(Photo by Tom Shevlin)
By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – The 14 elected members of the city's School Committee and City Council took the oath of office during a swearing-in ceremony held Wednesday, Jan. 3.
Second-term councilor Henry F. Winthrop was formally elected mayor while Councilor Naomi Neville was chosen as vice-chair. On the school side, longtime School Committee member Dr. Charlie Shoemaker was elected chairman, and Jo Eva Gaines was voted in as vice-chair.
Taking the oath for the first time were First Ward Councilor Marco T. Camacho and Councilor At-Large Michael T. Farley.
Both were beaming during the ceremony, which was held on the campus of Salve Regina University.
Farley, an attorney, had previously run twice for council – narrowly losing in both 2002 and 2010. But the third time proved the charm, as Farley beat out political newcomer Don Boucher for the fourth and final city-wide seat.
Rounding out the council's At-Large representation is Jeanne-Marie Napolitano, while Justin S. McLaughlin was sworn in for another term representing the Second Ward, and Kathryn E. Leonard was likewise sworn in to the Third Ward seat.
On the School Committee, seven ran for seven seats, with only former school administrator Robert B. Power the only new face.
He joins Shoemaker, Gaines, Rebecca Bolan, Sandra Flowers, Robert Leary, and Thomas Phelan.
After presenting their credentials to City Clerk Kathy Silvia, each of the elect were sworn in by Rep. David N. Cicilline, (D-RI) who travelled to Newport from Washington, D.C. for the evening ceremony.
After being sworn-in, each representative had the chance to make some brief remarks.
On the School Committee, Rebecca Bolan used the moment to thank her family for supporting her through a third election cycle, and noted that it takes a big commitment to hold office.
Leary followed by adding that while he was pleased to be serving another two years, he was disappointed that more people didn't decide to seek office in November's election.
For Jo Eva Gaines, who was first elected to the committee 12 years ago, she proclaimed that she was happy to be, "Still going."
"We have solved a lot of the problems we had 12 years ago," she said. "We've come a long way, we still have a long way to go, but we're getting there."
As for Shoemaker, he took time to thank all those who made the Pell School project possible before using his address to talk about the city's drop-out rates and math programs.
Handing Winthrop five one-dollar bills "as a taxpayer," he quickly took them back "as a school committee member," held the cash up to the audience, and proceeded to tear one of the bills in half.
That bill, he said – 20 percent of the five dollars he handed to Winthrop – represented the percentage of students who drop out of the city's school system before graduation.
According to Shoemaker, each year the school district pays roughly $44,000 per dropout from 9th-12th grades, or roughly $1 million.
"The problem is not in the high school," Shoemaker said. Rather, he argued, it goes back to the beginning.
A similar situation relates to math. Focussing on math and science from an early age, he said, should be a priority for Newport's schools.
And with the Pell School nearing completion and the city's teacher union contracts in hand, Shoemaker declared, "We have cleared the decks." Now, he said, "we can focus on our primary mission: educating our children."
When it came time for the inaugurated members of the City Council to make their remarks, most were reserved for expressions of gratitude to friends and family, and in the case of First Ward Councilor Marco Camacho, himself a 1995 graduate of Rogers High School, a special 'Thank You' to the members of the School Committee.
McLaughlin also offered an array of thanks. After singling out his wife and family, he also paid mind to thank his former Second Ward challenger Michael Farley for running At-Large this year.
He also cited a need to continue investing in education, improving communication from City Hall, and to "realistically confront the cost of public safety."
Leonard offered a broader view of her role on the council. "We live in a beautiful place, a wonderful community," she said, "and to me, it's our moral and fiscal responsibility as councilors to protect the city" to ensure that it remains an attractive place to live.
Farley thanked his family for supporting him throughout the campaign, saying simply, "I hope that I can prove worthy of the trust that I've been given."
Napolitano, the longest-serving member of the council offered a bit of advice to her two new colleagues, reflecting that while "politics, at times, can be difficult," it is very rewarding.
Shortly after the election, she recalled receiving a note from a constituent that read: That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. In postscript, the note read, "At this point, you should be able to benchpress a Buick."
Neville, the new vice-mayor, sounded an upbeat note. "I strongly believe that the new council can work productively together," she said. "Though we might approach problems from different angles, or different points of view, we are always striving toward the same goal: making Newport the most livable city."
Among her goals for the coming term: Expanding Newport's access to fiber optic broadband, strengthening public education, and improving communication by working more closely with neighborhood groups and residents.
'We've accomplished a lot of things over the last two years," he said. First and foremost was the establishment of a strategic plan that put in place a formal emphasis on improving infrastructure, communication, economic development, and continuous improvement within city government.
Looking ahead, Winthrop pointed to the reconstruction of Broadway, the establishment of a North End redevelopment committee, the hiring of an economic development director, and the opening of the new Pell School as among the highlights of the upcoming two years.
In other appointments, Gregory Fater was sworn-in as the city's Probate Judge; J. Russell Jackson was appointed to another term as Municipal Court Judge; and Joseph J. Nicholson, Jr. and was appointed to serve as City Solicitor, with Christopher Behan and Girard Galvin named assistant City Solicitors.
As a final note, in addition to a number of former council and school committee members, the audience were four former mayors: Stephen C. Waluk, John Trifeiro, David Roderick, and Paul Gaines.