Frank Picozzi, known by more people for his holiday light display than his politics, takes on Mayor Joseph J. Solomon
WARWICK — The origins of this season’s political contest between incumbent Mayor Joseph J. Solomon and challenger Frank Picozzi trace back to the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the time, holiday-style light displays came into vogue; Picozzi, a vinyl-siding contractor, was known throughout Warwick and beyond for his holiday light display.
Of course, people encouraged him to once again deck the halls at his house.
Instead, the former School Committee chairman decorated his truck and took his high-tech light show along city streets.
The tour lasted 34 days. Picozzi says some Warwick residents encouraged him to run for mayor. It was a bit of a joke at first, he acknowledges, but not anymore.
That’s how Solomon, a career politician, also the first Democrat in the mayor’s office in decades, came to face the lighting expert in his bid to win reelection on the heels of his first term (not including his stint as the city’s chief executive following the resignation of Mayor Scott Avedisian).
Solomon says he hopes to continue with a style of leadership that he believes has served the city, attracting new businesses (he cites Tesla and Market Basket) and enough newcomers to cause a housing shortage.
Solomon says he has the management and accounting skills to control costs and avoid tax increases, and that he supports necessary spending on roads and infrastructure, as well as $6 million in additional appropriations to the city’s school system.
Solomon has also touted the city’s standing with rating agencies during his term. Some critics, including Picozzi, say he exaggerated the extent of a cash-flow problem when he first took office
Picozzi, 61, of 75 Gristmill Rd., served on the School Committee from 1999 to 2004, resigning midway through his second term, he says, so he could care for his dying father.
The independent candidate describes his politics as “fiscally conservative” but different enough so that he doesn’t fit into any political party. He says he doesn’t support either candidate in the presidential election.
Solomon, 63, of 180 Shawomet Ave., supports a proposal for $50 million in borrowing to upgrade schools, observing that Pilgrim High School is the “same as it was” when his wife was a student there.
“It’s time for some updates,” he says.
Due to the pandemic, Solomon has suspended his practice of visiting a business each week but he says he will continue with that once coronavirus is vanquished.
“We have to proceed cautiously,” he says, “as we go forward. We have to ultimately box this pandemic in and eliminate it through vaccines.”
Solomon says he was “kind of taken aback” by the origins of Picozzi’s campaign.
“This is a very, very serious job,” Solomon says. “It’s not a joke.”
Picozzi says volunteers have posted 900 signs around Warwick in support of his no-joke campaign.
If he wins, he says, he will hire finance professionals to assess the city’s finances and “get to the bottom of it.”
Solomon’s depiction of a rebounding Warwick, experiencing a renaissance, is “just not true,” he says.
“It’s coming apart,” Picozzi says, “people just aren’t happy. That’s why I have the support I do.
“God knows what kind of shape we’re in, because he doesn’t tell anyone,” says Picozzi, who describes the city’s schools and recreational facilities as “crumbling.”
During a recent debate at the Warwick Public Library, the two candidates agreed that the city can lower some costs by making certain that retirees who secure a second job in their retirement contribute toward the cost of their health care.
“If they can be gainfully employed,” Solomon said, “they deserve to pay a portion of their health care.”
Said Picozzi: “I would have to agree with that.”
Solomon argued for building “rapport” with T.F. Green Airport, which is an important economic driver for the city.
“I think Warwick has always hated the airport,” Picozzi said, citing the facility’s expanded footprint.
“You can fight with them, but they’re always going to win,” he said.
Neither candidate supports budget cuts at the police department as voiced by some members of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The candidates disagreed on charging beach fees.
Picozzi said beach fees would help the city’s finances and create more space for residents at local beaches and parks by deterring visitors.
Solomon said visitors are a source of economic development, helping restaurants and other small businesses. Meanwhile, he said, previous administrations spent more money collecting fees than they took in from fees.
“In other words,” he said, “it was a losing proposition.”
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