies and borrowing millions just to wrest the city from the brink of insolvency â€” the place, he says, it fell to on Menard's watch. Still, he says he's managed to maintain the bulk of Menard's beautification initiatives with private support â€” not public dollars â€” under the Adopt-a-Spot program.
There has already been much talk about political polls for the mayor's race, including a recent survey indicating that either Menard or State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt might run against Fontaine. Baldelli-Hunt (D-Woonsocket), who has since admitted to commissioning the poll, did not file declaration papers as of yesterday's 4 p.m. deadline, said Estelle Corriveau, manager of the Board of Canvassers.
But there's more to getting a spot on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election than filing papers. In order to appear on the ballot, candidates must return nomination papers Sept. 6-20, along with the signatures of 100 properly registered voters.
At least some of those in the preliminary fray will see the declaration period as an opportunity to size up the competition, then decide whether it's worth the effort to follow through with the more rigorous nomination process.lete story.