By Elizabeth F. McNamara
In recent weeks, state Representative Anthony Giarrusso (Dist. 30) sent out a letter to registered fellow Republicans in East Greenwich, urging them to support the Town Council majority, saying that to do otherwise would be to risk a “hostile takeover” by progressives and special interests.
“One of RI’s best-run communities for years under Republican leadership, the town is now under siege from the “progressive” left and special interest groups eager to change the political landscape. They aren’t interested in facts. They prefer to shout down those who stand to speak at Town Council or School Committee meetings, skew the facts to suggest wrongdoing and ignore the advice and assessments of professionals who focus only on the facts, not the politics.”
Read the full letter here: Giarrusso letter April 30.
There has been a marked uptick in attendance at Town Council meetings over the past 12 months, since last year’s budget was passed without what had become the regular budget-vetting process, and giving the schools a third of what they had asked. Then there was the swift departure of then-Town Manager Tom Coyle, who was replaced by town consultant Gayle Corrigan. Just days into her tenure, Corrigan fired three staff members, replacing one with a close business associate.
Since that time, the mood at council meetings has been tense at times and occasionally rowdy. The vast majority of people who address the council during public comment have spoken out against the actions of the council majority. Council members have been mocked by some in attendance; some in the audience have been mocked by the council.
(School Committee meetings have not seen a marked change in attendance this year. The vitriol seen at council meetings has not carried over to the School Committee.)
Giarrusso himself has not been a regular attendee at Town Council or School Committee meetings and, until now, had stayed quiet on town issues, saying he had no role to play.
For instance, after Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl ruled against the town last November, overturning the appointment of Town Manager Gayle Corrigan among other issues, resident Brian Franklin reached out to Giarrusso, questioning what he called Giarrusso’s “absence of leadership.”
Giarrusso responded to Franklin saying his role was to “represent the people of Rhode Island and my district and has nothing to do with town level politics.”
Giarrusso’s recent letter does not suggest he has sway over events in East Greenwich but he does paint a picture of what he sees as what could happen under “progressive liberal” control:
“Higher spending as we extend all manner of benefits without regard to their financial impact. Public employee unions that write their own contracts and consider the town to be their union ATM. And if experience elsewhere is any indication, town government will be involved in all manner of social engineering projects that distract us from the basic role of town government: managing public services and public finances well.”
He uses his position as an elected official to put out a call to arms:
“Raise your hand and do your part. East Greenwich needs the support of its best citizens now more than ever before.”
East Greenwich Republican Kevin Roberts was not impressed with the letter, particularly since he did not receive it initially. (Giarrusso’s letter appears to have gone out in two separate mailings, missing some registered Republicans in the first go-around.)
“I’m put off with how he wants to re-engage,” Roberts said in an interview. “He hasn’t been involved in what been happening in East Greenwich. Sending out this letter is not the way to try to re-engage.”
“I think Mr. Giarrusso missed an opportunity here,” resident Camille Speca, a Democrat, wrote on the Facebook page, East Greenwich Parents for Excellence. “Instead of sending out a negative accusatory email, he could have sent one out to all constituents that acknowledges the unhappiness in town and encourages everyone to work together. Isn’t that what we all want in the end?”
Giarrusso has not said whether he is running for re-election and candidates don’t file their intent to run for another month, but Justine Caldwell, a Democrat, has said she is running for the District 30 seat.
In a press release about Giarrusso’s letter, Caldwell wrote, “We need a representative who is bringing people together, not tearing them apart. Democrats don’t believe we should ‘extend all manner of benefits without regard to their financial impact.’ And if Democrats win office in a town, that’s not a ‘hostile takeover.’ That’s politics. Finally, Republicans aren’t our town’s ‘best citizens,’ Rep. Giarrusso. We have great citizens of every political affiliation in this town, and that’s why my door-to-door campaign talks to every voter: Republican, Democrat, or otherwise.”
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