221110ind NKVote

North Kingstown resident Bob O’Brien, left, speaks to poll workers at Forest Park Elementary prior to casting his vote during Tuesday’s election.

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — In a crowded field of 18 local candidates, seven Democrats swept their way to victory Tuesday night in North Kingstown for critical seats on the Town Council and School Committee.

With unofficial results in for all 10 polling places, it appears as if the town council will be comprised exclusively of Democrats as Republican Mary Brimer was the sole incumbent to not win reelection, falling short of Democrat Lawrence Mandel for the fifth and final seat on the board by nearly 500 votes.

Pending any late changes as election officials tabulate remaining mail-in and provisional ballots, Mandel edged out Brimer — the top Republican vote getter — 5,514-5,099. Republicans Kalen Arreola, Randy George Wietman, Christopher Zangari and William King finished sixth through 10th, respectively, while former Council Member Richard Welch and local activist Rickey Thompson — both independents — also were defeated.

In the school committee race, Erin West Earle and Thomas Briody, both Democrats, captured the two open seats on the five-member panel.

In addition, unofficial results show that voters in town approved a resolution about whether the town should allow businesses to legally sell marijuana by a 7,061-5,858 margin. Narragansett and South Kingstown voters also approved on Election Day the retail sale of marijuana in their towns.

A rejection would have meant storefront marijuana sales would be banned. The next step is for town officials to discuss ordinances and other measures to allow local legalized sales that also provide towns with a cut of sale revenue.

While Mancini is the current president of the town council, he will now be up for re-election by council members when the board meets. The school committee also must choose a new chairman because outgoing Chairman Gregory Blasbalg did not seek re-election.

Unofficial results for the five highest vote tallies showed that current Council President Greg Mancini, a Democrat, finished at the top vote-getter with 6,736 (11.3%). He was followed by Democrats Katherine K. Anderson with 6,387 (10.7%), Kimberly A. Page with 6,385 (10.7%), Matthew B. McCoy with 5,832 (9.8%) and Mandel.

In the school committee election, Democrats West Earle won with 6,293 (26.0%) and Briody with 5,674 (23.4%).

Mancini attributed his third-straight consecutive top ranking in votes to hard work, sticking to the issues and avoiding negative comments or criticism as a core of his campaign.

“The job now is to bring the community together and give people a chance to participate without being bullied,” he said, referring to vitriolic social media posts in which he said people beat up on others in attacks without evidence.

In the run-up to the election, Mancini said that his and other Democrats’ accomplishments included ensuring that the vacant town hall was successfully renovated, resolving numerous lawsuits with little liability to the town, increasing town cash reserves by 80% and lowering the tax rate from $18.06 in 2018 to $14.06 this year.

He also pointed to the town attaining an AA+ bond rating, establishing a homestead exemption, significantly improving our town water quality, improving town parks and beach facilities, and increasing funding to our underfunded school system.

In the school committee race, School committee Chairman Gregory Blasbalg declined to run amid the town-wide scandal over “fat testing” by former coach Aaron Thomas. Lisa Hildebrand, committee vice chairman, also did not seek re-election this year. For those two available seats on the committee, six people were seeking election.

West Earle, who won her first term on the committee, said she is looking forward to helping the community, students, teachers and administrators recover from the wrenching disclosures of Thomas’s alleged actions with student-athletes.

“The biggest priority now is having good leadership and reviewing policies and procedures…and rebuilding trust,” she said.

On the campaign trail, she said, “As an educator at a higher education institution, I have seen first-hand the impact a strong K-12 education can have. As a product of the North Kingstown schools and now a mom of children in the schools, I have a personal connection and want them to be exemplary.”

West Earle said that last fall she began attending the school committee meetings.

“It became quickly apparent that strong leadership was needed to help navigate the multiple challenges facing the district. As I learned of the hurdles we are facing, I could not shy away from them. My past experiences have prepared me for this position,” she said.

The school system will soon begin another search for a school superintendent following the rejection in August of the first round of candidates.

That failed search followed the resignation of former Superintendent Philip Auger earlier this year right before a highly-critical report found his actions could have been stronger when investigating reports of naked boys who had “fat tests.”

These tests are alleged to have occurred over decades by Thomas. He has since been charged with child molestation and has pled innocent.

In addition, the fallout led to the departure of Auger‘s assistant superintendent and former high school principal Denise Mancieri. Last month Athletic Director Chris Cobain, who was hired in August 2020, resigned from the school system.

School officials have been under pressure to show more transparency in changing policies around the operation of the athletic department.

On the ballot also was the hot-button issue of retail marijuana sales, which voters in North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Narragansett have approved.

The legislation calls for a 20-percent tax rate, split up into the seven-percent sales tax, a new 10-percent cannabis tax, and a three-percent tax by the municipality where the marijuana is sold.

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association has expressed concern that the drug remains dangerous and that there is no reliable test for impaired drivers using marijuana.

Without one, the prosecution is more difficult under the state’s DUI laws, police officials have said, adding that offenders could create unsafe driving conditions on local streets and highways.

In statewide races, North Kingstown voters also overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates.

State Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett) held off a challenge from well-known North Kingstown Republican Doreen Costa. Valverde defeated Costa both locally in North Kingstown (3,349-2,812) and in the district-wide race for the seat (7.901-5,999).

In Senate District 36, current State Sen Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) defeated Narragansett Town Council member Patrick Murray 4,039-2,804 within the town and 8,288-6,237 in the district.

State Rep. Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter) easily held off Republican challenger Lisa Marie Leavitt both locally — winning the support of NK voters by a 3,524-2,441 margin — and district wide with a 3,894-2,754 margin of victory.

The same was true in District 32 as incumbent Robert Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) breezed to a 4,432-2,525 victory over Republican challenger Ryan Hansen.

Locally, North Kingstown voters all broke Democratic in the state’s biggest races as Seth Magaziner defeated Allan Fung in town for the race to replace James Langevin in Congress, Gov. Dan McKee defeated Ashley Kalus and Sabina Matos defeated Republic Aaron Guckian for Lieutenant Governor.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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