Gaffett energized by new CouncilEclectic mix of old and new, all ready to work
Having fended off a strong contender in Howell Conant, First Warden Kim Gaffett is looking ahead to a fifth term. She says she loved working with the outgoing council, one whose members she described as diverse and representative of the island’s demographics, but who always respected each other’s views and treated each other with civility.
That said, she offered the idea that perhaps the new council will be energizing for her. “I am motivated to keep people together to work toward a goal. There are always challenges,” she said, and she likened working with the new council members to moving into a new family.
Projects she personally hopes to continue working on are the island-wide approach to monitoring the Great Salt Pond, and continuing to make the town energy efficient, with or without Deepwater Wind.
Asked about economic feasibility for a year-round population, Gaffett referred to recent changes in the town’s zoning that allow light industry, which might allow for new businesses to develop. “I look forward to discussing new ideas,” she said.
Incumbent Ken Lacoste, who ran unopposed, garnered the most votes of the new council members, 745 for the Second Warden slot. He expressed surprise at some of the results. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall and find out the decisions that drove the people in the voting booth,” he said.
Reflecting on what he calls “the eclectic mix” of a coalition government — two Democrats, one Republican and two Independents — he attributes the results in part to the fact that there were six candidates. But, he concludes, there is a lot of experience among the winners. “If we keep focused on doing the most good for the island, we’ll do well.”
He notes how well fellow Republican candidate Bill McKernan did for his first time running without a lot of name recognition. McKernan, Lacoste says, promised he’ll run again.
Asked what’s high on his agenda for the council, Lacoste said that given all the damage from Hurricane Sandy, “there will be a lot to do.”
Of the three people who will sit down in early December to fill councilor-at-large seats, Norris Pike was the top vote getter. He said he was “a bit surprised” that he led the field, but happy about it. It was “a good tap on the shoulder that people really want you,” he reflected.
He predicted the new council would be a good team, especially since with Gaffett and Lacoste retaining their seats, they are not going with “a green group.”
Along with exploring new options in the board that runs the Medical Center and negotiating a better wintertime ferry schedule to bolster the economy, Pike feels a need to look into emergency preparedness post Sandy. “We need to take a long hard look at how well prepared we are — Old Harbor was almost closed by sand,” he said. “You can’t get a dredge out of clear blue sky to open that harbor up. You have to have an alternate harbor.”
Having been on the council in the 1980s, Pike knows how much work and commitment it takes to serve. He chuckles as he opines that, “It is hard on your personal time and the divorce rate is real good. It doesn’t always go over well at home.”
Though he often plays gadfly to the council, Chris Warfel pulled in over 400 votes to secure the second councilor-at-large spot. He sounded surprised that he won a place at the council table. “I lost a $20 bet with someone who said I would. I said I wouldn’t,” he disclosed. Asked how he will feel being on the hot seat now instead of on the side questioning the council, he replied, “It wouldn’t be the first time I have served on various committees where it happened.”
As a member of the town’s governing body, Warfel hopes to make structural changes in how the town is managed: “I said I would try to change the way things are done and I am going to make good on what I said.”
An engineer who has focused on alternative energy, Warfel will of course try to increase energy efficiency for the town.
Sean McGarry, who takes the third councilor-at-large seat to bring the council to its full quotient of five, was understandably reluctant to celebrate his win until the absentee ballot numbers came in late Thursday. Last election, he was ahead by 39 votes until those ballots came in, and he then fell behind by two votes to lose. This time, his win held. “I’ve been trying for a long time and I’m happy to get the opportunity to serve Block Island,” he said. He noted that the new council is a diverse group and he looks forward to some great input and good debate.
Highest on his list of projects to push is a stand alone cable for the island’s electricity. “Deepwater Wind won’t break ground until 2015 at the earliest,” he said, predicting lawsuits that will delay the windfarm schedule. “I don’t think we’ll see anything that will come out of that project.”
He also foresees storm damage as something that will continue through to the new council, “getting the roads repaired for the upcoming season and long term repairs of the dune buffer, including on Spring Street.”
The new council will be sworn in on December 3.