Three incumbents will likely return to the Newport City Council, while less than one percent separated three other candidates for the final seat in a tight At-Large race that was not yet official on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, a former two-term mayor who has been an At-Large councilor since 2008, was the top vote getter, according to the secretary of state’s website early on Nov. 4. Mayor Jamie Bova finished second, with incumbent Lynn Underwood Ceglie in third in her first At-Large bid after serving several years as the Ward 2 representative.
For the fourth seat, the race was in a dead heat, with a recount likely on the table as newcomers Elizabeth Fuerte and Kevin Michaud were in a virtual tie with 12.7 percent of the vote, and incumbent Susan Taylor was at 12.6 percent. At press time, Fuerte led Michaud by just five votes.
“I feel honored to have been chosen by the people of the city of Newport,” Fuerte said. “The voters have spoken and I hope to honor what I promised and hope to never let a voter regret voting for me.”
Michaud, not conceding defeat, said, “If I win, I look forward to changing the atmosphere in the council and working as a team with my colleagues to move Newport forward. I can’t wait to get started. I’m not one to sit back and watch.”
Should he lose, Michaud said, “I will be back in two years. In the meantime, I will be more involved in the city. Maybe a spot on one of the boards or commissions.”
Although he sent more than 4,000 mailings to constituents, he said the pandemic hurt his campaign. “I wish I could have done more door-knocking, but I just wasn’t comfortable with it,” he said.
Taylor saying the final results may still change, “I appreciate my fellow candidates for running spirited campaigns and I appreciate the voters in Newport for engaging as they have. My signature issue has been responsible planning, for the North End, the waterfront, and transportation.” She also urges the council to sit down to prepare a strategic plan, and be better trained in procedures and get zoning into compliance for the North End Urban Plan.
Napolitano said, “I am absolutely elated. I’m so happy that people appreciate the work the council has done over the years.”
Ceglie, who saw early returns that spoke to the razor thin closeness of the race, was initially concerned about re-election.
“I feel very happy that the voters want me to continue to work on the council. I am very appreciative of all the support these past five months,” she said. “I am looking to push the North End Plan forward in conjunction with the Pell Bridge realignment. We have many quality of-life issues, such as short-term rentals, infrastructure, etc.”
As for the council going forward, she said, “I think the voters are looking for a council that has some vision for the future and can work productively together.”
The mayor is chosen from the four at-large winners. “Whomever puts their hat into the ring tries to persuade their colleagues as to whom would be best to lead the meetings and represent the city,” said Ceglie.
Bova’s second-place finish led to speculation that she may not be allowed to continue in that role. Bova issued an election statement that read, in part: “There will be a lot to tackle over the next two years, starting with the education of our Newport youth. [Now] that the school construction bond has passed, the next council needs to work with the School Committee and RIDE to get shovels in the ground on a new high school. A successful community requires strong neighborhoods with accessible housing alongside a strong school system. The next council needs to continue to work to make Newport an attractive place for year-round living.
“Next month the city administration will bring options to implement a Homestead Exemption to the council. Properly implemented, a Homestead Exemption will make living in Newport more accessible by decreasing the tax burden on our year-round residents. The next council must consider these options with ample public input.”
As for choosing the next mayor, Bova said, “I will begin the upcoming term by immediately calling a caucus of my colleagues to discuss, in public, the selection of the Council Chair and Mayor for the next two years. The most impactful and important role of the Chair is as the champion of discussion and openness on the Council. I will ask my peers to discuss and consider how each of the eligible councilors will use the role of Council Chair to uphold the public trust.”
Beth Cullen, who finished in seventh place, said, “I’m disappointed to see so little change. Instead of seeking excellence, voters have chosen the comfortable course of continued mediocrity. Yet, I’m energized and ready to support this newly-minted council. We all must work to ensure a heightened focus on solving the big issues in front of Newport. There are serious challenges to be addressed; economic, educational, environmental and equity concerns top the list.”
During the campaign, Cullen called hundreds of voters. “I hung 1,500 door tags. People from all backgrounds expressed ‘dis-ease’ with the direction of our city leadership and the direction our city has taken,” she said. “The huge hotels and school system’s academic concerns were frequently mentioned as troubling.”
Incumbent Justin McLaughlin, who dropped out of the race after he won in the primary, received 1,400 votes. According to the Board of Elections, McLaughlin waited so long to drop out that ballots had already been printed with his name.
Mail-In Ballots Slow to be Counted
An untold number of Newport mail-in ballots remained uncounted as of Nov. 4, said Tracy Nelson, the city’s canvassing clerk. Ten bins of ballots, one from each polling location and another from City Hall, had yet to be delivered to the Board of Elections.
Ballots are unsealed at the Board of Elections. Therefore, it is unknown how many total ballots are contained in the bins. The Board of Elections will process the ballots and the results will be updated on the city website, Nelson said.
There are also provisional ballots that need to be qualified, she said. “I don’t have an exact count on those yet,” Nelson said on Nov. 4. “I will get to opening the bags and counting them in a little while.”
Unofficial election results as of Wednesday, Nov. 4 from the Rhode Island Board of Elections. For updates visit ri.gov/election/results.
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