By JOHN HOWELL Mayor Frank Picozzi is good at keeping his word, or rather the lack of them. Going into his inaugural ceremony Tuesday at noon on the steps of City Hall, he said he wouldn't make remarks from the podium other than abiding by the oath of
Mayor Frank Picozzi is good at keeping his word, or rather the lack of them.
Going into his inaugural ceremony Tuesday at noon on the steps of City Hall, he said he wouldn’t make remarks from the podium other than abiding by the oath of office administered by District Court Justice Stephen Isherwood.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Francis X. Flaherty had planned to administer the oath, but tested positive for the coronavirus and stepped out. On Monday, he said he was doing OK but felt fatigued.
In a post Tuesday morning on his Facebook page, Picozzi said he is not big on pomp and circumstance and would not deliver a speech at the inaugural. Even so, it was an awkward moment as those assembled stood waiting until former Mayor Scott Avedisian, the master of ceremonies who headed the inaugural committee, thanked those who had braved the bone-numbing cold. He said Picozzi would administer the oath of office to School Committee members Karen Bachus and David Testa that afternoon followed by the City Council that evening, at which time Picozzi would offer remarks.
Those reminded to wear masks and stand six feet apart quickly disbursed. Picozzi, his family and immediate members of his administration retreated to the warmth of his City Hall office.
“Look at that,” he said in awe of the TV screen that stretched across the back wall of the room. Pictures hung on the walls, the furniture was polished but the room was otherwise bare. On top of an empty bookshelf was a fist-sized ball of keys. Keys to virtually every municipal building, all marked. Picozzi had raised the blinds to the windows looking out on Post Road.
Like the door to the mayor’s chamber, he plans to keep the blinds open, although he confessed he might have to lower them partially on sunny days. Grandchildren took turns sitting in the mayor’s chair for pictures. The mood was upbeat and of disbelief.
It’s no wonder. A year ago, Corona was known as a popular beer and Picozzi was best known for his Christmas digital display. A year ago he had no plans of running for any elective office, least of all mayor. The virus and what he saw happening in the city changed everything.
With the virus shutdown, people urged him on Facebook to bring some good cheer to the community with a Christmas display in March and April. Picozzi feared that would draw a crowd, so he built a display on his truck and decided to bring it to every street in the city. What he found was a populace disenchanted with the administration, looking for change and suggesting he run for mayor. When he announced he was running as an independent, people lined up to help. More than 1,000 Picozzi for mayor signs popped up across the city. He was followed by thousands on social media and when it come to voting they cast their ballots for Picozzi.
Since winning a mandate of more than 60 percent of the vote, Picozzi has focused on building a team. The most recent of his announcements came last week with the appointment of former Warwick deputy police chief Brad Connor, who is working at Women and Infants Hospital, to succeed Col. Rick Rathbun, who is retiring. Deputy Chief Mark Ullucci will be the interim chief until Conner takes over.
Picozzi is also bringing back Bruce Keiser, who had worked in the city finance department and left when Joseph Solomon stepped in to complete the term of Scott Avedisian, who resigned after serving 18 years as mayor to take the job of president and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. He named Keiser as director of planning.
Picozzi is not making a change in the Fire Department, where Peter McMichael remains chief. He named former city engineer Eric Earls as director of public works. Also named last week was Beverly Wiley as director of parks and recreation. Picozzi knows Wiley from the days he was president of Apponaug Girls Softball and she was the state commissioner. Wiley will be leaving her position as compliance officer in the Athletic Department at CCRI to join the Picozzi administration.
With the council meeting remotely on Zoom, Picozzi thought he would administer the oath of office and address the members from his home. A member of the staff thought the City Council Chambers would be more be more appropriate, and when the meeting started Picozzi was standing at a podium at the head of the room. As he didn’t have a gavel, he held a hammer from his tool belt to bring the session to order.
He congratulated members on their election and thanked former Mayor Joseph Solomon for his 20 years of public service as well as former councilmen Steve Merolla and Richard Corley who are not returning to office. He administered the oath and members elected McAllister as president. In turn, McAllister introduced each council member and named committee chairs. Without discussion, the council unanimously approved its rules. Picozzi was invited to make remarks.
“I’m not going to take a lot of your time,” he opened.
He said he is encouraged council members have reached out to him as the city faces many challenges, including old and neglected school buildings, crumbling infrastructure and departments working with decrepit and unreliable equipment.
“For a long time now morale has been very low in every city department,” he said. “People don’t have confidence in our school department and even less confidence in our city government.”
“But while this all seems bleak, Warwick is not without its resources … the most valuable resource are its people. They are passionate, generous and ready to standby and help. The residents are the foundation of this city, and having been a contractor for over 40 years I can tell you when the foundation is strong anything can be built.”
The meeting adjourned after 26 minutes.
As he used social media so effectively during his campaign, Picozzi turned to Facebook to address the people of Warwick. He posted, “I promised the people of this city open and honest government and you will have it. Politics have been vanquished from City Hall. I will serve the people of this city with passion, dedication, and honor. Every decision that I make will be what I believe is best for the residents. I’ll show respect to every employee and they’ll feel that they are valued and that they matter.”
“I can’t solve all of the city’s problems overnight, but although the pace will be determined by whatever circumstances arise, I promise that we’ll always be moving forward. I’m going to bring pride back to this city that I love so much. And I also promise that I’ll never forget who I am, what I am and where I came from. I’ll never tell myself that I’m some kind of a big shot, I’ll always just be a simple blue collar working stiff- and I say that with tremendous pride.”
On Wednesday, Picozzi was still finding his footing. But as he had posted on Facebook, he had hung up his contractor’s tool belt and had taken on his new job.
Indeed, hanging from the wall behind his desk was the tool belt filled with tools.