WOONSOCKET — Mayor Leo T. Fontaine remained unopposed in his bid for re-election as the campaign season opened Monday, but who jumps in — and who doesn’t — may depend on the outcome of a new poll in which two potential challengers to the first-term incumbent are named.
Cumberland political pollster Joe Fleming said his company has been hired to conduct research on how former Mayor Susan D. Menard or State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D-Woonsocket) would fare in political competition against Fontaine. But Fleming won’t say who hired him.
“When you do a survey for a client, it’s for internal use,” said Fleming. “It’s not for public use.”
Fontaine and Menard both deny having commissioned the poll. Baldelli-Hunt did not return a phone message inquiring about the poll.
Menard, who disclosed last week that she might challenge Fontaine, openly admitted that she had considered hiring Fleming & Associates to do some polling on her prospects. But she dropped the idea when she found out Fleming was already working for another client interested in the same contest. Menard said she herself got a call from one of Fleming’s researchers on Sunday and answered about a dozen questions.
“I can tell you this,” she said. “Whoever engaged the poll will know exactly where they stand and whether they should enter the race.”
Among other things, the poll asks respondents how they would vote in a three-way race involving Fontaine, Menard and Baldelli-Hunt; how they rate Fontaine’s job performance on several key issues; who they would vote for if the election were held today; and whether they would vote for Fontaine or Baldelli-Hunt in a two-way race.
One of the job-performance questions is about the upkeep of the city, an issue Menard raised when she disclosed last week that she was considering running against Fontaine.
Menard, 62, served a record seven terms as mayor after being elected in 1995 as the city’s first female chief executive.
As of yesterday, Menard said her position remains unchanged — she’s still thinking about entering the fray.
About a month ago, Baldelli-Hunt seemed to indicate during an interview that she was not interested in challenging Fontaine, but she later suggested to a reporter that her remarks had been misconstrued. As recently as last week, she declined to clarify her intentions on the record, however.
A state lawmaker since 2006, Baldelli-Hunt is a Democrat who represents District 49. She is a small business owner and a former postal worker who served as president of the American Postal Workers Union local for four years. A champion of efforts to restore ailing World War II Veterans Memorial State Park, she is also the niece of former Mayor Charles Baldelli.
Yesterday marked the opening of the seven-day declaration period, when candidates are legally obligated to file formal documents at City Hall in order to reserve a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot. Declarations are not ironclad, however; candidates can still back out during the nomination period next month simply by choosing not to follow up with more required paperwork.
As of the close of business yesterday, Fontaine was the only person to file papers to run for mayor. The 42-year-old chief executive said he’s running because there is still more work to do to put the city back on the road to financial recovery.
“We need to continue working to stabilize the city’s finances and protect the city from going the way of Central Falls,” said Fontaine, referring to the latter’s city’s recent bankruptcy filing.
While no other candidates for mayor surfaced on the first day of the declaration period, the filings were also noteworthy for who didn’t choose to run for mayor.
Michael Moniz, an also-ran in at least a half-dozen races for various elective offices in the last decade, filed papers to run for City Council instead of mayor. It was an apparent last-minute change of heart for the 63-year-old, who issued a press release months ago announcing his intention to seek the city’s highest elective post.
Though Fleming declined to reveal who’s behind the mayoral survey, he made it quite clear that whoever it is must pay a sizable bit of cash for the research.
The introductory price for political surveys is around $5,000, but they can be much more costly, depending on the number of questions, the size of the polling sample, and how narrow a margin of error the client is looking for.
In general, Fleming said a solid poll for a voter pool the size of Woonsocket’s would require data from approximately 300 completed surveys. But Fleming said researchers might have to make as many as 1,200 telephone calls to reach the required number of willing and available respondents.