NORTH KINGSTOWN – After losing the primary race in September, Richard Welch has announced that he is running a write-in campaign for reelection to the North Kingstown Town Council. The Primary Election included seven Democrats running for town council, with voters being asked to choose up to five to move onto the General Election, where they will face off against Republican and Independent candidates.
Welch, a Democrat who was first elected in 2012, is a long time member of the town council, serving as president for one term. (He won in 2012, lost in 2014, and then won again in 2016 and 2018.) And before being elected to the council, he also served as chair of the school committee and sat on several boards and commissions.
But in this year’s Primary Election, Welch came in sixth place, making him ineligible to move onto the general election as an official candidate.
Democrats who declared their candidacies for the town council included Welch and current council president Greg Mancini, along with newcomers Katherine Anderson, Brad Artery, John Kliever, Kimberly Ann Page and Rickey Thompson.
The top five vote-getters in the primary for town council, in order of most to least votes received, were: Page (18.8 percent of the vote), Mancini (17.4 percent), Anderson (16.9 percent), Artery (14.5 percent) and Kliever (14.4 percent). The five candidates who received the most votes also supported each other’s campaigns, running as a group called #fiveforwardNK.
Welch came in sixth, with 9.1 percent of the votes, and Thompson came in seventh, with 8.9 percent.
Soon after the official results rolled in, however, Welch announced that he would be running a write-in campaign, asking voters to add his name to the ballot instead of simply picking up to five from the official list of candidates.
Welch said a major reason behind his decision to run a write-in campaign was that the Primary Election only saw about 20 percent of registered Democrats voting.
“Since that is actually less than 10 percent of the registered voters in North Kingstown it makes sense that the primary was not the voice of the voters, only that of those working together to control the Democrats on the ballot in November,” Welch said.
Welch said that, while voters might not be accustomed to how write-in campaigns work, it was actually fairly straightforward.
“Look down the town council column on the ballot to the last person listed and add my full name below that,” he said. “Remember you can only vote for a maximum of five but you can vote for less than five, which is what I would suggest.”
He went on to say that, after the primary, “many folks came forward, many were upset, and wanted me to run as a write-in candidate,” adding that comments on social media indicate support for his campaign.
“I think part of this is that many felt that I would survive the primary. Many were Democrats that stayed home and didn’t vote,” he said. “If you watch the Facebook comments you can see that the support is there and building.”
Several of the Democrats who won the primary would be newcomers to the town council, if elected in November. Four of the top vote getters — Page, Anderson, Kliever and Artery — have never previously sat on the council, though Page was a former member and chair of the North Kingstown School Committee.
Welch said this lack of experience in town government could be a “drawback,” if the Democratic newcomers are elected to the council.
“The issue that stands out in the results is that those that won have some drawbacks and if they are elected North Kingstown will not be better off,” he said. “Over the last four years I can see only one that has attended town council meetings yet they want to be on the town council.”
Welch also pointed out that he has lived in North Kingstown for over 40 years, giving him much more experiential knowledge of the town than other candidates.
“I have been on many boards and commissions, school committee as chairman and served on three of the last four terms on town council, serving as president for one term,” he said. “Compare my record with any of the Democrats running for town knowledge and experience and they do not match up.”
“Does the town really want people running our town that do not know our community and have no experience with town government?” he continued. “I have committed many hours serving our community with the only agenda being how to make North Kingstown better.”
All four of the first-time candidates who won the primary pushed back on Welch’s assertion that, due to their limited experience with town government, there would be “drawbacks” if they were elected.
Anderson said that, in the primary, voters understood that her experience was in public policy, non-profit fundraising and development, healthcare management, and clinical social work. And the results of the primary election, she said, were “unambiguous.”
“I thank the voters for respecting those experiences as valuable and necessary. I am now focused on ensuring the five Democratic candidates prevail in November,” she said. “Each of these five candidates offers something vital and distinct.”
“I am interacting with constituents daily,” she continued. “Voters are ready to support a slate of candidates who will ensure schools have the resources they need, and who will take action to protect town assets and resources against depreciation and decay. It’s time to look ahead to leaders who can rise to today’s challenges while preparing for a better future.”
Artery said that, while he admittedly did not have experience with local government, he did have experience elsewhere, such as serving in the U.S. Navy or working in his current role as the CEO of the North Kingstown-based company MOCingbird, among other areas.
“I do have significant experience leading the men and women of the U.S. Navy,” Artery said. “I also have experience as CEO building a business and team here in North Kingstown over the past year and a half. Finally, I have experience building and leading high performing teams in multiple roles at Citizens Bank and as COO of Launch Franchising. As Chief Procurement Officer of Citizens Bank, my team and I were directly responsible for effectively overseeing $2 billion-plus in contracts across the bank.”
Artery also said that the voters of North Kingstown already made their choice of candidates in the primary election.
“The voters of North Kingstown have spoken,” he said. “What the voters seek is leadership, transparency and accountability [...] not ‘experience with town government.’ I’m humbled, honored, and more resolute in making the ballot for the General Election.”
Page, who previously served with Welch on the school committee, also highlighted her areas of experience, such as running a business and serving on the North Kingstown Food Pantry.
“I have run my own business for 16 years in Rhode Island and ran a sole proprietorship for eight years in Washington state,” she said. “I have been on the board of seven nonprofits, and been instrumental in organizing two corporations from the ground up.”
“I have served on the North Kingstown Food Pantry board since 2012 and been the president since 2015,” she continued. “We have raised money, done building projects, coordinated with town services, and most recently in the COVID crisis, coordinated with the schools to give away free cooked meals to over 300 people twice a week.”
On top of this, Page said she served eight years on the school committee, pointing out that she filled in for Welch when he stepped down as the committee chairperson.
“He was the chairman of the school committee for less than two years when he stepped down to run for town council, so I served the remainder of his term plus two more years as chair,” she said. “I did all my service while I raised two sons, and I went back to school to attain my doctorate. When I first served on the school committee, it was at the same time my husband was still an active duty officer in the U.S. Navy so he was frequently sent overseas for weeks and months at a time. I feel I am eminently qualified to serve on the town council.”
And Kliever, a former Newport police officer, said that the qualifications of the Democratic candidates for town council were “impressive, numerous and varied.”
“We have degrees from well respected colleges and universities including Boston College, American University, Swarthmore College and the U.S. Naval Academy,” he said. “We have had successful careers in small business, big business, nonprofits and the government.”
He listed off the various positions held by the Democratic candidates, including a social worker, police sergeant, business owners and professors of business and law, among several others.
“If the voters elect us, they will be getting a team with a truly unmatched depth and variety of experience,” Kliever said.