WOONSOCKET – With time running out to claim a place on the ballot, all the signs are pointing against former Mayor Susan D. Menard taking on incumbent Mayor Leo T. Fontaine.
The former seven-term mayor fulfilled a preliminary requirement for becoming a contender on Aug. 30 by filing declaration papers. To secure a spot on the ballot Menard must still return nomination papers with the signatures of at least 100 registered voters.
With just two days left, however, Menard has not yet done so. In fact, of 33 individuals who took out preliminary declaration papers to run for mayor, City Council or School Committee, Menard is one of just four who never even picked up the nomination forms, even though they've been available since Sept. 6, according to officials at the Board of Canvassers.
Theoretically, a candidate with as high a profile as Menard could still pick up papers and return them with the required signatures before the deadline, which is Tuesday at 4 p.m.
But friends and former political associates of Menard are saying she has already told them she does not intend to run. Menard herself hasn't answered repeated inquiries about her intentions left on her voice mail.
John R. Dionne, a former aide to Menard at City Hall who now hosts a call-in talk show on radio station WNRI, has been telling listeners since mid-week that Menard told him she would not be a candidate for mayor.
Albert G. Brien, an ally of Menard who is expected to run for City Council, said he has been told that Menard has decided not to run because of “the pension issue.”
Brien was referring to a state law that apparently conflicts with a pledge Menard made several weeks ago, when she first announced publicly that she might challenge Fontaine. Menard had said that if elected she would waive the $80,000 a year salary assigned to the position and live on her pension, which is substantially less than that.
But it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for Menard to keep that promise. The Employees Retirement System of Rhode Island says that if an ex-mayor who has already begun collecting a retirement pension is once again elected mayor, state law compels that person to suspend his or her pension.
Before that issue arose, Menard had still left herself some wiggle room to call off a campaign bid, saying she intended to commission a poll to gauge her chances of success against Fontaine before making a final decision.
Fleming & Associates, a Cumberland company, is known to have canvassed voters, but the results of its polls are the private property of those who commission them.
Menard has given mixed signals on her political intentions in the past. In June 2009, during her last term in office, she filed declaration papers to run for another term and then did not return nomination papers. Just over a year earlier, mid-way through her term, Menard announced that she would retire early, then she went on vacation. When she returned she announced that she had changed her mind and served the balance of her term.
Fontaine, who would face no opposition if Menard bows out of the race, declined to speculate about her intentions or otherwise comment for this story.
If a Menard-Fontaine contest ever were to materialize, it would surely be one of the nastiest political battles the city has seen in a long time. Most of Menard's record 14 years in office were seen largely as good, tax-stable times by constituents, but her final years were marked by a series of embarrassing scandals that would inevitably become ammunition for a Fontaine campaign. Additionally, voters could count on Fontaine to blame Menard, his predecessor, for creating the financial problems that have caused his administration to raise taxes twice during his first term in office.