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WOONSOCKET â€” Politics and family crossed paths as they seldom do last night as former state lawmaker Albert G. Brien won a seat on the City Council, besting his daughter-in-law, incumbent City Councilwoman Stella Brien.
With an official tally of 1,694 votes, Albert Brien finished seventh, or dead last, among those in the winnersâ€™ circle, but he was still 43 votes ahead of Stella Brien, according to figures released by the Board of Canvassers.
In an election that was largely an affirmation of the Oct. 11 primary, the elder Brien will be one of three new faces on the City Council, including Zoning Board Chairman Robert Moreau, an unlikely top vote-getter in his first bid for elective office, with a final tally of 2,545. The other new councilman is Marc A Dubois, current chairman of the School Committee, who finished fifth with 1,877.
The other winners, all incumbents, were Council President John Ward, finishing second with 2,537 votes; Dan Gendron, third, 2,235 votes; Christopher Beauchamp, fourth, 2,090; and Roger G. Jalette Sr., sixth, with 1,857 votes.
â€śIâ€™m very satisfied,â€ť said Ward. â€śThe people I ran with did very well. I did very well. It affirms Iâ€™m doing the work on the City Council the people want, and weâ€™re going to work hard for another two years.â€ť
But the big story of the night was the family drama playing out among the Briens, who live next door to each other on South Main Street. A frequent critic of the administration of Mayor Leo T. Fontaine (who won more votes than anyone on the ballot as an unopposed candidate, 2,943), Al Brien is 70 years old and served as a state lawmaker and city finance director in the 1980s. Stella Brien, a lawyer, is the wife of State Rep. Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) and a two-term incumbent on the council. She also served a brief stint as a state representative in 2001.
Al Brien was almost apologetic in victory last night, saying he never expected that his victory would translate into his daughter-in-lawâ€™s defeat.
â€śI regret that happened,â€ť said Brien. â€śI never expected a victory for me would be at her expense.â€ť
Brien called the councilwoman a talented legislator and said he hopes she finds a way to stay in public service.
At an age when most people are thinking about kicking back, Brien said he felt compelled to return to public life because he doesnâ€™t feel like anyone on the council is paying much attention to him. Heâ€™s says heâ€™s repeatedly approached the council with constructive ideas for bringing in more revenue or making city government more efficient, â€śbut I have largely been ignored.â€ť
Gracious in defeat, Stella Brien said she was disappointed by the outcome, but itâ€™s easier to take knowing Al Brien was the guy that beat her.
â€śItâ€™s upsetting,â€ť she said. â€śIf it had to be anybody that beat me, Iâ€™m glad it was Al Brien.â€ť
It was also a heady night for Moreau, who discovered a trove of political capital that he probably didnâ€™t even know he had until recently. Director of security for the Woonsocket Housing Authority and an ex-policeman, Moreau finished second in the primary. Last night, he ended up the leader of the pack.
â€śIâ€™m a little overwhelmed right now,â€ť he said during a victory party at Kayâ€™s. â€śIâ€™m actually very surprised be because early tonight I was thinking I would be happy with fourth place. The people of Woonsocket have put a lot of trust in me and I hope I will be able to fulfill their expectations.â€ť
The victors celebrated at several locales, including City Side, where the mayor gathered with Gendron, Ward, School Committewoman Anita Forcier and newcomer Chris Roberts, who won a seat on the School Committee with the highest vote total of anyone seeking a seat on the board.
With three new members on the council, Gendron said it will be hard to predict how the panelâ€™s relationship with the Fontaine administration will evolve.
â€śItâ€™s going to be a new council, thatâ€™s for sure,â€ť he said. â€śWe took a council that wasnâ€™t even homogenous when we were together and we just interjected three new faces into it.â€ť
Fontaine said he was â€śhappy for all the winnersâ€ť and expressed optimism for developing a productive relationship with the council that will yield some practical solutions to the cityâ€™s problems.
â€śNowâ€™s the time to put our differences aside and put our heads together for the good of the city,â€ť he said.
Even among the losers in the council race, some notable mini-dramas unfolded, including Roland Michaudâ€™s precipitous fall from eighth place in the primary. Last night he landed at bottom-of-the-barrel 14th, with just 966 votes. Observers say he was hurt by adverse publicity over the sale of some 19 acres of land he owns to the city, which plans to build a water treatment plant on it.
Also noteworthy was newcomer Garrett Mancieriâ€™s improvement since the primary, in which he finished in 14th place, second to last. He turned up ninth last night with 1,374 votes.
The new council will be sworn in on Dec. 6. And thanks to votersâ€™ approval of Question 3 on the ballot, it will be the last City Council to be seated for two years â€” at least until 2016. Some 2,466 voters, or 60 percent, voted to abolish the cityâ€™s off-year election cycle and put all state, federal and local candidates on the same even-year-ballot. To get in sync, city officials elected in 2013, for one time only, will serve a three-year term.
Voters also approved Question 1, allowing city officials to issue bonds for 30 years instead of 20; rejected Question 2, raising the purchasing ceiling requiring competitive bidding to $5,000 (itâ€™s currently $2,000); and approved Question 4, establishing a residency requirement for appointees to local boards and commissions.