The Independent Men
More than a century of Republican control in Scituate ended on Election Day, as a team of independent candidates took four of the five top spots in this year’s council race. They did it combining a traditional town wide door-to-door campaign - walking together - supplemented by an aggressive social media strategy. This week: Jim Hummel talks with all four - who are promising big changes for this rural town of 10,000 when they take over next month.
On the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving Frederickson’s Farmstand Café in North Scituate was hopping - as dozens of people arrived with items to donate for a Veterans Clothing Drive. They also came to meet the four newly-elected members of the town council - doubling this day as organizers of the coat drive: Scituate’s self-proclaimed Independent Men - who ran a campaign unlike any other this rural town of 10,000 people has ever seen.
Mahoney: ``We feel as though that this community was screaming for a change.’’
John Mahoney is the leader of the pack: a residential home developer and former North Providence police officer who for years had had first-hand run-ins with town officials. Mahoney recruited three others to run with him as a team and the motto: Vote for 4.
They included Mike Payette, a retired West Warwick police officer; Nick Izzi, a longtime Scituate resident and business owner; and Scott Amaral, also a former West Warwick Police officer who Mahoney solicited to run after Amaral had his own encounter with the Republican-dominated council last spring.
More on that in a moment.
Over the summer the four launched a door-to-door campaign - with the goal of personally knocking on every one of the 4,600 households spread across 55 acres, in a town where the houses are often few and far between.
It took more time, but they campaigned as a team. And, in a town where regular news coverage is virtually non-existent, they took to social media, creating a Facebook page that provided a constant drumbeat against the current administration and its leader, Council President Charles Collins. They also published their own newspaper - paying for it to be delivered to every mailbox in town leading up to Election Day.
Mahoney: ``The oversight of our department heads, it doesn’t exist. Those are the things that forced me to take a hard look of how exactly this administration functions. That’s the beauty of our democracy.’’
That democracy resulted in the Independent Men taking four of the top five spots in a seven-person race, meaning an end to more than 100 years of Republican control on the council.
Mahoney: ``I never owned a Facebook account until this campaign. It’s just something I never really had an interest in, but I knew that it would be a necessary ingredient to being successful in this campaign and it was huge. My first friend was Mr. Collins on my Facebook.’’
Hummel: ``Did you friend him?’’
Mahoney: ``I did. I friended him.’’
Hummel: ``And he accepted.’’
Hummel: ``Do you think he regretted that?’’
Mahoney: ``Well, he would have found out anyways.’’
Hummel: ``He probably wanted to see what you guys were doing.’’
Mahoney: ``And I wanted that. I wanted everything to be open. We didn’t say one single thing, one single work on the campaign trail that we wouldn’t here in the council chamber on the record to anybody.’’
Collins, a Republican who placed seventh will be sitting at the end of the table when the new council takes over next month.
Payette: ``Of course in the beginning nobody knew who we were, but as we went further on in the campaign door-to-door people knew who we were. One I remember we didn’t even get halfway up the driveway and the guy opened the door and said: `You’re the Independent Men.’ And I said `How did you know?’ He said `I’ve been waiting for you.’ And we would get into some in-depth conversations with residents. Some people would have us sit at their dining room table.’’
Hummel: ``Did that surprise you?’’
Payette: ``It did surprise us. We’ve never done this before.’’
Amaral: ``Most of the people told us their motto was `If you’re in, you’re out.’
Scott Amaral’s motivation to run came after a council meeting earlier this year. Amaral - a father of three - says many of the town’s little league fields are in terrible condition and he approached the council with a request to put up signs of local business sponsors at each field, all willing to donate money to help fix the fields.
The council rejected his request.
After the meeting Mahoney went up to Amaral and asked him if he’d seen a Hummel Report investigation we had done on Collins in September of 2015 titled `Sliding Scale of Enforcement.’ Our investigation showed that Collins had been cited by the town’s building official David Provonsil a decade earlier for illegally storing scrap metal overnight in front of his property on Central Avenue. Yet Collins continued to do it regularly. Mahoney said Provonsil looked the other way because Collins was the council president.
Amaral: ``Councilman D’Agostino and Collins both said that signs on baseball fields would ruin the aesthetics of the town. At the end of the meeting I walked out and I saw John Mahoney who I knew, we had worked together at the prison and he told me about The Hummel Report about Collins’s property. I started researching that and I’m thinking this person just voted down something for the kids for aesthetics and his property was the worst one in town. So I needed to run.’’
Hummel: ``Did that anger you?’’
Amaral: ``It did.’’
The candidates handed out the web link of our story to everyone they visited and posted it on their Facebook page. Mahoney said one of the main problems is Scituate has no town manager or administrator ultimately responsible for a community with a $36 million budget.
Mahoney: ``Typically the town council president, in this case Mr. Collins is currently the town council president until the upcoming year, we’ll see how that transition plays out, but he would be the point man. Most of the contracts or the efforts to reach out for assistance with Mr. Collins, who leads this community, it would be the same old story: It’s the first I heard of that, or I’ll get back to you, let me talk to the council and it was constantly a kick the can down the road type of situation.’’
Amaral: ``The Republican in this town have been in power for 103 years. They have name recognition. Some of them are business owners in town and most of the people in town know them, they’ve been here their whole lives. So we were four people, other than Nick who grew up in the tow that were outsiders.’’
On Election Night, Mahoney was stationed at the Hope Elementary School polling place, Amaral at the Chopmist Hill Senior Center and Payette at Scituate High School - after spending most of the day greeting voters arriving to the polls.
Amaral: ``It was the craziest thing. I’ve been a police officer 22 years and that day I got beat up over there. A few people who were just vicious. They yelled at you, they don’t want change. And I know change is hard - people heard horror stories about us and they heard we’re coming in and changing the town, which we can’t do. Some people were just vicious.’’
Payette: ``The three of us got together in the high school parking lot and once we added up the numbers, we were like: `Oh my God we won.’ So we were like, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.’’
Izzi: ``I got a phone call at my business and the guy that called me said `You’re in.’ And I said `What do you mean we’re in, are we all in?’ And he said that we’re all in, I was very excited.’’
Amaral: ``As the numbers came in, I think Hope’s came in first. We texted each other with the results. We all met up at the high school after that and we put our numbers together and realized we won. We were in shock.’’
Mahoney: ``No one coached us, no one told us how to do this. We didn’t have anybody advising us on how to run a campaign. No campaign managers, we did what we thought was necessary to pull this off.’’
Now the Independent Men are turning their focus to running the town when they are sworn in early next month. One person on their radar during the campaign: Police Chief David Randall, who lives in Connecticut, uses a taxpayer-funded car to commute to and from work and teaches a class at URI during work days - all with the blessing of the current council.
The other is Provonsil, who Mahoney has had personal run-ins with as a developer and says has looked the other way on zoning violations of the well-connected for far too long.
Amaral says that’s going to end immediately.
Amaral: ``These people with violations who have been part of the good ol boy network that haven’t’ been maintaining their property: they need to step up - get their properties in compliance. If they’re not in compliance, Day 2 we’re going to instruct the building inspector to go out, complete an investigation and if need be cite these people - whether you’re a politician or a citizen, it’s going to be fair.’’
The four have decided not to take the $2,000 yearly stipend given to council members and $2,500 to the council president.
Payette: ``Whatever money they would have given us we’re going to donate it where we see it’s needed. So if the kids need it for field trips we’re going to donate it.
And Mahoney said, don’t expect the four to become career politicians.
Mahoney: ``We’re not going to retire here. You become old and stale and what we have learned during this campaign process is that if you are in this - you’re not going to please everybody - and if you’re in it for an extended period of time you become stale. We are going to work for the people, and only the people. This administration forgot that.
In Scituate, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.