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Voters' desire for change spurs high turnout

October 9, 2013

WOONSOCKET — George White was more than a little bit perturbed when he left the Middle School polling place Tuesday night after voting in the city’s nonpartisan primary election for mayor and City Council.

“I’m person No. 41,” White said as he walked across the school’s parking lot. “Nobody was voting.”

White went to the polls to vote for change, and expected many other city residents and taxpayers like himself would be doing the same. The Middle School polling place, with about 667 active voters registered there, just didn’t draw the steady stream of voters on a perfect fall day that other polls saw around the city.

Maybe the lower turnout resulted from the fact the Middle School’s district includes several apartment complexes and multifamily homes, or maybe the road work on Hamlet Avenue earlier in the day had been a factor. But White was adamant that there was plenty to go to the polls over, a sentiment voiced by many other city voters near their polling places Tuesday.

“It’s time for change and I don’t even know if those are the right guys to vote for,” White said. “I’m a homeowner here in Woonsocket, and all I do is work day and night so that I can pay for people to have pensions, and medical coverage and to take care of people who don’t work,” he said.

White, a resident of Park Place, said he is self-employed and doesn’t even have medical coverage himself. “I’m really tired of all of this and I just want to get the hell out of here,” he said.

Another of the middle school voters, Pauline Giguere, said she went to the polls with her children, Haily, 10; Taylin, 7; and David, Jr., 5; because she also wants change for the city.

“I’m voting because it’s my right and if we want change in the city I feel we need to speak up about it and put our votes out there,” she said.

Giguere said she was out to vote for Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and was hoping that support would bring improvements at the city schools her children attend.

She also wants change in the way the city is looking at itself in its times of financial difficulty.

“I don’t think the city is what it used to be and I think it could use some improvement from where it is,” she said.

Outside the Gov. Aram J. Pothier Elementary School polling place Tuesday, a majority of the voters talking about the primary election indicated they also were seeking change.

About 218 of the polling place’s 2,567 eligible voters had shown up to vote by 5:30 p.m., and that was a pretty good showing for a non-partisan primary, according to the poll’s moderator, Maureen Mann, and her staff of workers.

“It’s better than normal,” Mann offered after conferring with the senior poll workers at the location.

This year, only 11 polling places were operated in the city, in comparison to the 16 operated in the last city primary for City Council two years ago. The reduction was made by the state Board of Elections as part of a statewide district adjustment.

Debbie Arel said she went to the Pothier poll on Tuesday because of a sense of civic duty. “I like to vote, and I think it is something that we are supposed to do,” she said while adding her lips would remain sealed on who she voted for.

Bob Gagnon of Winthrop Street said his service in the military for 10 years made him feel everyone should vote.

“I feel you should be voting, and you can’t bitch if you don’t,” he said.

From his own perspective, Gagnon said the city needs change “and lots of change.”

As a homeowner, Gagnon said he has been struggling with his taxes going up every year. “That means I have to get by with less income,” he said. Gagnon said those concerns left him feeling that Mayor Leo Fontaine would not be able to help him if he is re-elected. “If he gets elected again there are going to be more taxes so we need some new blood,” he said.

Fontaine did come out with a new economic development plan last week, Gagnon noted, but even that was “too little, too late. I’ve lost my faith in him and I don’t think the plan makes any sense,” he said.

Leslie Talamini, a School Department employee, said she went to the polls on Tuesday because she too believes “you need vote as a civic responsibility.

“If you don’t vote you are slacking on your rights,” she said. Talamini was expecting to vote for some change on the council but noted she planned to support her own write-in for mayor, Mickey Mouse.

“I think Mickey Mouse takes care of both children and adults and he would never put the burden on taxpayers that homeowners in Woonsocket are facing right now,” she said. Talamini found out during her visit to the Pothier School that her polling place had actually been shifted to the high school, and that is where she went to vote.

LeeAnn Sennick, a member of the Woonsocket Republican Committee, was outside Pothier with a sign supporting Fontaine, but said it seemed her candidate was getting the shorter side of the votes cast. “We’re definitely outnumbered but we won’t really know until the results are in,” she said.

Kim Garneau of Bellingham Street said she was thinking of her parents, who live in one of the two properties she owns in her neighborhood, and her siblings who have moved out of the city when she went to the Pothier poll on Tuesday.

“I think it is important that I voted in the primary because I want the candidates to the take the citizens in Woonsocket seriously,” she said.

When she spoke to her siblings during a visit this summer, Garneau said they told her the city “looked tired.’’

That only solidified her own views that something needed to be done about the current state of the city’s economy and its outlook. “I want to see the city recover and I hope it will. We all do,” she said.

Efrain Gonazalez, 48, went to Pothier with his wife, Carmen, and grandson, Jaynel Diaz, 5, to vote for similar reasons.
“I want to see Woonsocket do better,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he was looking for change in city leadership, and had voted for Baldelli and some new members of the City Council.
“We need change and change for the better,” he said.

Gonzalez said he has lived in Woonsocket for many years and remembers the city as a much better place than it is today.

“When I came to this town it was the best town, people had jobs, and it was a beautiful town,” he said. “It was always clean, and people had respect for this town.” That isn’t the case any more, he said, and something needs to be done about it. “We need new people to come in and change Woonsocket and put it in a new light, the way it used to be,” he said.

At the high school polling place on Cass Avenue 437 votes had been recorded by 6 p.m. and Russell and Kim Couepel of Newland Avenue pointed to the increased costs of living in the city as their reasons for voting for a change of leadership.

“He (Fontaine) pretty much lacked a plan and a way to get out of this mess,” Russell Couepel said. “I don’t care how much you get from a supplemental tax bill, you still haven’t solved the problem, and you are still going to have the problem if you don’t have a better way to improve city’s economy,” he said.

Christopher Bouley of Dawn Boulevard, a vice president for Merrill Lynch in Providence, said he stuck with Fontaine when voting at the Leo A. Savoie School Tuesday. “I think he is doing a very good job under the circumstances,” Bouley said while describing the city’s financial problems as the issue needing to be dealt with.

“I’m confident that we’re going to turn the corner with the Landmark Medical Center and Prime Healthcare deal, which has the potential of bringing in a whole new taxpayer to the city,” he said.

At the Crepeau Court poll on Front Street, Tuesday, Lorraine Lanctot reported a total of 284 voters had showed up by 7 p.m. “It’s been good, steady all day and better than usual for a primary,” she said.

Terry Labine, 85, a resident of Crepeau Court, said she was among those voting during the day. “I never miss voting,” she said. “It’s your duty.” As to who she voted for? “No, I won’t say that,” she answered. “It’s private.”

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