Politics & Elections

Students4Change holds an excellent candidate forum in North Kingstown

“It’s been a rough couple of years,” said Michaud, noting that all students have had a difficult time during the pandemic. We’ve had a couple of losses of teachers and faculty, and we had the incident with Aaron Thomas. It’s been a lot. Trying to get our community rebuilt is important, but hard to do because a lot of people are still in the shock process…”
Photo for Students4Change holds an excellent candidate forum in North Kingstown

Published on August 15, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Every candidate running for office in North Kingstown was invited to the 2022 North Kingstown Candidate Forum hosted by Students4Change at the Allen Harbor Marina on Saturday afternoon, including candidates for school committee, town council, state representative and state senate. Sadly, many candidates declined the invitation. Those candidates who attended fielded a host of interesting and challenging questions from students and members of the public. Those candidates that declined to attend did themselves a disservice.

“Students4Change is a political action committee composed of an independent group of students who are engaged in local politics,” said Emma Michaud, who organized the forum with Grace MacKrell. Both students are entering their senior year at North Kingstown High School in the fall. “Our mission is to encourage students and youths to become politically active members of society. Students4Change also addresses various policies and proposals and supports candidates for local office who support students and youths in our town.

“The formation of Students4Change (S4C) is based on the principle that youths and students have been disregarded and unheard in local politics for too long. By providing a platform for all youth to come together and collectively support ideas, our goal is to enhance the student voice in our government. We support bringing a collection of different ideas together to support one collective voice for youth in our community.”

Uprise RI spoke briefly with organizers Michaud and MacKrell at the conclusion of the forum. The two students were pleased with the turnout and were philosophical about candidates who declined to participate, understanding that attending a forum on a beautiful Saturday afternoon might might difficult for some.

The questions and the format at the forum were developed by the student organizers over the course of a lot of meetings analyzing the platforms of the various candidates. Some of the questions were very personal to the students, given recent events in the town.

“It’s been a rough couple of years,” said Michaud, noting that all students have had a difficult time during the pandemic. “We’ve had a couple of losses of teachers and faculty, and we had the incident with Aaron Thomas. It’s been a lot. Trying to get our community rebuilt is important, but hard to do because a lot of people are still in the shock process…”

Aaron Thomas is the former North Kingstown High School basketball coach accused of performing body fat tests on student-athletes. Thomas has been charged with child molestation and sexual assault.

Before the forum for local candidates started, Stefan Pryor, candidate for State Treasurer, addressed those in attendance.

Following the usual Uprise RI format, each question is written out as asked, followed by the response from each candidate.

North Kingstown School Committee

There are four candidates for the North Kingstown School Committee on the ballot this year. Republican candidates James Gallo and Robert Jones were invited but did not attend, leaving the forum to Democrats Thomas Briody and Erin West Earle.

The first four questions were from Students4Change, the rest are from members of the public.

Question 1: The North Kingstown School District has been absorbed in a series of scandals which have resulted in public reports, lawsuits and high profile resignations. In your capacity as a School Committee member, what would you do to keep students safe and hold faculty and administrators to account when they fail to protect students?

Erin West Earle:

Thomas Briody:

Question 2: In your capacity as a School Committee member, what would you do to help students who are in lower income families? How would you work to close the educational gap based on socio-economic status in North Kingstown?

Thomas Briody:

Erin West Earle:

Question 3: The North Kingstown School Facilities Masterplan proposal includes several longterm district infrastructure options. We ask that you describe which sections of the masterplan you support.

Erin West Earle:

Thomas Briody:

Question 4: What is you favorite North Kingstown School District event to attend? Is it high school football games, elementary school cookouts, science fairs?

Thomas Briody:

Erin West Earle:

Question 5: Where are the candidates on the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion?

Erin West Earle:

Thomas Briody:

Question 6: How are you actually going to listen to students?

Erin West Earle:

Thomas Briody:

Question 7: All over this country people are removing books from school libraries at an alarming rate. There have been challenges in this town. What are your thoughts on how to deal with this?

Thomas Briody:

Erin West Earle:

Question 8: How is it that there are lots of students of color in summer school? What is preventing these students from completing their school work during the school year?

Erin West Earle:

Thomas Briody:

Question 9: The are two ends to the educational spectrum: There are kids who need to be raised up, and there are kids who need to be challenged. I see the focus on the kids who need to be raised up, but how are you going to challenge the kids who need to be challenged? Also: Are you going to be at the School Committee meeting on Tuesday?

Thomas Briody:

Erin West Earle:

Question 10: In the wake of the Aaron Thomas incident, no one from the school ever formally apologized to students or said, ‘These are your options for support.’ It was really depressing to see. Sexual assault and abuse is such a taboo subject. In the future, will there be more systems in place for those kids affected by this abuse?

Erin West Earle:

Thomas Briody:

North Kingstown Town Council

There are ten candidates for the North Kingstown Town Council on the ballot this year. Republican candidates Karen Arreola, Mary Bremmer, William King, Randy George Wietman and Christopher Zangari as well as Democrat Kimberly Page were invited but did not attend, leaving the forum to Democrats Katherine Anderson, Gregory Mancini, Lawrence Mandel and Matthew McCoy.

The first four questions are from Students4Change, the rest are from members of the public.

Question 1: In your capacity as a town councilor, what would you do to protect North Kingstown’s natural resources and water supply? Additionally, what would you do to support renewable energy efforts in new and existing infrastructure?

Gregory Mancini:

Matthew McCoy:

Katherine Anderson:

Lawrence Mandel:

Question 2: Describe how you would work with the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce and other relevant agencies to support and grow small businesses in the town.

Lawrence Mandel:

Katherine Anderson:

Matthew McCoy:

Gregory Mancini:

Question 3: The school budget makes up the majority of the town budget. Describe your budget priorities. How do you balance the funding of town services with the needs of North Kingstown taxpayers?

Gregory Mancini:

Matthew McCoy:

Katherine Anderson:

Lawrence Mandel:

Question 4: What’s your favorite restaurant in town?

All Candidates:

Question 5: Can the town enhance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts and support such efforts in the school?

Gregory Mancini:

Matthew McCoy:

Katherine Anderson:

Lawrence Mandel:

Question 6: What are your thoughts about increasing the number of places for intergenerational recreation?

Lawrence Mandel:

Katherine Anderson:

Matthew McCoy:

Gregory Mancini:

Question 7: Right now the entire country and North Kingstown is experiencing a housing crisis. What ideas are you all bringing to the table, individually and collectively, for some creative approaches to affordable housing?

Katherine Anderson:

Matthew McCoy:

Lawrence Mandel:

Gregory Mancini:

All candidates in a follow up:

State Representative District 31 and 32

North Kingstown sends two Representatives to the Rhode Island House of Representatives. In District 31 there are three candidates, incumbent Democrat Julie Casimiro, Democratic challenger Melissa Devine and Republican challenger Lisa Marie Leavitt. In District 32 there are also three candidates, incumbent Democrat Robert Craven, Democratic challenger Danielle Walsh and Republican challenger Ryan Hansen.

Of the six invited candidates, only Danielle Walsh and Melissa Devine attended the forum. The other four candidates declined. The first four questions are from Students4Change, the rest are from members of the public.

Question 1: Inflation and rising costs are top of mind for most Rhode Islanders. What would you do on Smith Hill to lower costs for Rhode Islanders.

Melissa Devine:

Danielle Walsh:

Question 2: Do you support same day voter registration in Rhode Island, yes or no?

Both candidates answered “Yes.”

Question 3: Do you support the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act which would provide abortion coverage for people covered under Medicaid and remove the ban on coverage for state employees?

Melissa Devine:

Danielle Walsh:

Question 4: What is your favorite state beach?

Both candidates:

Question 5 to Melissa Devine: Why are you running against Julie Casimiro and why are you a better candidate?

Melissa Devine:

State Senator Districts 35 and 36

North Kingstown sends two Senators to the Rhode Island Senate. In District 35 there are two candidates, incumbent Democrat Bridget Valverde and Republican challenger Doreen Costa. In District 36 there are also two candidates, incumbent Democrat Alana DiMario and Republican challenger Patrick Murray.

Of the four invited candidates, only Doreen Costa declined. Fellow Republican Patrick Murray commented that Costa was attending a Barry Manilow concert. The first four questions are from Students4Change, the rest are from members of the public.

Question 1: Do you support the present role of charter schools in Rhode Island? What changes, if any, should be made to our educational system?

Alana DiMario:

Bridget Valverde:

Patrick Murray:

Question 2: According to a recent report, 60% of Americans support ranked choice voting. Do you support ranked choice voting, yes or no?

All candidates:

Question 3: In June the Governor signed three bills – banning large capacity gun magazines, raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and changing the definition of rifle and shotgun to be consistant with federal law. Do you support these bills and please express your position on firearm legislation and gun control.

Patrick Murray:

Bridget Valverde:

Alana DiMario:

Question 4: What is your favorite state park?

All candidates:

Question 4: What can the legislature do about people buying real estate and turning it into a short term rental, effectively taking the house off the market for families?

Alana DiMario:

Bridget Valverde:

Patrick Murray:

Question 5: Would you introduce state legislation that would set a ratio of students to social workers and school psychologists in our schools?

Alana DiMario:

Bridget Valverde:

Patrick Murray:

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