In a traditionally very blue state, the town of Scituate, Rhode Island, has been an outlier. In fact, the Republican Party has controlled the town council going back to 1913 and it looked like the domination wasn’t going to change anytime soon.
That is, until a group of four political newcomers got together last year — three retired police officers and a local business owner — to run as a team and try to gain a majority on the seven-member town council. The self-proclaimed ‘Independent Men’ combined old-school door-to-door campaigning, no easy feat in a town that is spread out over 55 acres, with an aggressive social media strategy in a community where regular media coverage is virtually non-existent. Their main vehicle of communication was Facebook.
The result: an independent trouncing, as the team of Scott Amaral, Nick Izzi, John Mahoney and Mike Payette took four of the top five spots, assuring that the remaining three Republicans (including current council president Charles Collins) will be in the minority come January, unfamiliar territory for the GOP in town. Collins will likely be sitting at the far end of the council table.
“We feel as though this community was screaming for a change,” said Mahoney, the leader of the pack. Mahoney is a residential home developer who for years had first-hand run-ins with town officials. Mahoney recruited the others to run with him as a team using the motto: Vote for 4. “The oversight of our department heads doesn’t exist. Those are the things that forced me to take a hard look at how exactly this administration functions. That’s the beauty of our democracy.”
The candidates said that for the most part, they got an enthusiastic response from those they visited over the past six months. Some, they acknowledge, are wary of the big changes the group is promising.
Scott Amaral’s motivation to run came after a council meeting earlier this year. Amaral — a father of three — says many of the town’s little league fields are in terrible condition, and he approached the council with a request to put up local business sponsor signs at each field, all from businesses willing to donate money to help fix the fields.
The council rejected his request.
After the meeting Mahoney asked Amaral if he’d seen a Hummel Report investigation done on Collins in September 2015 titled “Sliding Scale of Enforcement.” The investigation showed that Collins was cited by the town’s building official David Provonsil a decade earlier for illegally storing scrap metal overnight in front of his property on Central Avenue. Yet Collins continued to do it regularly. Mahoney said Provonsil looked the other way because Collins was the council president.
“Councilman D’Agostino and Collins both said that signs on baseball fields would ruin the aesthetics of the town,” Amaral said. “At the end of the meeting I walked out and I saw John Mahoney, who I knew. We worked together at the prison. He told me about The Hummel Report regarding Collins’s property. I started researching that, and realized that this person just voted down something for the kids for aesthetics and his property was the worst one in town. So I needed to run.”
The candidates handed out the web link of the Hummel Report story to everyone they visited and posted it on their Facebook page. Mahoney said one of the main problems is that Scituate has no town manager or administrator ultimately responsible for a community with a $36 million budget.
Now the Independent Men are turning their focus to running the town when they are sworn in early next month. One person on their radar during the campaign: Police Chief David Randall, who lives in Connecticut, uses a taxpayer-funded car to commute to and from work and teaches a class at URI during work days — all with the blessing of the current council.
The other is Building Official David Provonsil, with whom Mahoney had personal run-ins as a developer and says has looked the other way on zoning violations of the well-connected for far too long.
The four have decided not to take the $2,000 yearly stipend given to council members and $2,500 to the council president. “Whatever money they would have given us, we’ll donate where we see it’s needed. So if the kids need it for field trips, we’re going to donate it,” Payette said.
Mahoney says don’t expect the four to become career politicians. “We’re not going to retire here. We have learned during this campaign process that if you are in this, you’re not going to please everybody. And if you’re in it for an extended period of time you become stale. We are going to work for the people, and only the people. This administration forgot that.”
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