Meet the candidates: Senate District 9, John Burke

John Burke

WEST WARWICK —With the Rhode Island Senate Dist. 9 seat up for grabs this year, political newcomer John Burke is hoping he can bring a fresh perspective to the Statehouse.

“I’m not beholden to anyone,” Burke, a lifelong resident of West Warwick, said during a recent phone interview, adding that he values transparency in politics.

Burke will face off in the Sept. 8 Rhode Island primaries against fellow Democrat Geoffrey Rousselle. 

Following a 37-year career in the Information Technology department at the University of Rhode Island, Burke decided recently that it was time to work for the people of his hometown. 

“I’m a lifelong resident, I raised my daughter here, my whole family lives here,” Burke said. “I’ve always been interested in politics, but I couldn’t run before because I had a state job.”

Now retired, though, he's eager to throw his hat in the ring for a seat in the Senate. 

“I’d like to help West Warwick have a voice in the General Assembly,” said Burke, who studied computer science at the Community College of Rhode Island after graduating from Bishop Hendricken High School. “I’d like to advocate for West Warwick.”

Burke’s career at URI helped prepare him in a number of ways to enter the political realm, he said. He worked at the university with a large, diverse group of students and faculty, and was tasked over the years with handling all kinds of issues. 

“And I know the state system,” he said, adding that he understands “the results of not being funded enough.”

Among the issues Burke hopes to address is state aid funding. He’d like to see increased aid to the Distressed Communities Relief program, of which West Warwick is a part, and if elected he said he'll also advocate for increasing state funding of the local school district. 

Burke would like to work to move West Warwick pensions into the Municipal Employees' Retirement System (MERS), as well. The state-run system would take the management of West Warwick’s pension fund out of the town’s hands, and hopefully, Burke said, would give peace of mind to current and future police, fire and municipal employees.

“Candidates for fire and police, they look at our pension system and they’re a little leery about it,” Burke said, noting that poor management of the local pension plan “almost tanked the town.”

Rather than leaving the program's administration to the town, he added, all the town would need to do under MERS is submit its contribution.

“If we get into the [MERS] pension system, then the town could get out of the pension business,” he continued. “I don’t think the town should be in the pension business.”

Burke also would like to help grow the West Warwick Business Park, he said. 

“I want to work with the Commerce Department to get businesses there,” he said. “We can hopefully generate tax revenue to help our property taxes — that’s a big issue in West Warwick. People are complaining that every year it goes up and services are going down.”

And as for the local businesses that already exist, Burke said he wants to do what he can to get them back on their feet in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Burke’s also passionate about senior care, he said, and would like the opportunity to work toward repairing West Warwick’s roads and sidewalks.

Having coached and . He served as Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Gibson Council 181, as well, and is currently a member of Club Frontenac.

Burke, who in the past served as Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus Gibson Council 181 and is a current member of Club Frontenac, said he looks forward if elected to collaborating with town officials and with other members of the General Assembly.

“To get bills passed in the Senate, you need to get bills passed in the House,” he said. “If you don’t have that, then you get nothing done.”

The Dist. 9 Senate position has been held since 2013 by Democrat Adam Satchell, who decided against running for reelection this year. 

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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