WOONSOCKET — Without uttering a single word, former Mayor Susan D. Menard made it official yesterday: She will not be a candidate for mayor, leaving the freshman incumbent, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, to walk into a second term without opposition.
Menard did not return signed nomination forms to the Board of Canvassers by Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline, excluding herself from further competition in this season's balloting. In fact, despite publicly professing serious interest in taking on Fontaine last month, she never picked up the blank forms, which had been available at City Hall since Sept. 6.
Menard, 62, the first female chief executive in the city's history, served a record seven two-year terms before stepping down in 2009, paving the way for Fontaine, a veteran of the City Council, to win the city's top electoral post. She did not return phone calls yesterday.
Fontaine had withheld comment about a possible challenge from his predecessor in recent weeks, but yesterday he said he wasn't surprised that Menard dropped out. On the contrary, “I would have been surprised if she followed through,” he said.
Fontaine likened the talk of a Menard candidacy to a bit of nostalgia for a bygone era when the fiscal challenges facing the city weren't so dire. Her withdrawal “puts to rest any thought people have had that you can turn back the clock and make things better,” he said. “We have a real set of issues to deal with that can't be addressed with fond remembrances of days gone by.
“Now that it's official,” said Fontaine. “I'm pleased we'll be able to continue working to deal with the issues facing the city.”
The final shape of the mayoral contest, or lack of one, may have been the biggest story to emerge as the deadline passed to claim a spot on the ballot, but it wasn't the only one.
In the arena of the City Council, 15 candidates fulfilled the requirements to run for a two-year term on the seven-member panel, and 10 more did the same for five seats on the School Committee.
For council, that's three fewer candidates than the initial batch that filed preliminary declaration papers, but the final figure is still just enough to surpass the threshold needed to trigger primary on Oct. 11.
The contenders in that runoff will include incumbent Councilmen Christopher A. Beauchamp, Stella G. Brien, Daniel M. Gendron, Roger G. Jalette Sr. and President John F. Ward.
Also in the running are Garrett Mancieri, a member of the Assessment Board of Review making his first bid for elective office; Philip E. Labrecque, a member of the Woonsocket Taxpayer Coalition; Kathryn LeBlanc, who ran for City Council two years ago; and Michael Moniz, a member of the Democratic City Committee.
But the field also includes a number of contenders with more political experience and higher name recognition. They include Albert G. Brien, a former state lawmaker and city finance director; WTC President Steve Lima; WTC Vice President James C. Cournoyer; School Committee Chairman Marc A. Dubois; Zoning Board Chairman Robert R. Moreau; and Roland Michaud, who has served on the water and wastewater advisory commissions.
With two incumbents not seeking re-relection – Suzanne Vadenais and William Schneck – and a surfeit of strong candidates, the council race is almost guaranteed to change the chemistry on the panel in ways that are impossible to predict.
As Gendron observed, “Even if the five incumbents come back, depending on who you put in the mix, it could change the dynamic on the council a lot.”
A particularly intriguing twist comes with the two Briens on the ticket, setting the stage for what could be the first father- and daughter-in-law team to ever serve simultaneously on the City Council. The elder Brien is the father of State Rep. Jon D. Brien (D-Woonsocket) – Stella Brien's husband.
The top 14 finishers in the primary will go on to do battle in the general election on Nov. 8. Estelle Corriveau, manager of the Board of Canvassers, estimates the cost of the primary will be around $25,000.
The field of candidates for School Committee also thinned out a bit from the preliminary crop of 13 who filed non-binding declarations last month. With 10 still in, however, the field falls short of the criteria for a primary, so they will compete only in the general election.
The contestants include incumbents Anita Ann McGuire-Forcier, Eleanor M. Nadeau and Vimala Phongsavanh, plus two who have run for a seat on the panel in the past – Anthony J. Gabriele and Dr. George E. King. Candidate Thomas W. Wrona ran for council previously.
Others seeking seats on the school committee including newcomers John V. Donlon Jr., a former policeman, Jeffrey A. Hardy, Allen R. Rivers and Christopher M. Roberts, vice chairman of the zoning board.