2016-07-14 / Election News

Winthrop Launches Comeback Bid

By Tom Walsh

Hoping to put 2014’s election loss behind him, former Newport Mayor Henry F. “Harry” Winthrop is hoping that voters will grant him a sixth City Council term this November.

Last month, in announcing his intention to seek one of Newport’s four at-large council seats, Winthrop emphasized his belief that the city needs to move forward with development of the North End, especially the realignment of the Newport Pell Bridge ramps and acquisition of the Naval Hospital property.

“I intend to secure the funding for realignment of the Newport Pell Bridge ramps,” Winthrop declared then, calling it the “first step in the redevelopment of the North End.”

In a conversation with Newport This Week, Winthrop said the price tag for those projects would approach $100 million, and that funding would have to come from a consortium including the federal government, the state of Rhode Island, the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and the eventual developers of the properties.

“These things move very, very slowly,” said Winthrop, 66, who is retired from his long career at Electric Boat’s submarine facilities at both Quonset Point and in Groton, Conn. “But if we focus on it, I believe we could move it faster.”

In any case, he said, completion of these projects will take many years. “Hopefully we can move this along so that our next generation will be able to see it and benefit from it.”

Winthrop expects that the U.S. Navy will remain a long-term partner with the city.

“Newport and the Navy are integral to each other,” he said. “They are both inextricably linked and they always will be.” Over time, the Navy’s presence in Newport has become increasingly involved with technology development for submarines, he added. “These things are much more technical today.”

The good news that springs from that, Winthrop maintained, is the creation of an economic environment that results in an increased number of high-paying job opportunities.

Winthrop’s time in the public eye harks back to 1990, when he was first elected to the Newport City Council and served two terms. Later, he filled a vacated Fourth Ward seat for eight months in 1995. After some time away from office, he was once again elected in the fall of 2010, and assumed the mayorship in August of 2012 upon the resignation of then-Mayor Stephen Waluk. He served as mayor throughout his next term, ending in December 2014.

Asked by Newport This Week to identify differences in the city since he was first elected, Winthrop said that three things came to mind: that tourism was “just beginning to take off” in Newport then and has made great strides ever since; that the efforts of Sail Newport have enhanced the city’s sailing reputation; and that the 1990s saw an avalanche of complaints about excess noise in the city. “We put in strict controls and regulations that, for the most part, greatly reduced the number of those complaints.”

A lifelong Newporter with an unmistakable handlebar moustache, Winthrop plans to spend between $15,000 and $20,000 on his election efforts in addition to traditional door-to-door campaigning. “My first fundraiser is on July 28,” he said, “and that money will come from hundreds of small donations.”

Winthrop is confident that his 2014 defeat – largely due, he believes, to his support for an unpopular casino referendum – will not haunt this year’s campaign.

“I still believe that referendum was far too important for seven people [the council membership] to decide whether to jeopardize the 220 jobs that exist there by rejecting it,” said Winthrop. “I still believe that it was up to the voters of Newport to make that decision.”

As it turned out, voters did reject the 2014 referendum that would have enabled the owners of the Newport Grand slots parlor in the city’s North End to expand the facility’s gambling offerings to include table games.

This fall, voters statewide and in Tiverton will be asked to approve a new full-service casino in that town. Most Tiverton officials predict that voters there – as well as those in the rest of Rhode Island – will approve this year’s casino referendum.

Eventually, such approval will almost certainly spell the end for slots gambling in Newport and the annual revenue that goes with it – more than $780,000 in real estate taxes, plus the city’s percentage of the parlor’s annual handle.

“I saw the handwriting on the wall – Newport Grand pulling out of the city – if that referendum was rejected,” Winthrop said. “I don’t think that most people thought that the existing business would move out.”

Asked how he voted on the casino question in 2014, Winthrop did not blink. “I voted for it,” he declared, “for the reasons I’ve stated.”

Another factor that may have contributed to the last election cycle results was the political feud among the council with first-term City Councilor Michael T. Farley.

In Newport’s city manager form of government, after municipal elections the council convenes in an organizational meeting to elect the mayor from among its four at-large members.

Would Winthrop relish the mayor’s chair once again?

“If the council wanted me, I’d certainly look to go into that position again,” he said.

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