WOONSOCKET – The city’s Oct. 8 primary is no longer a factor in the City Council race after one of the 15 candidates vying for election to the seven-member panel, Jeffrey P. Belknap, filed a letter with the Board of Canvassers announcing his withdrawal.
Estelle Corriveau, manager of the Board of Canvassers, said the decision by Belknap will not remove his name from the list of 15 candidates for City Council on the Oct. 8 ballot, but it does eliminate him from moving forward to the Nov. 5 city election ballot.
“The City Council primary is a moot issue,” Corriveau said of the withdrawal. “The only thing that it is going to show is what place the candidates come in and how many votes they receive.”
Only Belknap will be eliminated from the list moving forward to the Nov. 5 election because of his decision to withdraw, she said.
Although Belknap turned in his letter withdrawing from the election on Monday, Corriveau said there was no way to legally remove him from the primary ballots already established under the candidate declaration and certification process.
“I called the state but there is nothing that can be done,” Corriveau said. The Board of Canvassers has received the paper ballots for the primary to be mailed out to those filing for absentee and paper ballots and is already sending them out, she said.
Belknap’s name appears second on the listing for City Council below incumbent Christopher Beauchamp. Also on the ballot after Belknap are incumbent Albert G. Brien, Eric R. Cartier, incumbent Marc A. Dubois, Kathryn M. Dumais, Richard J. Fagnant, incumbents Daniel M. Gendron and Roger G. Jalette Sr., Garett S. Mancieri, Anita Ann McGuire-Forcier, incumbent Robert R. Moreau, Melissa A. Murray, Christopher M. Roberts, and incumbent John F. Ward.
Corriveau said the ballots for the Nov. 5 election have not yet been prepared, and Belknap will be removed from the council contest. All remaining 14 candidates will be listed on the ballot as vying for the seven available seats to be elected, she noted.
In his letter to the Board of Canvassers, Belknap indicated he researched the issue of whether he could take a seat on the Council if elected, and as a result, “It is with regret I am withdrawing myself as a candidate for the elected position of City Council.”
When contacted about his decision Wednesday, Belknap said he had found as a result of research and a related legal opinion an attorney that R.I. General Law 17-1-5.1 would bar him from taking the council seat if he did win in November or require him to give up his current employment as a daytime maintenance worker at the Bernon Heights Elementary School. He could choose to file a legal challenge to the state rule, but that would result in legal costs and also a potential delay in the seating of the new council, he said.
“I just didn’t want to be a stumbling block to the process, and there would have to be a legal challenge,” he said.
Belknap said he did not have the option of giving up his School Department job, and does not expect that he could retire from it for a number of years.
The problem is the state election law barring a school or municipal employee from being elected to a post in the community in which they work, he noted.
“Basically, you can be a state senator or a state representative and hold municipal office in your community, but you can’t be a city employee or a School Department employee,” he said.