With boxing gloves in hand, Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson officially announced her candidacy for House Representative District 21 Sunday afternoon.
There had been rumors Vella-Wilkinson would run against incumbent Eileen Naughton and nearly 50 people gathered at Vella-Wilkinson’s new campaign headquarters on Post Road to show their support.
In announcing she would run for House District 21, Vella-Wilkinson said she would miss her position on the City Council dearly.
During the last six years as a member of the City Council, Vella-Wilkinson has been able to negotiate the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation. Similarly, she has helped to move forward local legislation to help support marriage equality, assistance for small businesses, concealed carry permits for Warwick, and open government policies. She sponsored legislation for the creation of the Friends of Warwick Ponds environmental group.
Previous to her role on the City Council, Vella-Wilkinson was a lieutenant commander in the Navy and helped to develop various programs pertaining to the Navy’s community outreach. She currently serves on the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, the Warwick Veterans Services Organization, and the Rhode Island Military Organization.
With a strong belief in term limits for political leaders, she said in 2010 when she first ran for City Council that she would only serve for three terms if elected. Nonetheless, she said she does not take the decision to leave “lightly” and wants her constituents to know it is not easy to leave a position she has loved.
“I loved the opportunity to serve Ward 3,” she said. “It has been a privilege to represent my neighbors, to be entrusted to make a positive impact on the lives of so many in the city of Warwick.”
Although Vella-Wilkinson said she is running for the seat and not “against” anyone, she did point out that Naughton has held the seat since 1991.
Vella-Wilkinson said Naughton had done a good job as representative, but 25 years is a long time for anyone to have a seat, and believes Naughton hasn’t been as accessible as years past.
She said, “We have visions as political leaders and it’s selfish to think you are the only one with vision. We have different visions.”
Naughton, reached by phone on Monday afternoon, said voters determine any one individual’s term limits in whether or not they vote for them and she will be seeking re-election.
“I feel privileged the voters have such confidence in me. They often come to me with concerns; I love helping to see them resolved,” Naughton said.
The benefit of having a representative stay in a seat is that they can continue to monitor and improve passed legislation as time calls for it. Naughton said that as a representative it is more than just solving “immediate problems,” but being able to have the foresight to enact initiatives and legislation to prevent future issues.
For example, Naughton said she is researching and looking into how to ensure safe and clean drinking water for the state as to avoid the concerns now apparent in Flint, Mich.
She noted her slew of legislative successes from environmental bills including air quality testing at T.F. Green Airport, chairing the Dyslexia Commission, along with various bills on health care, including issues of stroke prevention and rehabilitation as well as the Family Caregiver’s Act.
Naughton welcomes all challengers and said she is always prepared for a primary and the general election.
“I have great hope for Rhode Island and to see it only continue to improve,” she said. “My interests lie in the interests of my constituents.”
Still, Vella-Wilkinson believes it’s time for some new blood to the position and even encouraged the audience to run for offices if they aren’t happy with the current leadership.
She said it would be a nice change for the voters to have several “qualified candidates they can believe in” so as to ensure the best candidate is chosen for the job.
She even welcomed Michael Penta to her campaign announcement, the Republican City Committee Chairman, who is considering running as a Republican candidate for District 21 as well. Should Vella-Wilkinson win the Democratic nomination, the two would face off in the general election.
Penta, who said he learned of Vella-Wilkinson’s event on Facebook, didn’t think his attendance out of place.
“I don’t believe in a wall between parties,” he said.
“I love this lady. She’s great. We’re all here for the same reason,” he said.
Penta said he’s talked with possible GOP candidates in Ward 2, 3, 4 and 5. He wasn’t prepared to release names, adding, “When they’re ready, they’ll come out.”
As for the prospect she could be facing Penta in the general election, Vella-Wilkinson said, “I finally have a worthy opponent. No matter who wins, we’ll have good representation.”
As worthy as her opponents may be, Vella-Wilkinson assured her audience that she is “a fighter,” even taking inspiration from Muhammad Ali and putting on her boxing gloves. She said she likes using them “to hit the bag” in workouts.
A retired Navy officer, Vella-Wilkinson plans on promoting veterans services programs and benefits should she win the seat. Similarly, Vella-Wilkinson intends to “fight” for Warwick’s fair share of state resources, especially when it comes to improving the city’s waterways and brownfields.
“I don’t expect an easy race, but I am looking forward to this campaign,” she said. “I am looking forward to walking the district and hearing the concerns of the constituents. I believe I can bring some new energy and accessibility to the seat.”
For more information on Vella-Wilkinson’s campaign, visit her website at www.vellawilkinson.weebly.com.