EAST GREENWICH – While national election results may still be up in the air, Town Council President Mark Schwager feels encouraged by local election results.
“Locally, in East Greenwich, it was a very good night for East Greenwich Democrats and for town government,” Schwager said. “We ran unopposed as a council and we’ve got a really well functioning, cooperative team that has worked really well with the school committee.”
The full council will keep their seats for another two year and will be joined by three new school committee members. While the bulk of the committee will remain unchanged, Schwager said the council is already familiar with the new faces in local government.
During the campaigning season, council members became acquainted with the candidates and began working towards goals and objectives for the two bodies.
A little more than two years ago, East Greenwich has been characterized as somewhat of a tumultuous, divisive community, and at the time, the race for town council was a divisive one, according to Schwager. A lot has happened, though, in the time since.
“When we first got into office, there were a lot of staff positions to fill,” Schwager said, from town manager and senior staff, to hiring a new town solicitor, finance director and fire chief. “We spent a lot of time getting the machinery of government working well, and then we began putting together our strategic plan and looking forward to our second year in office.”
“And then COVID came in and took over most of the discussions this year, so far,” he added.
While the pandemic has created significant hardships for communities all across Rhode Island, Schwager believes that the current team of locally elected officials have helped to restore some of the peace and stability that had been missing before.
“Our focus is on municipal government,” Schwager said. “That’s really where the focus has to be. We weren’t looking to disrupt the relationship with the school committee or the town employees, and we wanted to continue this tradition that East Greenwich has always had – of being a well-run, well managed town, and a non-partisan town.”
“The council is all Democrats, but we got broad support from the community, both in 2016 and 2018, because of our focus on good government,” he added. “Our platform was good government, excellence in education and a strong sense of community, and I think those are issues that everyone can get behind.”
In addition to the council’s good relationship with the school committee, Schwager said they have also enjoyed good working relationships with town employees and unions.
Although council members didn’t have to anxiously await results of their own race this year, many eyes were following state senate and state representative races. Both Rep. Justine Caldwell and Sen. Bridget Valverde faced Republican challengers this year, and results of those races were not available until the early morning hour following Election Day.
“That was the race that was very tense, because those mail ballots didn’t come in until about 1:30 a.m., and that’s when the results of that race became clear,” Schwager said.
“We knew who was going to win the council, we knew who was going to win the school committee, but the legislative races were really up in the air until well after midnight,” he continued. “We have established a very good working relationship with our state legislators and we’re going to need their help in a lot of areas going forward.”
Over the next two years, the council will work to address many issues throughout the community, from housing and development, to land use, but for the foreseeable future, addressing the ongoing pandemic will be a chief, primary concern.
Schwager said the council will continue working to stay up to date with state guidelines, both from the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Department of Education, to make sure that all recommendations are being implemented effectively. The council will also be managing the costs associated with this as well, and hope to receive state and federal reimbursement funds for meeting those ends.
“We have the economic issues, and we have the public safety issues as well,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re compliant with all the public safety recommendations for our businesses, our schools and municipal government.”
While there’ll certainly be many challenges over the next two years, Schwager said his experience working with the current council for the past two years has been highly rewarding.
“It’s an unusual experience to have so many levels of government working together with the council, the school committee, the town staff, our state representatives,” he said. “It really is a very nice group dynamic and I think it’s an advantage for East Greenwich.”
“There’s going to be a lot of challenges for the next two years, but I think East Greenwich is very well positioned to respond to those challenges.”
In addition to Schwager, who came out on top of the polls with 5,196 votes, the council will be rounded out by current Vice President Michael Donegan, Councilman Michael Zarrella, Councilwoman Renu Englehart and Councilwoman Caryn Corenthal.
Zarrella trailed closely behind Schwager with 5,078 votes, followed by Donegan with 4,848 votes, Englehard with 4,756 votes and Corenthal with 4,733 votes.
Although the East Greenwich Democratic Committee made a huge push for community members to vote by mail, Englehart, who’d been canvassing outside Hanaford Elementary School for most of the day, said the flow of voters was “steady, but not busy in the morning.” When she returned late afternoon, Englehard said it was much slower.
Newly elected school committee members Kevin Barry Murphy, William Hangan and Timothy Munoz also fared well at the polls.
Of the three candidates up for election, Murphy led the polls with 4,803 votes, and was followed by Hangan with 4,214 votes, and Munoz with 4,129 votes.
“I appreciate the support of East Greenwich voters and your trust in me,” Munoz wrote in an email communication on Wednesday morning. “I look forward to working with my fellow School Committee members, the district, the town council and the entire community to provide an excellent public education for all students, and to keep the EG schools safe, strong and resilient.”
*Over the next several days, the Rhode Island Board of Elections expects to be tabulating any additional drop box and uncounted ballots, as well as provisional ballots. Certified election results are not expected before Nov. 10.