Warren town council up for grabs as candidates file

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A host of newcomers have thrown their hats into the ring in what is expected to be a tough race for one of the most thankless positions in town over the past few months — the Warren Town Council.

Candidates seeking public office after the November elections are required to declare their intention to run from Monday through the end of the day Wednesday. And with one day yet to go, six Warrenites had signed their paperwork at Warren Town Hall by the Warren Times deadline Tuesday afternoon, or had confirmed that they would be filing Wednesday morning.

They include incumbents David Frerichs, Chris Stanley and Joseph DePasquale, as well as hopefuls Steve Thompson, Brandt Heckert and Keri Cronin. Incumbents Cathie Tattrie and Scott Lial had not filed their paperwork by Tuesday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

Members of the Warren Town Council faced a fair bit of criticism at Financial Town Meeting earlier this year, when angry voters cut several positions and accused town officials of not doing enough to keep the town’s budget and tax increases in line. The contentious political climate in recent months wasn’t daunting, sitting president Chris Stanley said, though it did influence his decision to run for re-election despite the fact that his young daughter is growing up and misses him.

“Certainly we don’t want to run away from a fight,” he said. “It’s not appropriate to bow out right now; there’s a lot of unfinished business.”

A lot of that has to do with how much Warren contributes to the Bristol Warren Regional School District. Councilors and other town officials have pinned many of the town’s economic woes on what they say are unfair reimbursements and fiscal requirements from the state and regional school system. Though Mr. Stanley said it could take five years to get the town back on financial track, he said he chose to run again because he knows the issues and would like to help see the town through.

“I think the budget is probably our greatest concern right now,” he said.

He is not alone. Incumbent David Frerichs, a Democrat who is running for his sixth term, said Warren has a chance to repair its flawed school funding arrangement, and having people in the know on the town council is key.

“I want to see the educational system straightened out.”

Mr. Frerichs noted Tuesday that he’s heard from plenty of residents upset with the town council’s advocacy over the budget, which this year required a 7 percent tax increase even after painful budget cuts.

Still, he said he stands by the council’s record.

“We’ve worked hard,” he said. Some residents he has spoken to since the budget passed have been “vicious,” “but I think that the people who really thought about it and knew the issues, realized that (the town’s situation) has more to do with the long term agreement with the schools. Those who think about it correctly realized that the town has worked very hard and diligently.”

To be sure, that gap between voters and the town’s elected and hired officials played a role in convincing several newcomers to run for office, Brandt Heckert included.

Mr. Heckert, who ran four years ago as an unaffiliated candidate but has since switched to a Democrat, said he ran to help bring new ideas to a town that has seen precious little consensus recently.

As owner of Pastiche, a trendy Providence desert shop, Mr. Heckert said he knows what it’s like to run a business, and to watch out for the bottom line. Yet more than that, businesses — and Warren — need to innovate, he said.

“It comes down to a more visionary perspective,” he said, “a more proactive approach, rather than sitting back and reacting to things.”

“I think that’s been a problem with some of the old, entrenched thinking here. Beyond financials, there needs to be some progressive thinking. Our town has been stagnant. There are things that can be pursued that can put our town in a better light and make it more attractive to development.”

Mr. Heckert missed the last seat on the council four years ago by fewer than 60 votes. He hopes that four years of work — he is on the Warren Planning Board — will help. And he said his decision to run as a Democrat is key.

“I think there are people that might feel reluctant to vote for the incumbent Democrats,” he said. “They might feel like the representation they’re getting from the current Democrats is not to their liking. This way, they have that option.”

It’s a big change from when he ran the first time, he said.

“I think at the time, I felt like I would not have the backing of the Democratic party,” he said. “I really was an unknown. This time around, I think I do have some name recognition, and I can stand on my own. I’ve always been a Democrat, always voted as a true Democrat.”

Another new Democrat is hopeful Steve Thompson, also a Planning Board member.

He said he is running because “we’ve to an issue with leadership in town, or the lack of it. The issue is a lack of vision on many levels.”

His vision? Openness.

“We have a climate that people are hesitant to invest in. We need to work toward creating a predictable, open environment for prospective businesses,” he said.

“Our leaders should be inclusive, but we’re seeing divisiveness from some on the council, and I think that’s fundamentally wrong and at odds with what it means to be in public service.”

Keri Cronin, the owner of DISH on Water Street, said she too wants to bring an openness that seems to be lacking. Though she considers herself a Democrat, she is running unaffiliated to bypass the Democratic primary and give herself a better chance at a seat.

“I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time behind the scenes, but if you want to have an opinion about how things are done, you have to be willing to get in and serve,” she said. “It frustrates me when I hear all this criticism of how things have been done from voices that have never showed up or put in the time. I think I have something positive to give, and hopefully constructive.”

Ms. Cronin said her experience as a business owner has given her not only a good perspective on how to run a tight ship, but also “what it takes to run a small business here.”

“I also feel like I’m a peacemaker, a consensus builder. I think we need that now.”

Incumbent Joseph DePasquale, still running as an independent, agrees.

“There are always going to be critics, and those who support us as well,” he said. “But I’m hopefully going to to try to help Warren get through (its financial problems),” said Mr. DePasquale, now serving his fifth term. “Experince counts. I’m trying to do the best job I can for the town.”

Note: For a full list of candidates for town council and other offices, see www.eastbayri.com Wednesday afternoon.

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