2018-11-08 / Election News

Middletown Voters Keep Council Members, Save One

By Christopher Allen

On a rain-swept Election Day that determined the Middletown town councilors who will climb the Town Hall dais to represent 16,000-plus residents, voters chose to keep six of the seven current members, according to unofficial results.

Of the nine candidates running, seven incumbents were up for reelection. In a surprising upset, newcomer Terri Flynn, the second highest vote-getter, pushed out Antone Viveiros who was ousted after serving four terms on the council. Also reelected were current Vice President Paul Rodrigues, Theresa Santos, current President Robert Sylvia, Barbara VonVillas, Henry Lombardi Jr, and Dennis Turano.

Flynn and first-time candidate Lawrence Frank entered the contest in an attempt to unseat one of incumbents.

Frank, whose platform included affordable housing and a more equal distribution of the property tax burden via a homestead exemption, as well as an expansion of public education to include prekindergarten, was unsuccessful in his bid. Frank received 8.7 percent of the votes cast.

Flynn, a member of the Middletown Planning Board who ran on prioritizing education and tax reform, received 3,842 votes, second only to Rodrigues’s 3,923.

Celebrating her victory Tuesday evening with a group of supporters at Portofino Bar and Grille on East Main Road, Flynn was quick to credit her campaign team for getting the word out about her candidacy. “Like any effort,” she said, “there are a lot of elements to reaching the endgame.”

One of the catalysts for Flynn deciding to run was the failure of the town council to put the question of term limits for incumbents, a recommendation by the Charter Review Committee, to voters directly. Flynn said she thought the measure should have been given to Middletown residents to decide.

“They made that executive decision for the people,” Flynn said. “I found that wrong.”

Among the issues Flynn will be focusing her attention on in the upcoming session will be tax reform specifically geared toward helping residents whose tax burdens are onerous due to market fluctuations. One suggestion was a formula that would cap an annual increase at 2 percent.

“That way you as a homeowner could actually predict your taxes,” she said.

Rodrigues said he looked forward to working with the newly constituted council. “I’m sorry to see Antone [Viveiros] go, but everyone brings something to the table,” he said. “The people spoke.”

Although he was grateful, Rodrigues didn’t put too much stock in receiving the most votes.

“I appreciate the people’s support, but at the same time you’re one vote [on the council] ... it’s all about a team and if you’re going to work together,” he said.

Currently serving as council president, Sylvia credited the work of the previous council to his reelection.

“We have been able to maintain a high quality of life in Middletown and keep it affordable at the same time, Sylvia said. “How many cities and towns can go around saying that their retirements to their employees are fully funded ... Middletown can.”

Among the recent accomplishments Sylvia pointed to was the creation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district around lower Aquidneck Avenue that he says will jumpstart development projects in the Atlantic Beach District and the town’s purchase of the Navy land on the corner of Coddington Highway and West Main Road.

“These will generate revenue that will be consistent [and] take some tax burden off of our residents for years and years to come,” he said.

Sylvia said the new council will most likely be sworn in on Nov. 19. At that time the council will vote to select the president and vice president for the two-year term.

Middletown has 11,776 registered voters, according to the Rhode Island Secretary of State website. The outcome reflects a significant number of so-called “under-voting,” whereby voters decide to cast ballots for less than seven candidates.

According to Middletown Canvassing Clerk Wendy Marshall, 835 absentee ballots were cast. She expects the Rhode Island Board of Elections to have tallied them by Friday Nov. 9, she said, and that 53 provisional ballots should be counted by Thursday Nov. 8.

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