WOONSOCKET – Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt proclaimed “a new day is dawning” in this down-on-its-luck city after taking the oath of office at the Stadium Theatre Tuesday night.
“The hard work begins tomorrow and we will not waste a minute turning this city around,” said a gleaming Baldelli-Hunt.
The former state representative and niece of former Mayor Charles Baldelli was repeatedly interrupted by applause as she delivered her inaugural address. After tendering her resignation as a R.I. House of Representatives member earlier in the day, Baldelli-Hunt, 51, was sworn in by House Speaker Gordon Fox before a crowd of about 700 people.
The state’s highest-ranking elected officials, including Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis and Gen. Treasurer Gina Raimondo, joined Baldelli-Hunt on stage with members of her family, including husband Ed Hunt and their three boys, Victor, Gary and Sam. Members of the City Council and newly appointed City Clerk Christina Harmon-Duarte, who were also sworn in after Baldelli-Hunt, took seats on the opposite side of the stage.
It was a night of promises, expressions of confidence from colleagues, and plenty of buoyant good humor, much of it delivered, as one speaker put it, by “the original Mayor Baldelli,” whose zesty brand of showmanship was a perfect fit for his role as emcee.
“You will be witnessing the rebirth of our city with Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt,” said her uncle, also a former state representative who was elected mayor in 1985. “Lisa is the new and improved Uncle Charlie.”
A state representative from House District 49 since 2006, Baldelli-Hunt succeeds former Mayor Leo T. Fontaine at a time when the city is struggling with deep structural deficits, declining property values and sharply higher taxes. As a result, the state put the city under the control of a Budget Commission, which has called for an aggressive five-year plan, including more tax increases, to stabilize the city’s finances.
Reaffirming the pledge she made during the campaign, Baldelli-Hunt said she wants the Budget Commission eradicated as soon as possible. She said one of her leading goals is to head off the panel’s proposed tax hikes by courting more commercial investment to broaden the tax base.
“Starting tomorrow morning we will be rolling out the welcome mat in Woonsocket,” she said. “The taxpayers of Woonsocket cannot absorb the planned tax increases that are in the five-year plan.”
Baldelli-Hunt said it took the city a long time to get into the mess it’s in, and it won’t get out of it quickly, either. But if everyone pulls together, “We will beat this, because this city is wounded and a wound gets worse when it’s treated with neglect.
“It’s time to treat that wound and begin to heal,” she said.
She said she would spend her first 100 days as mayor “listening and learning” before delivering a state of the city address with “a concrete plan” for moving forward.
All the elected state officials on the stage had a turn at the lectern to offer words of praise and forecasts of success for Baldelli-Hunt. During his time at the microphone, Chafee made it plain that he’s aware how badly Baldelli-Hunt wants the Budget Commission gone. He said he does, too.
He said he was committed to making it happen as soon as possible. All that stands in the way of the withdrawal of the panel, he said, is the settlement of some litigation arising from opposition to the five-year plan, the resolution of collective bargaining issues and a positive audit of the city’s finances.
“We do want to get out,” said Chafee. “I’m sure we can accomplish that.”
Raimondo, who is expected to run for governor, said, “We’re here to help. We’re in this together.” She got a round of applause.
As a House member, Baldelli-Hunt and Fox occasionally seemed to be working at cross-purposes, but when Chafee made light of it – as Baldelli-Hunt and others did as well – the two demonstrated how friendly they are by sharing a quick on-stage kiss.
Fox said he and Baldelli-Hunt may not have always agreed, but they agreed to disagree. He said he admired her spirit and passion, adding that she has the kind of personality that’s needed to get things done in politics.
Baldelli-Hunt said she may no longer be a representative in the House, but she said Fox and other state officials shouldn’t expect her to go away.
“I will seek the legislative and financial assistance that is necessary to get Woonsocket back on its feet again,” she said.