Pawtucket Pol Accused of Running Campaign Out of Fire Station
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien on Tuesday said he was disappointed to learn that a City Council candidate may have been using the Newport Ave. Fire Station to conduct campaign business several weeks ago.
“I say disappointing because any such activity can only represent a blatant disregard of the public interest that harkens back to the politics of the past and which Pawtucket needs to leave forever behind if the city is to move forward,” Grebien said.
But less than an hour later, Newman returned after receiving another complaint and found “off duty fire personnel standing in front of the bay door with fund raiser pamphlets in hand and also give away shirts with stenciled political advertisement attached,” according to an incident report.
“I informed the actively working personnel that it would be in their best interest to cease and desist and they stated that they had nothing to do with passing anything out,” Newman wrote in the report. “The off duty personnel were told the same and responded back stating the they were not handing anything out and that the fire station was only a meeting place.”
Mercer, who did not return a phone call or respond to an e-mail seeking comment for this story, is challenging Democratic incumbent Chris O’Neil in the Sept 11 primary. O’Neil has the support of Grebien, who has clashed with the local fire union since taking office in 2011.
Still, union president Bob Neil denied that any campaign activity was taking place at the fire station. Neil said a group of Mercer supporters had been meeting in Slater Park and simply stopped by the station to use the restroom and purchase soft drinks from a vending machine.
“I’m not aware of any law that prohibits people hanging around a fire station with any t-shirt on,” Neil said.
O’Neil said he thought “the issue was dead a week ago” and he was surprised it had come up again. But Grebien maintains that using the facility for political purposes was inappropriate.
“What is totally inappropriate is to turn a city public facility such as a fire station into a base camp for a partisan political candidate,” Grebien said. “The administration has made that point to union leadership so that they will help to assure any such activities will not occur again.”
Mr. Mercer released the following statement:
"The truth of the matter is very simple. I held a leaflet drop two Sundays ago and designated a parking lot at Slater Park on Newport Avenue as the staging area because it's essentially in the middle of the council district. That parking lot is where leaflets and t-shirts were distributed to volunteers who numbered about 20-25. A couple of those volunteers wandered a few hundred feet over to the fire station and chatted with some firefighters before heading out. Not one single leaflet was handed out in, near or out of that firestation. This is a close-knit city and district and people know each other and chat with each other. Other than that, there is absolutely no substance to what the mayor or councilman allege.
"What I find appalling and an inappropriate use of city resources, however, is Mayor Grebien's insistance on having his staffers on City Hall time telephoning the mayor's supporters to inquire if they would be willing to put up a campaign sign for Councilman O'Neill. What I find even more inappropriate and appalling is Councilman O'Neill enlisting the services of the city's chief municipal court judge to campaign door-to-door for him on Pawtucket Housing Authority property at Prospect Heights Housing Complex. That judge is appointed by the city council and received O'Neill's "yes" vote for her appointment. Additionally, it's a bit intimidating, to say the least, for city resident -- especially those who live in public housing -- to resist a campaign pitch from a member of the bench who may at some time sit in judgement of that individual on any variety of issue.
"Simply put, I am not playing loose with ethics as those three appear to be. If it hadn't been for a couple of my volunteers knowing a couple of firefighters standing in front of a firestation, this would not be an issue. I have told every single group that has expressed support in my campaign that I would make one promise and one promise only and that is this: I will treat every person and every group as fairly as possible and approach every issue with an open mind. If they were looking for something more, I told them to keep looking."
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