Jennifer Rourke has wanted to run for elective office for a while now, but moving to Warwick a few years ago after her husband switched jobs was finally the impetus she needed to throw her hat in the ring. As a Democrat, she will be challenging incumbent Michael McCaffrey for the District 29 State Senate seat for the party’s nomination in the September primary.
“I’m a woman on a mission trying to make this place better for all our children,” Rourke said on Wednesday. “Warwick is a great city. I love it here. I just want to make it better. That’s pretty much it.”
Originally from Springfield, Mass., Rourke grew up in low-income housing to loving parents who worked hard to put her through private school. This perspective, along with having four children (with ages ranging from preschool to the oldest enrolled in college at CCRI), has made the minimum wage an important part of her platform.
“Paying for college tuition and buying books while being paid very little, it’s hard,” she said. “The minimum wage should be at least $15; somewhat of a livable wage to be able to at least buy books.”
Rourke talked about a having a conversation with a family member who, when he attended Providence College, tuition was $600. “Nowadays our children graduate with $60,000 in debt,” she said.
Another pillar of her platform is access to affordable and quality healthcare, especially for senior citizens. She had a sad brush with the failings of healthcare when her grandfather passed away to prostate cancer when he was 66.
“The biggest thing that changed my life was the death of my grandfather,” she said. “He didn’t get his cancer diagnosis until it was too late.” Rourke said that, despite his age, he wasn’t prompted by doctors to get a prostate examination until he was already in his 60s, by which time it was too late to counteract the disease.
However Rourke turned the tragedy into something positive for others, helping start a scholarship in his name for low-income high school students in Springfield that attain a certain GPA. The scholarship, which started in 1995, is still going strong today.
Education, too, is an important topic that Rourke hopes to be able to advocate for on Smith Hill. Her involvement with education started early and quite uniquely. Through a family friend, Rourke actually helped tutor high school students in Hartford, Conn. who had difficulty reading through a program that utilized reading and acting out various skits. The unique element? She was in fifth grade at the time.
“I guess technically that was my first job, although it wasn’t a paying job,” Rourke said.
In addition to the tutoring, Rourke helped in the creation of an ESL program for young students in Springfield, and said that one of her goals is to create an after-school program for kids in Warwick.
Rourke knows that she has a difficult challenge in trying to unseat McCaffrey, who is currently the majority leader in the Senate and has held his seat in the legislature since the 90s. However she feels that this very fact is one of the reasons she is putting her name on the ballot in the first place.
“I think there should be term limits,” she said. “I think at some point you start to lose touch with your constituents…I think people are ready for change. I know it’s going to be a battle, and he’s going to have his feet deep in the sand but I’m ready to fight.”
Rourke said she plans to start knocking on doors soon, probably after she recovers from an illness she got on Sunday – “One of the joys of having school-aged children” – she joked in an email. She looks forward to getting out and meeting more people when her campaign begins to ramp up. She also said she hopes to be able to run a clean and civil campaign against McCaffrey.
“I’d prefer not to run a nasty campaign,” she said. “I’m very honest and straightforward.”
Her goal, as stated before, is to be an advocate to help improve the city she now resides in and adores.
“Warwick is so beautiful. We love it here. You couldn’t pay us to leave,” she said. “Whatever we can do to make the city better, that’s what we want to do.”