Democratic Primary endorsements
For the Portsmouth Democratic primary next Tuesday, hard deadlines endorses Terri Cortvriend, Tom Vadney, and Sylvia Wedge for the School Committee. For Town Council, this page supports the slate of Democratic Town Committee-endorsed Democrats: Dennis Canario, Dave Croston, Al Honnen, Len Katzman, Mark Katzman, Jim Seveney, and Bill West. Taken into consideration were candidate statements (School Committee, Council), letters to the editor in local papers, track record for incumbents, and for School Committee, statements on the Newport Daily News (NDN)/Channel 18 forum.
For School Committee, support for incumbents Terri Cortvriend and Sylvia Wedge is based largely on the excellent work they have done during a difficult period in the Portsmouth School Department's history. They inherited schools with a budget shortfall and in administrative disarray several years go, and stepped up to make key hirings (including Dr. Susan Lusi as Superintendent, a pick which I believe by itself justifies returning them to office), take tough decisions which have helped move the schools to a point where they have ended the current year with a tiny but positive cash flow, and put mechanisms in place to deal with deal with troubling infrastructure issues. They supported the Caruolo action which was necessitated by the last Tent Meeting, but have said they did so only as a last resort, and because they were obligated to run a legal school system. They clearly knew that such action would cost them votes, but they knew it was the right thing to do, and it should be noted that RI Superior Court agreed. As we have seen recently in Cranston, such support from the Courts is not a slam dunk. Cortvriend and Wedge showed both good judgement and political courage, and should be re-elected.
Thomas Vadney provided thoughtful, detailed answers to the questionnaire on this site and also on the NDN forum. It is clear that he has studied the issues and challenges facing the schools and that he has both analytic ability and vision. I was particularly impressed with his out-of-box suggestion about building a central campus for Portsmouth's schools; it may not be immediately practical, but it shows creativity and understanding of the cost drivers in the system. To be honest, his membership — indeed, his leadership role — in the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC) is a concern. This was, after all, the group that instigated the Tent Meeting and its draconian cut to the school budget. But Vadney gave up his leadership role, telling this page, "My view is that an office holder's first duty is to the community, not to any single organization." We should take Mr. Vadney at his word and support him in the primary.
I feel it necessary to say something about why hard deadlines is not supporting the two officially endorsed Democratic School Committee candidates, Marilyn King and Angela Volpicelli. Their answers to questions, both here and at the NDN forum were just not enough to convince this page of their readiness to serve at this difficult time.
Both of them gave responses about the school department budget which, in this writer's opinion, indicated unfamiliarity with procedures already in place: "There needs to be careful examination and prioritizing before fiscal decisions are made," said Volipcelli. King said much the same thing: "I would try to be more efficient with monies received and, if necessary, reorganize the budget. Given the state’s fiscal crisis, our educational priorities need to be reviewed and re-prioritized." When I pressed on this point, explaining that this was, in fact, the existing budget process, Volpicelli and King both responded in a way that felt evasive. Said Volipcelli, "I have answered my questions to you, and you said in the original e-mail that you will print them as is. My answer for #6 is: A new, fresh perspective should always be welcome. I need to devote more time to other questions that are appearing from other folks and do not have time to elaborate any further. Thank you for your time and I appreciate you posting the rest of my answers as is." King said, "In your original email you asked to answer these questions to the best of our ability which I did....I am not implying anything so please print as is. I am now trying to focus on the questions from the PCC. Thank you." (N.B. There is a lesson here for all new candidates: when you are responding to a question from a reporter, if you don't identify your e-mail as off the record, it isn't.)
In the NDN forum, both candidates evidenced an apparent lack of knowledge about key facts regarding school infrastructure, an issue which will be a major challenge facing the school committee in the upcoming year. Said King, "Elmhurst is falling apart from what I hear. I don't know particulars." And Volpicelli said "My biggest concern is Elmhurst. There are lot of things going wrong with that building. My thought would be to consolidate the two schools." The "particulars" on the schools are publicly available to anyone with sufficient interest to look at School Committee minutes. And the suggestion that it would be possible to close one elementary and redistribute students to the remaining two schools does not sound like it comes from someone who has ever looked at the physical plant or class size numbers. Full disclosure: I am an appointed citizen member of the Facilities subcommittee, so this is a particular hot-button issue for me.
Also at the NDN forum, both King and Volpicelli said that they would not support a Caruolo action (not that there is any reason to believe that action would again be necessary). Their answers spoke more to concerns with the opinions of taxpayers than the financial requirements of the schools. Volpicelli cited "a major impact on the taxpayers," as her reason for opposition, and suggested the schools could "look at our budget and set priorities and stay within our means." King said the Caruolo action "caused a hardship on the citizens of Portsmouth. Some of them haven't recouped [sic] from it." Even former PCC leader Vadney was more sympathetic, saying, that while he did not support it in 2006, "I do not feel comfortable criticizing the current memebers of the School Committee because I was not in their seats." As Cortvriend noted in her response, when you are sworn in, you become an agent of the State, bound to run the school system according to State law. King and Volpicelli's stated unwillingness to entertain the difficult decision to go to court to fight for our students if necessary makes them unsuited, in the opinion of this page, for a role on the School Committee.
And I feel the need to say something about Ms. King's letter in the NDN and Sakonnet Times this week. Her attack on both Superintendent Susan Lusi and the sitting School Committee — and it is hard for me to find any other way to characterize saying "she may not enjoy working for me because I do not own a rubber stamp" — seems to me a grandiose statement, coming from someone who has never, to my knowledge, attended a School Committee meeting, and who provides no evidence that she knows there is, in fact, a line-by-line prioritization of the budget every year. In addition, her assertion that the Superintendent received a 16% raise was simply not factual; Dr. Lusi's response is here. Inaccuracy with numbers is not something we need on the School Committee, nor is divisive rhetoric when the community is beginning to heal from a very traumatic time.
On the Town Council side, the incumbents on the Democratic Primary slate have all performed with distinction in their time on the Council, in addition to providing strong responses to questions here. Dennis Canario has been an extraordinarily effective President, and his level-headed and even-handed leadership should be rewarded with another term. Councilors Len Katzman, Jim Seveney, and Bill West have shared a consistent Democratic vision which helped move the Town forward on key issues like the big box zoning change, Charter revision to replace the Tent Meeting with more representative all-day voting, and environmental issues like wind power and open space. Keeping this Democratic majority in place is in the best interests of the Town going forward.
The new endorsed candidates are also known quantities with strong credentials. Dave Croston's time on the School Committee, including his leadership of the gym project, and Al Honnen's long record of service to the Town make them well qualified. Mark Katzman has attended just about every Council meeting for the past two years — I know, because I often find myself sitting next to him — and has demonstrated a familiarity and understanding of the issues, and a willingness to speak his mind that is essential for robust discussion.
There is one unendorsed Democrat also appearing on the primary ballot, Mary Correia, and while I have great respect for her and her work at Hathaway school, she opted not to respond to this page's questionnaire. Also troubling was her letter, in this week's Sakonnet Times, attacking a sitting member of the Council — and a fellow Democrat — for "a bait and switch proposal" in response to a suggestion about an arts center at the Glen. "Regardless of what we the citizens say or vote on, it doesn’t quite turn out the way we originally thought," she said. Such rhetoric sounds to this writer like someone suggesting the Council has been deliberately subverting the will of the people, a position most often associated with the PCC, and one which feels unseemly and offensive coming from someone nominally in the same party. The Council has made great strides in moving beyond the rancor of the past, and someone who seems bent on moving in the opposite direction does not deserve consideration for a seat.
I do want to thank all the candidates for their dedication to Portsmouth and their willingness to serve the town we love. Any lack of endorsement is in no way a criticism of them as people. Indeed, they are to be commended for stepping up and being willing to subject themselves to the public scrutiny that comes with running for office. I know I speak for all of us when I wish them all the best, and say that whoever the voters of Portsmouth select, we will respect that decision and work together for the good of the Town going forward.
Please remember that next Tuesday's primary is, in effect, the general election for the School Committee since there are no Republicans or Independents running, so please get out and vote.
Sat, 09/06/2008 - 5:21pm
Running as Democrats..
Thanks for your insightful analysis. I have but ONE question....Why is Tom Vadney running as a DEMOCRAT???? I feel the PCC is trying to get people in by placing them as democrats. The PCC philosophy (and usual council party line votes) are far more in sync w/the Republican agenda.
By the same token I will not vote for Volpicelli and King who are also endorsed by the PCC!!!!! I cant remember the last time a DEMOCRAT was endorsed by the PCC, and now suddenly we have 3!!
I find it odd...at least Correira is "independant" like her sister, Karen Gleason.
Do you have any pix of Corriera and Fitzmorris?? ;)
Sat, 09/06/2008 - 9:11pm
Take Vadney at his word -- the other three, not so much
The Democratic Party is a big tent, and I can accept that there are fiscal conservatives like Mr. Vadney. I might disagree with him, I might find the work the PCC did while he was part of it questionable, but in the interest of moving beyond partisan politics and selecting the best candidate, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He said "My view is that an office holder's first duty is to the community, not to any single organization." And once you are a sworn member of the School Committee, you are also bound by state law.
I'm with you about the other three. King and Volpicelli sought and obtained the endorsement of the Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee, then they both speak out against the actions of the sitting Democrats on the School Committee. And Correia is running as a Democrat, albeit a unendorsed one, and she attacks a sitting Democratic member of the Town Council, using standard PCC red-meat rhetoric. The PCC endorsement for these three DINOs is just the icing on their cake.
Trojan horse, sleeper cell, or unwitting fellow travelers? Whatever the case, none of them deserve support from Democrats.
Sun, 09/07/2008 - 7:58pm
She's no independent
Mary Correia is not an "independent", she is running as a supposed "democrat" but if you read her letter in the daily news she is attacking democrats and dredging up old PCC lines to flame the fires. She even said the 1998 gym bond money "disappeared" which makes it sound like someone stole it which is a lie. Every penny of that money is accounted for any EVERYBODY who followed that issue ten years ago knows exactly what happened. She is either horribly misinformed or else she is just making things up as she goes. Either way Correia is simply not qualified to hold office in my opinion. We don't need people on the council looking backward -- we need to look forward.
I agree with you that I can't vote for Volpicelli and King. Not because they were endorsed by the PCC, but because they took positions that reflect they don't understand the school department's issues.
I'll be supporting Cortvriend and Wedge because they both deserve to be re-elected. I'm not thrilled with Vadney, but he seems better than Volpicelli and King.
For the council I'm supporting the endorsed candidates. I like the 4 incumbents and the others seem like minded.
John, Thanks for the candidate questionnaires. Lot's of good information.
Sun, 09/07/2008 - 7:57am
Republicans for Obama -
When Jim Leach, a Republican, can speak at the DNC, then I call that Democracy in Action. Jim Leach, along with Lincoln Chafee belong to a group by subject title demonstrates the massive cross-over to the Democratic Party, the party of change.
Here is the U-Tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6981BGSPnNU
- and you can take it from there at your own discretion.
While party loyalty has been a traditional American phenomenon, it makes no sense to follow Piped Piper policies at one’s own peril.
Mon, 09/08/2008 - 7:43am
Get the word out...
I agree with you Citizen. I really resent the fact that the PCC is suddenly able to endorse DEMOCRATS???? I know a bait and switch and I hope everyone else does. I really hope all the folks who came out and voted against the tent meeting show up tuesday!!
Mon, 09/08/2008 - 1:15pm
Is the PCC that bad?
John and Chrisr
You both write about not voting for people because they are endorsed by the PCC. I'm not sure that's a good reason to vote against somebody. I thought what happened at the tent meeting was stupid, but isn't the PCC just a group of people who follow whats happening in town?
Mon, 09/08/2008 - 2:40pm
Short answer: Yes, but...
The PCC endorsement was a not a determining factor in this page's endorsements. The rationale and decision process is discussed here.
That said, if you think that the PCC is just "a group of people who follow what's happening in town," you may not be acquainted with their agenda or their past actions. I would suggest you search this site for "PCC" and "Larry Fitzmorris" and go to the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens site and look at their newsletters.
Their stated position is this: "It is our fundamental and passionate belief that property taxes have risen to levels that hurt our citizens, and that the cost of town government is the reason for high property taxes." — PCC Web site
While that position may not sound completely unreasonable, that have used their organization to instigate Tent Meetings, the most recent of which made a $1.2 million cut to the School budget which was subsequently held to be excessive by the RI Superior Court.
Three audits (two financial and one performance) failed to find any evidence of waste or excess in the schools, and the citizens of Portsmouth rose up against the Tent Meeting and converted it to all-day voting in what I regard to be a REAL taxpayer revolt.
Now that the Tent Meeting is gone and the state limits property tax increases to a decreasing percentage of the tax levied each year, the PCC has had to shift their focus from the schools to the Town. They opposed the open space bond and the Wind Turbine in last year's referendum and in their recent newsletter, they continue to allege "mismanagement of town finances" by the Town Council.
They are divisive, selective with their facts, and by their own admission, focused on limiting property tax increases. A court of competent jurisdiction found claims they had advanced about the school budget unconvincing. And while it is possible that a candidate may be supported by them for complex reasons having nothing to do with the budget, that does not appear to be the case with either King or Volpicelli, both of whom repudiated the School Committee's court action to restore the Tent Meeting cuts.
Of course, I am biased because they refused me admission in a secret vote, which tends to undercut their stated goals of openness and getting rid of smoke filled rooms.
FYI: Please note that this page *has* endorsed Thomas Vadney, who was a member of the PCC executive committee. We accept that he is the best qualified candidate, and while we may not agree with his positions, it would be better for the schools to have someone who understand the issues. The School Committee is not afraid of robust debate, nor does this page seek a "uniform political view," as this endorsement proves.
You know who still has a uniform political view? The PCC and their off-limits-to-the-public meetings, with a membership selected by secret vote.