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Woonsocket, mayoral candidate Lisa Baldelli-Hunt says, has a branding problem.
Campaigning door-to-door across the city, rather than just in the 49th state representative district she has served at the Statehouse for the last several years, has made her think of parts of the community that outsiders donâ€™t always see.
â€śIâ€™ve been walking in neighborhoods in the city I wouldnâ€™t normally campaign in, because they werenâ€™t in my district,â€ť Baldelli-Hunt told The Call recently. â€śIt is really encouraging because I am recognizing that, buried within areas of the city are some beautifully maintained properties, and it is clear to me there is pride of ownership when you get into these neighborhoods.
â€śWhat I recognize even more clearly,â€ť she said, â€śis that there are main areas in the city, main roads that are not well-maintained, that are not as clean, and that is what people see and think of when they think of the city of Woonsocket. They are not getting into those very nice neighborhoods with the tidy streets and tidy properties.â€ť
Baldelli-Hunt said part of her campaign has been based on the idea that the image of the city needs to change, â€śbecause whether or not it is true, people perceive Woonsocket to be an uneducated, dirty, high unemployment place. Maybe some of those things are true, maybe some arenâ€™t, but the problem is we are perceived to be all of that: high violence, a lot of crime. Woonsocketâ€™s brand can be characterized by those attributes, not to mention the fiscal crisis.
â€śIf all of those things are what people are thinking of when they think of Woonsocket, itâ€™s not luring them into our community,â€ť she said.
â€śWe need to be certain that we get the message out there that our image needs to change and we need to begin to lure people in,â€ť the 51-year old Democrat said. â€śIf we donâ€™t address this branding problem, Woonsocket will fail in its ability to attract and retain business and to convince others to consider Woonsocket as an option for where to live.â€ť
A 1980 graduate of Woonsocket High School, Baldelli-Hunt and her husband, Edward, have three children, Gary, 24, Victor, 17, and Sam, 15. She attended the then-Bryant College for one year before leaving to care for her ailing father.
She and her husband own the Loads of Fun Laundromat on Social Street, as well as a number of commercial investment properties.
Baldelli-Hunt was a 21-year employee of the U.S. Postal Service before leaving in 2005. For four of those years, she was president of American Postal Workers Local 395.
If she is elected mayor on Nov. 5 â€“ she won the Oct. 8 primary in a rout, defeating incumbent Mayor Leo Fontaine, a Republican, in the nonpartisan contest by a 3-1 margin â€“ Baldelli-Hunt will be following the political path first trod by her uncle, the legendary Charles Baldelli, who won the mayorâ€™s office after serving in the state House of Representatives for several years.
â€śI am going to lead the city to solvency,â€ť if elected mayor, Baldelli-Hunt vows.
â€śI am going to work in conjunction with the Education Department,â€ť she said. â€śWeâ€™re going to work hand-in-hand to accomplish things in that department that havenâ€™t been accomplished in the past. You cannot, as the leader of the community, think that the Education Department is your competitor, or your go-to to blame for any fiscal problems. If your Education Department is failing, they you are failing as a mayor.â€ť
BECAUSE OF A change in the city charter approved last year, the next mayor will appoint the members of the School Committee; they will no longer be elected on their own.
Another charter change moved mayoral elections to even-numbered years, meaning that the winner of this yearâ€™s race will serve a three-year term.
If she is elected, Baldelli-Hunt said, â€śin three years, I am going to have changed the business climate in the city, I am going to have changed the quality of life in the city. Obviously, the status quo isnâ€™t working. We need to invigorate the community to become involved.â€ť
While she has been advocating for the city for the last seven years in the General Assembly, Baldelli-Hunt says, â€śIâ€™m a not a part of the problems within this community.â€ť Mayor Fontaine, she said, â€śhas been in office for 20 years â€“ four as mayor and 16 on the City Council, most of those years as the council president. When I am in City Hall as mayor, I will have the ability to bring forward the truth about where Woonsocket is fiscally and relay that message to the citizens of the city. My plan is to do that in my first 100 days in office.
â€śWhen you are the mayor,â€ť she said, â€śthe buck stops at your desk. You are responsible for everything that goes on.â€ť
One of her goals as mayor, she said, would be paving the way for the departure of the state Budget Commission that is currently overseeing the cityâ€™s finances.
â€śWe have had four consecutive years of tax increases and a scheduled five-year plan with a tax increase for the next five years. The residents of this community can not absorb that; it is crushing them.â€ť
She also wants to marshal all of the diverse populations of the city.
â€śI have reached out â€“ and they have reached out to me and said they wanted to be involved â€“ the Hispanic community, the black community, the Muslim community, the Asian community. They are part of this city. There are a lot of good people and we are not utilizing their talent. We need to be certain that we capture their talent, their skills â€“ there are children who have incredible talent, whether it is musical, artistic â€“ you need to bring in those talents and use them in different areas.
As mayor, Baldelli-Hunt says, â€śyou canâ€™t sit in your office all day. You have to be out there. You have to feel the pulse of what is happening.â€ť
Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron