Ray Hattoy said he had read about Republican candidate for mayor Stacia Petri. Then he got an automated phone call informing him of a meet and greet Wednesday evening at the Islander Restaurant. He decided to see what she had to say.
Hattoy wasn’t the only one. He was one of about 60 to stop in to meet the woman challenging incumbent Mayor Scott Avedisian to be on the November ballot. They will face off in the Sept. 9 Republican primary. The winner will face whoever is the top vote getter in the Democratic primary, a contest between John “Jack” Kirby and Carel Callahan Bainum. Kevin Eiseman will be running as an independent.
How the mayoral Republican primary will play out in a city where most voters are registered as unaffiliated or Democrats has some political pundits saying Petri could be successful in unseating a mayor who consistently won 70 percent or more of the voters in general elections for the past 14 years. Registered Republicans number 6,093; Democrats 19,085; unaffiliated voters add up to 32,056.
But there’s more to the primary than the race for mayor.
Gubernatorial candidates Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Ken Block top the Republican primary ballot. Their hotly fought race promises to bring out more Republicans than usual.
Will that favor Avedisian, who is backing Fung, or Petri, who favors Block? She said Block is an outsider, or what she considers herself.
And, as the Republicans have a horse race going for governor, so do the Democrats. The three leaders – Gina Raimondo, Angel Taveras and Clay Pell – are spending big money to get their names in front of the voters. Will unaffiliated voters, who can decide to vote Republican or Democrat the day of the primary, affect the outcome of the mayoral race?
Richard Langseth, who challenged Avedisian in the 2010 GOP primary, thinks Petri brings in unaffiliated voters, regardless of the high profile races for governor. Langseth was at Petri’s event on Wednesday. Langseth doesn’t see Petri losing voters to the Democratic primary.
“They’re going to go where the local issues are. To them, the mayor is more important than the governor,” he said.
Avedisian trounced Langseth in 2010. The mayor won 2,064 to 635 votes for Langseth. While a significant percentage, the total number of votes cast in a city with more than 56,000 registered voters was small.
“If she were to get 2,000 votes, she could win,” he speculated.
Robert Cushman also said a Petri win “is doable.” The former Democratic Ward 1 councilman and chairman of the School Committee reasons, “There’s a lot of negativity out there,” and that Petri is a fresh face. But Cushman won’t be able to vote for Petri in the primary. The deadline for changing pre-registered party affiliation has passed.
Wednesday’s meet and greet was casual, with groups of people seated around tables and chatting while sipping drinks. Petri drifted from one group to the next, mingling. At first she said she had no plans of formally addressing everyone, preferring to meet them one-on-one, but at the urging of her campaign manager, Roy Dempsey, she changed her mind.
“You are my main priority,” she said in brief remarks. Without naming Avedisian, she said, “14 years of the same thing is far too long.”
She didn’t get into what she would do differently, but she assured, “this is going to happen.”
Some in attendance said they had hoped to hear more. Paul Tremblay said he wants to see a Republican mayor as a balance to a Democratic council but he thinks Avedisian has been mayor long enough. He’s critical of Avedisian’s budgets and the tax increases they’ve meant.
“I’ve seen too many people losing their homes,” he said. “I’m tired of taxes in Rhode Island.”
“She could sneak in,” he said.
As for governor, he’s leaning toward Block.
Another staunch Republican, James Boyajian, said, “It’s time for him [Avedisian] to leave.”
Boyajian said he supported Avedisian for years, but he became disenchanted when he sought to talk to him about a city tree that he believed threatened his house. He said nothing happened after he brought up the matter. Sometime later, he talked to Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson and it wasn’t too long before the tree came down.
“He’s getting to be a dictator,” he said of Avedisian.