election web

After a tumultuous year in Town Hall Council chambers, 15 people have chosen to seek election or re-election to the South Kingstown Town Council. Their reasons are varied: some believe the town is well run, others want to encourage more public participation, or do more to support small business.

Of the 15, five are Democrats endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee: incumbants Carol Hagan McEntee and Margaret “Meg” Healy, who are running with Bryant Da Cruz, Stephanie Diorio, and former School Committee member Frederick Frostic. Three are un-endorsed Democrats: Rachel Clough, Liz Gledhill and Cecil Lee Smith. The Democrats will face off in a Sept. 9 primary to reduce their numbers to five. Four candidates are running as Republicans endorsed by the Republican Town Committee: Roland Benjamin, James Haldeman, Sean O’Donnell and Robert Trager. The remaining three candidates, incumbent James O’Neill, Abel Collins and Joe Viele, are running as independent candidates.

Council President Ella Whaley and Councilman Paul Donnelly opted not to seek re-election this term. Earlier this year, Whaley, a retired teacher, said her family had purchased a condominium in Florida and planned to winter there.

Despite controversial remarks earlier this year that resulted in the remainder of the council voting to ask for his resignation, O’Neill said he has always planned on running again. In April, O’Neill was recorded uttering the phrase “She’s lucky I didn’t hit her,” while Clough was speaking at a meeting, though he later said the remark was aimed at Whaley. Both Clough and Whaley filed police reports about the incident. O’Neill said he has apologized for his remarks and the council has “moved on” from this incident.

“There’s nothing to apologize for. There’s may still be some personal issues, but the council has really done a great job,” O’Neill said. “The citizens should be proud. The tax levy is low, we have a great school system, we get awards for our ‘Healthy Living by Design,’ we don’t have pension issues. Take out all the politics, and we have done a great job.”

O’Neill endorsed his fellow council members, Hagan McEntee and Healy.

Not all have agreed with O’Neill about the council’s performance. Clough said she decided to run because she was dissatisfied with the council. In April, Clough criticized its members for allowing The Matty Fund, a Wakefield-based non-profit that provides support to children with epilepsy, to host its annual 5K road race immediately before the town’s Memorial Day parade along Main Street in Wakefield.

“I am obviously not thrilled with the Town Council,” Clough said in an interview. “I am a firm believer that if you’re not happy with something, then you should be willing to change it.

“When I first went there, I was amazed at how few people attended meetings,” Clough said. “I heard how poorly people felt they were treated, and I felt my voice wasn’t heard. I would want people to feel comfortable in attending meetings.”

A lifelong South Kingstown resident, Clough, who owns Busy Bodies, a dance studio in Wakefeild, said many members of her family have been involved in public service.

“I would like to see on the council more representation of every aspect of our community,” Clough said. “I believe our children are our greatest asset. I think supporting our schools and our teachers is crucial. Obviously I am very supportive of small businesses, since I own one.”

As to the possibility that she and O’Neill might serve together, Clough said she would serve alongside whoever is elected.

“I imagine [O’Neill] and I would not see eye to eye, and it would definitely lead to interesting discussions,” she said. “But we are all adults and we have to get along as a part of a group.”

Political newcomer and Democrat Liz Gledhill, who said she’s a friend of both Clough and Whaley, was inspired to run, in part, for similar reasons.

“When I went to Town Council with Rachel, they didn’t listen to her,” Gledhill said in an interview. “That really struck me – ‘Man, they’re not listening.’ I want to listen to others.”

Gledhill said she understands the need to find balance between supporting local businesses and listening to the needs of residents, and added she is particularly aware of this because she hopes to open her own bakery. She is creating a small farm on her Winter Street property, close to where a major housing development has been proposed.

“I’ve always been interested in local politics,” she added. “I find the whole process interesting. When I just started going to Town Council meetings, I felt I couldn’t identify as a young mom. I think that everyone on the Town Council are lawyers, they’re involved in real estate, they’re going to be about their own business.”

“‘Balance’ is the word that comes to mind,” said Viele, who owns Liberty Rentals in Peace Dale. “There should be representatives from all sectors of the community. I’ve considered running for a long time. I think it would be helpful to have a representative from the business community.”

Viele, a South Kingstown resident for the past 43 years, has served on the town Economic Development committee and is treasurer of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and a former chairman of its board. Viele announced his bid for the council in November, saying that he plans to draw on his experiences as a small businessman, if elected.

“I’ve always had a very strong commitment to public service,” said Diorio. “I’m really excited to continue with the direction the council has been going in.”

Diorio said she has been regularly attending council meetings since April and has met with Town Manager Stephen A. Alfred in an effort to become more informed about town issues, including managing coastal resources, keeping the town’s tax levy increase as low as possible – something she commended the town for doing – and working with the School Committee.

Diorio is no stranger to public service, having served as a School Committee member for the Chariho Regional School District from 1999 to 2006, including as its chairwoman for five years. A South Kingstown resident for three years, she has worked as a paralegal since 1993, and has recently returned to college to study political science and global studies.

Da Cruz, a realtor for Keller Williams Realty, said he wants to run for council to maintain the schools, business community and quality of life of South Kingstown.

“We have a lot to offer, and I want to make sure it stays at this status,” Da Cruz said. “I’ve always been someone who wanted to help people.”

He previously served on the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Providence, and currently volunteers with the Union Fire District. He also serves on the accountability subcommittee for the School Committee.

“I’ve been involved in local politics for the last six to eight years or so,” said Benjamin. “I know what it’s like to run an organization. I can provide financial help and insight into the budget.”

A Wakefield resident, Benjamin owns LFI Inc., a manufacturing business in Smithfield. He has run for South Kingstown School Committee in the past, and was the runner-up in the 2012 election. After the election, he was one of three finalists to replace Mega when he resigned from the committee, but the former Council passed him over in favor of Democrat W. Keith Vorhaben, who served until November and did not win re-election. (Vorhaben is running for School Committee again this year.) In 2013, when Morris resigned, Benjamin again applied to be appointed, but the Town Council re-appointed Mega instead. Benjamin is the chairman of the Republican Town Committee and serves on School Committee subcommittees.

Benjamin said these losses “redirected his efforts” toward running for Town Council, primarily to provide partisan “balance,” which currently consists of four Democrats and one independent.

Haldeman of West Kingston is a retired U.S. Marine and an airline pilot. He previously ran unsuccessfully for the House District 35 seat in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. Trager of Middlebridge, a home improvement contractor, made a failed attempt to unseat Rep. Donald Lally for the House District 33 seat in 2012. Frostic, who was appointed to the School Committee to fill out a term, ran unsuccessfully for Town Council in 2012, as did O’Donnell, a pharmacist from Wakefield. Smith, an industrial security specialist, ran unsuccessfully for Town Council in 2004. Collins, an environmental activist who formerly worked for the Sierra Club, ran unsuccessfully against Congressman Jim Langevin in 2012.

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