NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — With the state primaries coming up Tuesday, it’s down to the wire for the seven Democratic candidates to make their pitch to voters, with the primary bringing the number down to five ahead of a general election against three Republicans and an independent for the five seats on the Town Council.
All incumbents are running for their respective seats again, including independent Kevin Maloney, who was appointed to the council in July after Democrat Stacey Elliott stepped down for personal reasons, with Maloney having finished sixth in the 2018 election.
Greg Mancini, the Town Council president and top vote recipient in the last election, was surprisingly not endorsed by the North Kingstown Town Democratic Committee, with the group instead opting to endorse fellow incumbent Richard Welch as well as Brad Artery, Kim Page and Rickey Thompson, though Artery and Page, along with Mancini, Katie Anderson and Jack Kliever are all endorsed by the National Education Association North Kingstown (NEANK).
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, incumbents Mary Brimer and Kerry McKay are joined again by Randy Wietman in a joint campaign effort as they did in 2018. With only three declared and endorsed candidates, the North Kingstown Republicans will all automatically advance to the general election.
Here’s a look at the seven candidates competing for five slots in the Democratic primary. They are listed in the order in which they appear on the ballot:
Kim Page, Democrat
While Page didn’t respond for comment before print, the former North Kingstown School Committee chairwoman and president of the North Kingstown Food Pantry Board of Directors lays out her platform on her website as follows: good governance for North Kingstown, adequate funding for schools, further movement on the remodeling of Town Hall and making the town more business friendly.
“Many businesses were hurt by the shutdowns due to the COVID-19 virus.” Page writes on her website. “We need to work toward a safe and productive reopening. We need to work with the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce and the other agencies that are aiding in business restarting. SCORE RI provides restarting information to small businesses.”
Richard Welch, Democrat, Incumbent
Welch, one of the most tenured members of the council who, along with McKay and Maloney, served on the previous council, said he didn’t think it was fair to compare councils, especially given the circumstances.
“I am not ready to compare this town council to the last town council or previous town councils,” Welch said. “We have had our differences of opinion along the way and the Town Council has changed over the two. Circumstances are different for each town council, when was the last time a town council had to deal with a virus?”
Welch said that despite differences of opinion, he’s proud of what he’s been able to help accomplish as a member of the council.
“(One of the biggest accomplishments has been) getting the state to begin planning to fix the ponding on Post Road which has been a safety problem for years,” Welch said. “Closing on 55 Brown St. should be very soon and the signing of an agreement to develop Wickford Elementary. Working out a new and better pilot agreement with Electric Boat.”
As for things he hopes to get done if re-elected, Welch says his goals remain the same as they have been.
“I wish that the new street lights were up and running which will cost us less money than the present lights, that the solar farm on town property was running as it will supply all of the electric needs of our town and school departments and may throw off some money on excess power sales,” Welch said. “We have real estate surplus that needs to be sold to put money in the treasury and begin paying taxes. I will be happy when we can get a permanent solution to the removal of traffic lights on Route 4.”
As for the makeup of the next Town Council, Welch says he does not see a Democratic sweep happening due to divisions in the party and among the candidates themselves.
“Primaries are not positive as they tend to divide the party and cause friction,” Welch said. “Things may be said before the primary that are hurtful and will remain long afterwards. I do not see a sweep in the general election as I don’t see candidates that have any history in the town, haven’t lived in town very long and really do not have any knowledge of where our town has been or where it is going. This forces these candidates to rely on others for information that may have an agenda this may not be good for our town. This has happened before when not one incumbent ran and the town manager ran the town council, this was an awful two years for North Kingstown.”
Brad Artery, Democrat
The CEO of North Kingstown-based healthcare technology startup MOCingbird, Artery says that he hadn’t really considered a run until others urged him too this year.
“I actually had several professional North Kingstown residents, many of whom are educators, ask me to run,” Artery said. “I had honestly not considered a run much before this year. However, hearing repeated, consistent frustration regarding the current Town Council from professionals and families whom I respect ultimately piqued my interest to run for Town Council.”
In particular, Artery said having two daughters in North Kingstown public schools and a business based in town really pushed him to jump in the race.
“I ultimately came to the realization that now is my time to attempt to make a positive difference for our town and residents,” Artery said.
Artery said that while admittedly he was still new to politics, the reasons that made him run are his two main priorities: education and business.
“The quality of our North Kingstown public education is the top issue for me,” Artery said. “Having a top-rated school system in the state of Rhode Island drives the right type of growth and better educates our existing residents. The frustration that I’ve consistently heard from educators and the observations that I’ve made as a resident and parent lead me to believe we’ve taken several steps backwards under current Town Council leadership. That needs to change now.”
On business, Artery said there’s work to be done to make the town more attractive to new businesses.
“We need more discipline and thought leadership in making North Kingstown a community that is fiscally responsible and viewed positively by emerging businesses,” Artery said. “A drive through our community highlights that we have not consistently gotten this right and many opportunities exist.“
Artery said he’d describe the current Town Council in one word: dysfunctional.
“Unfortunately, there is a complete lack of trust amongst the current committee members which is driving the dysfunction,” Artery said. “Lack of transparency and accountability results and North Kingstown residents are suffering because of it. I personally believe Greg Mancini, the top vote getter in the last election, has done a fantastic job driving for positive change in the Town Council over the last two years. His reward? The (North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee) didn’t endorse him for this election. That is a great example of the dysfunction.”
Artery touted his credentials from his tenure in the US Navy’s submarine service, looking after over $2 billion in annual spending at Citizens Bank and his current role of CEO at MOCingbird, all as experience he’d drawn on as a member of the Town Council.
“I professionally operate and hold two primary characteristics with the highest regard: transparency and accountability,” Artery said. “Information, rationale behind decisions, and budgets (and) financial projections will be an open book. All residents deserve to know the facts as to why decisions were/are made. Regarding accountability, if we say we are going to do something or set a deadline, then we meet that commitment.”
As for partisan politics, Artery said he had no time or support for them and that if elected, he will make his decisions based on the merits of the case and what’s in the best interest of town residents rather than party interests, and said he’s impressed with a lot of his fellow newcomers.
“I do think we have some talented new candidates on the ticket this year, which is exactly what is needed,” Artery said. “Again, I’m not as concerned about the political party makeup of the final council as I am about getting new leadership in the council. North Kingstown residents deserve change, and only then will appropriate progress be made.”
Rickey Thompson, Democrat
Thompson, a previous candidate a self-described frequenter of Town Council meetings, says he’s running again because he’s not satisfied with the job of the current council, particularly in listening to constituents.
“As a regular attendee of Town Council meetings I have seen the same year after year issues including the lack of positive change and our town officials unwillingness to listen to residents concerns,” Thompson said. “As a resident that has consistently attended town meetings including council, commission, committee, board and special meetings, I strongly believe that my North Kingstown town government knowledge coupled with my management skills will enable me to make positive and immediate contributions to our town council and our town government.”
He said there’s a lack of unity within the current council and that outside of a new PILOT agreement with Quonset negotiated by Mollis, that he can think of little in terms of major accomplishments of the council.
In particular, his dissatisfaction with the council and town government stems from the Rolling Greens proposal, something he says is “an example of our elected officials turning a deaf ear to their constituents,” saying that they’ve consistently put the interests of Rolling Greens over those of residents.
Thompson defended his pending legal action naming the town and the developers.
“I am not suing North Kingstown nor am I seeking damages, I am only seeking to right a wrong,” Thompson said.
If elected, Thompson plans to prioritize budget surpluses and Quonset PILOT revenue be used to offset proposed tax increases, revise restrictions for businesses on Post Road to encourage business development, properly maintain town assets, ensure the proper protection of the town’s drinking water supply, ensure proper funding for the North Kingstown School Department and make the council more open and receptive to residents.
As for the election itself, while he doesn’t see a Democratic sweep, he hopes Democrats will come together to support whatever ticket is on the general election ballot.
“Although I do not believe that there will be a Democratic town council sweep due to several candidates’ lack of Town Government knowledge, I am hopeful that the full North Kingstown Democratic Committee will come together and support the November Democrat ticket for Town Council,” Thompson said.
Katie Anderson, Democrat
Anderson, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Chemical Dependency Professional (LCDP) currently practicing in community mental health, says her professional experience serving different communities makes her an ideal candidate for Town Council.
“I know how to truly listen to and respect other people’s lived experiences, strengths, challenges and needs, and how to advocate accordingly,” Anderson said. “I understand tenants of leadership, fiscal responsibility and budgeting, and attention to detail from my professional work, and I will bring these qualities to the Town Council.”
“My personal values and ethics align with those I hold as a social worker: I want to protect North Kingstown residents’ interests by uplifting and empowering a diverse range of voices, expanding participation in our democracy and responding to challenges affecting those from all walks of life,” Anderson added.
On the current Town Council, Anderson says she feels they’ve made progress in certain key areas such as with PILOT and Post Road redevelopment, she was disappointed in some of their decisions regarding schools.
“I am dismayed and disheartened that certain members of the Town Council voted to essentially level-fund our schools,” Anderson said. “How can that be? Supporting our schools is not just the right thing to do morally, it makes good financial sense to ensure our town has a strong school system to attract and retain residents. The Town Council’s sole purpose is to ensure our municipality functions to its full potential, and that means supporting our public schools.”
If elected, Anderson says she’ll expand efforts to restore civility, effectiveness and efficiency to the council and her priorities include supporting a strong school system, building community, ensuring a sustainable future, driving revenue, capitalizing on underutilized town assets and supporting the town’s workforce and small businesses.
“I will ensure progress in areas including Quonset and Post Road corridor redevelopment,” Anderson said. “I will ensure our schools, the bedrock of our community, and the cornerstone of any strong municipality, are adequately funded.”
As for her fellow Democrats, Anderson says she’s encouraged by the amount of other young newcomers in the area and nationwide.
“I am hopeful that a new generation of Democratic leadership will prevail,” Anderson said. “I am confident we will win back the majority, and that a ‘clean sweep’ of Democrats absolutely can happen.”
Jack Kliever, Democrat
For Kliever, a retired police officer, his previous line of work made him want to get involved with politics.
“During my career as a police officer I witnessed how important the decisions of our local elected officials are,” Kliever said. “I decided I wanted to be involved in politics in some way after I retired. The current crisis in our democracy convinced me to step into the arena sooner rather than later.
“The newcomers tend to be a little younger, a little more diverse and more progressive than the current leadership. I welcome this growth and evolution. Some people don’t. So, we are having a primary to let the voters decide.”
If elected, Kliever says he wants to focus on three things in particular: education, inclusion and infrastructure.
“There are uncertain economic times ahead, but education is the most important investment we can make,” Kliever said. “If we do not provide the foundation for every child to succeed to their fullest potential, that is not only a loss for them, but a drag on our whole community. North Kingstown is more diverse than many people realize. Making sure that every member of our community is safe and feels welcome is the right thing to do, and contributes to the prosperity of us all. We have made some progress in improving and maintaining our infrastructure, but we are still behind. As we emerge from this recession, we have to maintain and improve our utilities and transportation infrastructure to allow our local businesses to grow while maintaining our quality of life.”
Kliever praised the current council for their work on labor and legal issues and the progress made on the old library and Wickford El, but said he wanted to see more progress on other infrastructure projects.
“Their recent vote on the School Department budget was shortsighted and unnecessary,” Kliever said. “Some council members go out of their way to be combative with the town’s excellent professional staff. This is unnecessary and counterproductive.”
Overall, Kliever predicts a strong showing for Democrats come November.
“On top of that we have a great slate of candidates and some fantastic volunteers. As far as I know, the Democrats have never swept the North Kingstown Town Council. If it ever happens, this would be the year.”
Greg Mancini, Democrat, Incumbent
As previously stated, Mancini was the top vote recipient in 2018 and has served as Town Council President for the current Town Council, one which he says has been the best in recent history.
“I think this Town Council has done more in two years than the previous several councils,” Mancini said. “Civility and respect were restored among the members, we improved labor relations, settled a number of lingering lawsuits, moved forward with renovations for our historic town hall and development of the Wickford Elementary School, held a first of its kind workshop on revitalizing Post Road, and entered into a long term payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Electric Boat that will yield the town $78 million in tax revenue over the term of the agreement.”
Mancini says that he’s running for re-election for three reasons in particular.
“To make our community a better place to live, to give parents in our community a voice they didn’t have previously and to inspire or motivate more people, particularly young people to participate in our democracy,” Mancini said. “There has been significant progress on all fronts.”
He said the current council has brought stability back to the Town Council and pointed to the previously mentioned accomplishments as signs of that success.
“From meeting parent constituents, I now believe that they believe they have a voice,” Mancini added. “According to the number of people that applied for mail ballots we will far exceed the number of votes cast the last time we had a primary for town council. In all of these instances, that marks great progress.”
In particular, from speaking with constituents and with the current situation surrounding COVID-19 and the reopening of schools, education has become one of his biggest priorities.
“People who live in North Kingstown and people who move here expect a good school system,” Mancini said. “My biggest goal is to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to provide a quality education to our children. It is not only the right thing to do, but it is also in the best interests of our property values.”
As for the Democratic Party in town, Mancini admits that there is infighting currently but he is hopeful they can pull together come election day to take back the majority.
“Regardless, we will have five candidates for town council, so yes, I hope we do win back the majority,” Mancini said. “A Democratic sweep is a very tall order, but we will try.”
The primaries for Rhode Island are being held Tuesday.