In 2009, retired Waterbury, Conn. firefighter Ralph Leone decided to make Rhode Island his home.
Now Leone has decided, when it comes to politics, Rhode Islanders need some balance and to do things differently.
Long before Representative Frank Ferri declared he is a candidate for lieutenant governor, Leone made up his mind to run as a Republican for District 22. He printed up palm cards and began walking the district, starting with his own neighborhood of Oakland Beach.
“What is going on in Providence,” he said in an interview Tuesday, “is accepted as fact, that this is the way it is always done.”
Leone, who retired after 30 years as a captain with the Waterbury department, says doing things the same way just because they have always been done that way “is the fastest way for a firefighter to get killed.”
He noted that Ferri ran unopposed and, while he “personally likes the guy,” he says Ferri’s “in the other camp.”
Asked to explain, Leone said he differs with Ferri on gun bills and his position favoring the repayment of 38 Studios bonds.
“I think, ‘Let the insurance company [that insured the bonds] come and sue us,’” he said.
He’s not surprised that the insurance company directed House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to pay the bondholders.
“What did he expect?” asked Leone. “They’re in the money business.”
He asks of Mattiello, “Is he doing what is in his heart? Is this correct, or is he trying to protect someone?”
Later in the interview, Leone got back to 38 Studios.
“I don’t think 38 Studios is a disease. It’s a symptom of too many back room deals and now they want us to all pay for it.”
Leone said he has talked with Republican Representatives Doreen Costa and Michael Chippendale, as well as State Republican Committee Chairman Mark Smiley. He hasn’t spoken with local Republicans, including Rep. Joseph Trillo, City Committee Chairman Michael Penta or Mayor Scott Avedisian.
In fact, he wondered why Avedisian chose to give all city employees a $1,000 bonus, costing taxpayers $800,000.
“It seems like a bad time to be handing out raises,” said Leone. He said people are under financial stress and that city taxes are high enough as they are. He pointed out that he once owned a 1,500-square-foot home in Florida and paid $875 in taxes. He now lives alone in a 600-square-foot house on the beach that the city assessed at more than twice what he paid for it and he is being charged $1,890 in taxes. Leone, whom the Rhode Island National Guard employs as a security officer, questions the employee bonus.
“I’m not criticizing, I’m questioning, and this seems like bad timing,” he said.
Leone argues that the State House needs balance.
“We have gone too far left. The ship is on the rocks. It’s time to right the ship; there needs to be a balance,” he said.
While going door to door, he hands out copies of the U.S. Constitution. He says people “should know their rights and stop accepting what they are being told.”
With a smile, he adds, “I’ve only been bitten by one dog.”
He is in the process of putting together a committee and plans to hold “meet and greet” gatherings over coffee. He acknowledges Joseph Solomon Jr., who has announced for the seat as a Democrat, probably has higher visibility. Solomon is the son of the Ward 4 councilman by the same name.
“I don’t have the high school classmates and the big Rhode Island family,” he said. “I have a message and I think it is important.”
And while not a Rhode Island native, Leone remembers Rocky Point from when he was a kid. What does he think should become of the land, now owned by the city and the state?
“Ideally, I’d like to see Rocky Point what it was,” he said.
Realistically, he doesn’t see that happening, adding that that would probably be a problem for neighboring residents.
He’s looking to bring change.
Using the tag line for his campaign, he says, “Hope, let’s bring it home to Rhode Island. We can do better, we really can.”