WOONSOCKET – Pledging an “extremely creative and bold” approach to solving the city’s financial problems, State Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt (D-Woonsocket) announced she’s running for mayor Tuesday, ending the speculation about her plans.
She told The Call that the city needs a stronger leader who can erase the financial uncertainty lingering over taxpayers and do more to retain and attract businesses to the city.
“We cannot afford to lose any more businesses in Woonsocket,” she said. “We need to bring more in. We need a stable environment for the taxpayer. People like stability and we do not have stability. I will be extremely creative and bold and that is not something that has happened in a while.”
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine has said previously that he intends to run for a third term, but he could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
It appears Baldelli Hunt’s announcement would make the 2013 mayoral sweepstakes a three-way race. Dave Fisher, an online journalist whose politics lean toward the progressive side, was first to announce that he intends to run for mayor.
Fisher said he welcomes Baldelli Hunt’s entry into the fray, and even praised her record.
“She’s done a reasonably good job in the General Assembly and I look forward to spitballing ideas with her during the campaign. “The more people we get in the race, the more people we get to the polls, and that can only be a good thing.”
Baldelli Hunt’s official announcement came in the form of a statement she released via e-mail.
She said her only goal would be “moving Woonsocket forward” and that “people are fearful for the city’s future, unsure what tomorrow will bring and unsettled by the city’s financial struggles and what those problems mean for their household.”
Baldelli Hunt said, “For too long, the city has been bogged down in the messy politics of personality conflicts and turf battles.” She said the city needs a mayor who can build bridges with other leaders to get things done.
“Woonsocket needs effective leadership and a mayor who will have strong working relationships in the State House, the business community and our neighboring cities and towns to help us navigate our way out of this financial crisis,” said Baldelli Hunt. “As a state representative for the last six and a half years, I have built those relationships and am ready to put all of my skills and experience to work in City Hall.”
She said she would be a mayor who invites people to work together to chart a course for improving schools, creating jobs and shoring up the city’s shaky finances.
Baldelli Hunt enters the race at one of the most fiscally precarious times in the city’s modern history. Last May, the state Department of Revenue appointed a budget commission to help keep the city from going broke. The panel projects the city will end this fiscal year some $15 million in the hole and has developed a controversial five-year plan to erase the deficit with a combination of pension rollbacks, cuts in benefits for current employees, and supplemental taxes.
As a member of the legislature, she has a direct say in whether some components of that plan fall into place, including supplemental taxes, because the city needs enabling legislation from state lawmakers to impose the levy. Last year, the state seated the budget commission hours after state lawmakers, including Baldelli Hunt, refused to support a supplemental tax law, a move that was applauded by some and criticized by others.
Her political plans have been the subject of wide-open speculation at least since 2011, when she commissioned a poll to gauge her chances in a race against Fontaine. Since then she has become a more frequent and outspoken presence at public meetings.
A mother of three, Baldelli Hunt has served in the legislature since January 2007 and easily won a fourth term against Woonsocket firefighter Michael Morin in November.
Fontaine has repeatedly blamed the state for starving the city to the point of insolvency by inadequately funding a complex and costly public school population – a theme that will surely echo loudly in a campaign involving a member of the legislature. But Baldelli Hunt enters the race with some built-in advantages, including a recognizable political brand that she inherited from her uncle, former Mayor Charles Baldelli. Mayor from 1985-1988, the elder Baldelli was previously a state lawmaker whose fiery rhetoric earned him the title of “The Rocket from Woonsocket” at the State House.
Baldelli Hunt is also the aunt of former big league outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who played for the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays before retiring several years ago. Her brother is Dan Baldelli, a prominent city businessman who runs a pawnbroker and gold redemption operation.
Baldelli Hunt is a former postal worker who now manages and invests in real estate, including a wash ‘n’ dry in the city. She’s married to Ed Hunt, a retired math teacher from the Lincoln public school system. She says her entire family will work in support of her campaign.
The official declaration period for political contenders doesn’t arrive until late summer. All Woonsocket’s elections are non-partisan, so no one will be running with a party label. On paper, however, Baldelli is a Democrat, Fontaine is a prominent Republican, previously serving as state party chairman and Fisher, an independent.
In a normal partisan election all three would be allowed to appear on the final ballot, but not in Woonsocket. No matter how many candidates run for mayor or what their affiliation is, the ballot must be pared down to the two front-runners in a primary. The date for that event this year is Oct. 8.