WOONSOCKET – State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D-Dist. 49) swept to victory in the mayor’s race last night before a raucous and cheering crowd of supporters who seemed to relish the moment as much as she did.
The House lawmaker, who is midway through her fourth term, trounced incumbent Mayor Leo T. Fontaine by a margin of better than 2-1. The Board of Canvassers had the tally at 4,372-2,182.
Fontaine closed the gap a bit from the crushing 3-1 blow he took from Baldelli-Hunt in the primary, but the two-term mayor still lost at every polling place, including the Leo Savoie School, in his own backyard.
A crowd of some 600 supporters packed the Stadium Theatre to mark the occasion, cheering every time Baldelli-Hunt’s uncle – former Mayor Charles Baldelli – gleefully broadcast the lopsided tallies from each of the 11 polling places via public address system. The event had the feel of a showbiz moment, as the data was flashed on a big silver screen above the stage, where spectators usually watch movies.
Accompanied by her husband, Ed Hunt, Baldelli-Hunt strode to victory on the stage of the theater as the crowd chanted, “Lisa! Lisa! Lisa!” and then began clapping in time to the background music of “Home,” a song popularized on TV’s American Idol.
“It’s a new day for Woonsocket, so buckle up,” said Baldelli-Hunt. “This is not a victory for me, but it’s a victory for the city of Woonsocket. There are better days ahead for us.”
There was a dash of political glitz in the air as the rising stars of the Democratic party, and a who’s who of other political dignitaries came out to congratulate Baldelli-Hunt. Recently announced gubernatorial candidate Providence Mayor Angel Taveras shook her hand and was heard telling her to call on him if she needed anything at all. Gen. Treasurer Gina Raimondo, another likely contender for governor, had her congratulatory moment with Baldelli-Hunt. House Speak Gordon Fox, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, Democratic State Chairman David Caprio and a slew of other state lawmakers, some local and some not-so, were among the celebrants.
In her victory remarks, she described Richard Lepine, her campaign manager, as the chief architect of her triumph, and also recognized pollster Joe Fleming for his consulting work.
“We started this campaign some eight or nine months ago,” said Lepine. “When we had our kickoff at the Elks Club, I knew tonight was possible.”
Since the moment she announced that she was a candidate for mayor, Baldelli-Hunt has displayed a tremendous level of discipline, rarely straying from a handful of themes that she laid out early on. She said the city was crying out for strong leadership and that too little was being done to reverse the exodus of retail investment from Diamond Hill Road. She lambasted her opponent for allowing the city’s image to fester and painted him as a johnny-come-lately when he rolled out an economic stimulus plan a few days before the primary. And she promised to turn on the streetlights, many of which have been shut off in an austerity move.
Saddled with the yoke of the cost-cutting, tax-hiking state Budget Commission, Fontaine hammered away at Baldelli-Hunt as the cause of the city’s economic woes, saying she voted in favor of several years’ worth of state budgets that robbed the city of $55 million in aid. He chided her fuzzy math on the economics of rekindling streetlights and cast a dubious eye on her pledge to be mayor and economic development director, all at the same time.
But his message never seemed to gain much traction with voters who are angry about the budget commission’s plan to rescue the city from insolvency – a plan that heaped a 23 percent tax increase on single-family homeowners, rolled back pensions for retirees and cut the health benefits of active employees.
“We can turn this city around,” Baldelli-Hunt told the crowd last night. “It is time for effective leadership in Woonsocket. We need to govern ourselves. We need to govern our own community. We can do that without a Budget Commission.”
At the end of her first 100 days in office, Baldelli-Hunt said, she would give a “state of the city” address and unveil a plan for moving the city forward. Between now and then, she would be listening to and learning from her constituents. “I need your ideas and I need your suggestions,” she said.
She pointed to many of the powerful officials who turned out to welcome her arrival as mayor as potential allies upon whom she could rely for guidance and assistance in pulling the city out of its economic slump.
“I think it’s going to be very important,” agreed House Speaker Fox. Praising Baldelli-Hunt as a passionate advocate for her community, he said there was little doubt she will be able to cut through the din of competing interests at state government to get things done for the city. “There’s many needs...if you don’t have a vocal, outspoken advocate for your community you sometimes get lost in the shuffle. I look forward to working with her.”
Before the speech was over, Baldelli-Hunt invited members of her family on stage to join her, including her husband, a retired high school math teacher, her sons, Gary, Victor and Sam, and her mother, Sandrina. She said she felt a little overwhelmed, in part because she’ll be working out of the same office in City Hall where her uncle served as mayor in 1985.
While Baldelli-Hunt has already made it plain that some department directors in the Fontaine administration will soon be gone, one person in line from a shout-out from her during the victory speech made him seem like a shoo-in for continued service in the city: Police Chief Thomas Carey. She called him an “absolutely phenomenal police chief.”
Despite the contentious battle of the campaign trail of recent weeks, she thanked Fontaine and said, “I look forward to a smooth and orderly transition so we can move forward on the road to recovery.” She said later that she would begin assembling a transition team today, but she wasn’t sure how soon members would call for a meeting with the Fontaine administration, which has slightly less than a month left at City Hall.
If Baldelli-Hunt’s victory was the voters’ way of saying they want change and a new direction from the elected leaders, it was a message that was amplified even more resoundingly by the results of the City Council elections. Six of the seven candidates who campaigned as part of Baldelli-Hunt’s “team” also won, which means that her legislative agenda is virtually guaranteed smooth sailing during her three-year term. That victory slate included two newcomers, including Melissa Murray, a local businesswoman who’d never before sought public office.
Another, Garrett Mancieri, finished fourth in his second try at the City Council.
For the second election in a row, Councilman Robert Moreau was the top finisher among members of the council, winning, 3,365 votes. He said he looks forward to working with Baldelli-Hunt and would be honored to be named the next City Council president if his colleagues see fit to support him.
“I think it’s going to be fine,” he said. “We’ve already spoken about collaboratively taking steps to move the city forward.”
The new candidates will be sworn in on Dec. 3.
“I really can’t wait to get started,” said Baldelli-Hunt.
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