2014-11-13 / Front Page

Council Chooses Mayor

By Barry Bridges

Fresh on the heels of the general election, the newly-minted Newport City Council held a brief caucus on Wednesday morning, Nov. 12, to informally choose its leadership for the next two years. At-large Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano received the support of her peers to be the city’s next mayor and chair of the council, while First Ward representative Marco Camacho will assume the duties of vice chair.

With the passage of City Charter amendments dictating that terms of office will begin in December, there is less time than usual for a new council to get organized and hit the ground running. The caucus followed several days of discussions among the council-elect to decide among themselves on the successor to Mayor Henry Winthrop, who was not returned to City Hall by the voters. Councilors Justin McLaughlin and Kathryn Leonard told Newport This Week that internal lobbying for the leadership posts have traditionally begun immediately following an election.

This year was no exception, and talks to line up support continued into the weekend after the Nov. 4 contest, according to Napolitano. Councilor Naomi Neville also pursued the mayor’s role and hoped to organize a coalition. But Napolitano reports that she had secured four votes, including her own, by Saturday, Nov. 8. At Wednesday’s meeting, all members of the panel came together, and the chair and vice chair were chosen unanimously.

Napolitano has many years of municipal experience and served as mayor from 2008 to 2010. “I have as much enthusiasm as I had several years ago, and I look forward to working with this council. Everyone has their strengths, it’s a good group, and we will work well together,” she said after the caucus.

She has begun to outline several goals for the next two years. First and foremost, she is anxious to see the disruptive construction on Broadway completed. She also wants to expedite the development of a new strategic plan through a process that solicits citizens’ input. Moreover, she’d like to take a fresh look at the Sister City program. “People seem to be confused about it. We need to determine if it’s working optimally,” she said. Napolitano is pleased with the passage of Question 8, the local facilities bond. With some of the funds targeted for a new elevator at City Hall, she is hopeful that that project will be completed by May.

As to his vice-chair role, Camacho said, “I would like to thank my fellow councilors for placing me in this leadership position. I’m here to offer 100 percent support to the work of the chair and my fellow councilors. We’re a council of equals.”

After finishing as the top contender in this year’s election, Neville decided to throw her backing behind Napolitano and Camacho once she found herself outnumbered in votes for mayor. In a statement, she wrote, “I tried very hard to convince enough councilors that we should move forward with some new ideas and momentum, but I was unable to sway them. I took mild offense at the reason given, that I was too busy for the position because I had kids and maintained a business. I tried to counter those concerns by pointing out that I recently wrote a book in my free time, but had no luck. I will work hard to support Mayorelect Napolitano on the ideas she brings forward and believe it’s in our best interests to start the council off with a unanimous vote of confidence and to move past the previous contentious votes in past election cycles, often stirred up by the top vote-getter claim.”

Neville elaborated to Newport This Week, saying that she was anxious to avoid the conflict at the 2010 and 2012 mayoral caucuses, which saw some debate on whether the top vote-getter should be the presumed chair. “I asked those who supported me to vote unanimously for Councilor Napolitano at the caucus, because I did not want a repeat of a divided vote this year,” she said. “I also considered Jeanne’s request that I pursue vice chair, but instead I would like to focus on the efforts I have been promoting, such as regional shared services, economic development and technology growth, and city improvement projects.”

The newcomers placed into office on Nov. 4 expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming term. At-large Councilor-elect John Florez stated, “I’m very excited about the next two years. We will be proactive, not reactive. It’s a new day for Newport.” Second Ward Councilor elect Lynn Ceglie remarked, “I’m ready to get started and I look forward to working with the new council. I’m sure that we’ll be able to work well together.”

Meanwhile, McLaughlin, who has previously served as vice chair under other mayors, including Napolitano, agreed that there is much to be accomplished in the next two years, such as a possible reexamination of the way the mayor is selected. He said, “We need to establish another Charter Review Commission, because there are issues that aren’t resolved.” In comments to Alliance for a Livable Newport during the fall campaign, he wrote, “The next city council should establish a [new] Charter Review Commission to address two matters: the city council (to include consideration of a variety of electoral paradigms) and the chairperson/mayor (to include the method of selection or election).”

Mayor-elect Napolitano and Vice Chair-elect Camacho will formally be sworn in with all of the counclors at a ceremony at Rogers High School on Dec. 1, the date specified in the City Charter.

Newport Election Results

Registered voters 14,127
Voter turnout 50.69%
Number of voters 7,161

City Council, At-Large
(Top four elected)

Neville 3,667
McLaughlin 3,622
Napolitano 3,615
Florez 3,530
Winthrop 3,308
Farley 2,707
Lavarre 1,205

City Council, Ward 1
(Unopposed) Camacho 1,281

City Council, Ward 2
Ceglie 1,290 (elected)
Grogan 1,159

City Council, Ward 3
Leonard 1,301 (elected)
Edwards 1,016

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