WOONSOCKET – It’s primary day in the city, an all-Democratic affair that features seven candidates vying for three spots in the General Assembly.
And for two of those spots, the results of today’s polling are final because there are no challengers waiting in the wings to face off against the winners in the general election on Nov. 6.
Not quite in the latter category is the three-way contest for the House District 49 seat. Incumbent State Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt, a lawmaker since 2006, goes up against Michael Morin, president of the firefighter’s union, and Stuart Gitlow, a psychiatrist who ran against her two years ago.
In what may be Baldelli Hunt’s most serious challenge yet, the incumbent has defended her opposition to a supplemental tax bill the administration of Mayor Leo T. Fontaine had billed as the cornerstone of a plan to restore the city to financial solvency earlier this year. After the defeat of the bill, the state appointed a Budget Commission to take over the city’s finances and work toward the goal of wiping out a projected $14 million deficit.
Baldelli Hunt says the decision to oppose the supplemental tax bill was one of the most difficult of her career. Despite expressing some initial support for the measure, she says she ultimately voted against it because of the city’s failure to develop a recovery plan that focused more strongly on cuts instead of additional hikes on already tax-stressed property owners.
Morin has criticized Baldelli Hunt for failing to support the plan, however, arguing that the city is closer to bankruptcy as a result. “Central Falls in not the answer,” he has said.
While Gitlow’s position largely mirrors that of Baldelli Hunt on the supplemental tax issue, he and Morin have both criticized the incumbent’s tactical performance on supplemental taxes, saying legislators’ handling of the issue was characterized by a marked lack of communication, teamwork and coordination with municipal leaders.
Gitlow has also run an aggressive advertising campaign focusing on his clinical expertise as a psychiatrist and the role his medical experience has played in advancing public policy goals, such as women’s health. “Let’s put a doctor in the house,” his ads extol.
On paper, the District 49 race is not among those that will be decided in today’s Democratic primary. The winner must face off against independent Michael Moniz in the general election, but if his future is anything like his oft-repeated past, Moniz will be a token opponent who will draw few votes at the polls. Moreover, District 49’s constituents are overwhelmingly likely to want a representative who actually resides in the district, a claim Moniz can no longer make. Shortly after filing his nomination papers in July, he moved to Crepeau Court, which is located in District 50.
Among the contests that will be decided today is the race between State Rep. Jon D. Brien in District 50 and his challenger, Stephen Casey. Like Morin, Casey is also a newcomer to politics and is a member of the Woonsocket Fire Department.
Brien, scion of a political family with deep roots in Woonsocket, is proudly running on his record, including his efforts to quash the supplemental tax bill proposed in the 2012 legislative session, for reasons similar to Baldelli Hunt. But anyone who casts a ballot today will get a first-hand sample of Brien’s influence in the House, because poll workers, for the first time, will ask them to show ID before allowing them to vote.
Brien takes credit for being the prime champion of the so-called “voter ID” law which passed this season. The measure compels voters to show a valid identification before they cast a ballot and gets its first test in today’s primary. A national issue, voter ID has drawn praise from those who say compulsory identification will weed out fraud at the polls, but detractors say it’s likely to disenfranchise ethnic minorities and legal immigrants.
Like Morin, Casey has been critical of Brien’s handling of the supplemental tax bill. But he says it was Brien’s vote to table the tax equity act in the 2012 session of the house that drew him into the political fray. The bill was designed to restore taxes to 2006 levels on individuals earning more than $250,000 a year, generating millions in new revenue for the state.
On the supplemental tax bill, Casey says Brien’s position opened the door to a state-appointed Budget Commission, in effect diluting the power of sitting, elected officials in the city. Casey disapproves of the whole idea of a Budget Commission for that reason, saying it robs local citizens of their voting strength.
The other race to be decided today is between State Senator Marc Cote (D-Dist. 24) and Lewis Pryeor. Cote, a commercial realtor by profession, has served in the legislature since 1994 and is in line for his 10th term in the Senate. This year a few of his key votes included support for a bill protecting the rights of consumers involved in car accidents to choose their own repair business, despite the preference of their insurance company. He also voted in favor of the Homeless Bill of Rights.
His opponent is a newcomer to Woonsocket, but not without a political resume. Pryeor moved to the city about two years ago from Warwick, where he previously served on the City Council.
Pryeor has a bachelor’s of science degree in business management and says he gained experience in municipal planning as a result of dealing with developers associated with Warwick Mall. Since moving to Woonsocket, Pryeor says he’s become active in efforts to improve the quality of life in the Fairmount district, where he lives, and fought against the Budget Commission’s decision to close Fifth Avenue School.
There is one other contested race this season, between incumbent State Rep. Robert Phillips (D-Dist. 51) and challenger Christopher M. Roberts, a member of the School Committee. But don’t look for them on today’s ballot, since Roberts is a Republican; he and Phillips will face off during the general election.
Incumbent Senator Roger Picard (D-Dist. 20) will be on the ballot for the general election as well, but he’s running unopposed.
Polling places open at 7 a.m. today and close at 8 p.m., according to Estelle Corriveau, manager of the Board of Canvassers.
A reminder about polling places: Thanks to redistricting, the city dropped six and added one, so make sure you’re heading to the proper location.
Dropped from the roster of longtime polling stations were St. Agatha’s Church, 34 Joffre Ave.; Fire Station No. 4, 806 Mendon Road; St. Stanislaus Church, 188 Harris Ave.; Fire Station No. 2, 5 Cumberland Hill Road; Sacred Heart Church, 415 Olo St.; and the Community Room at 66 Morin Heights Blvd.
The city also added the Woonsocket Middle School at Hamlet, 60 Florence Drive, to the list, which now includes 11 polling sites instead of the 16 used for at least a decade.