2016-11-03 / Election News

City Council Candidates

Newport City Council Candidates were asked to answer the following two questions in 250 words or less: #1) What issue do you feel is the highest priority facing the city and how will you address it? #2) Would you be in favor of the city regulating weekly rentals arranged through websites such as airbnb.com? Why or why not?

Six candidates are vying for the four open at-large seats on the Newport City Council. Three incumbents and three challengers make up the field, and with Naomi Neville not seeking re-election this year, at least one new face is guaranteed to be on the council when the victors take office in December. The Nov. 8 election will also decide whether incumbent Marco Camacho or challenger Susan Taylor will be empaneled as the new First Ward representative for the next two years. Incumbent Second Ward Councilor Lynn Ceglie and incumbent Third Ward Councilor Kathryn Leonard are both running unopposed in 2016.

At Large Candidates

Jamie Bova

26, single
Resident of Newport 5 years
Electrical engineer at NUWC

#1) The highest priority for our city to address is the challenge of creating an environment that facilitates growth and will help make efforts such as the Innovation Hub successful. The first step to creating that environment is to improve the communication between the city and residents and businesses. If they aren’t engaged, they won’t feel included in the city’s growth. I intend to be a voice for transparency and improved communication on the council. We need to make a concerted effort to move Newport in the direction of two-way communication between our residents and the city government. Doing this means modernizing the way we communicate and developing clear processes to get things done. Newport needs a fully thought-out communication strategy that outlines communication methods and guidelines for clearly and effectively communicating with residents.

#2) Newport has a housing problem – we don’t have enough housing for our middle-income residents and we have too many homes that are only occupied for a fraction of the year. Regulating weekly rentals on Airbnb is an opportunity to address how we approach housing in Newport. There are currently plenty of rentals available in Newport on Airbnb and they will continue to be there, whether or not the city chooses to regulate. When examining potential regulation, the city has an opportunity to take a proactive approach that would benefit Newport, rental property owners, and renters. Any regulation on weekly rentals through Airbnb or other services needs to be vetted properly with residents and business owners.

John Florez

45, married with two children
Resident of Newport 11 years
CEO of Drupal Connect
At Large Councilor, 2014 – present

#1) The diversification of our economy is the single most important issue. The realignment of the bridge and redevelopment of the North End are the most important citywide initiatives happening at the moment. If successful we will see an influx of new high-paying year-round jobs in biotech green, infrastructure and underwater technology. As a member of the City Council, I pledge to support all efforts to ensure that this project comes to fruition.

#2) This is a serious concern. In the November meeting I will be introducing a resolution to stop the proliferation of short-term rental units that are being built on Lower Thames Street. Should these short-term units continue to be built it will have a negative impact on the fabric of our neighborhoods. While there's nothing we can do about the existing units, we can propose to modify the ordinance to keep future ones from being built. We want to have the right balance of a city that is festive with fun-filled activities. But we also need a community that is family-friendly. Preserving this balance will be a priority of mine in my next term.

Claude Andrews Lavarre

73, single
Resident of Newport 46 years
(Including active military service)
Technologist, retired U.S. Navy

#1) Facing reality is the biggest challenge we, the city, the nation, and indeed the entire world face. This city, this nation, and indeed much of the entire world have devolved into a body of dreamers and "feelers" instead of thinkers. We spend day and night in fantasy worlds of make-believe: games, videos, media. They are all synthetic and all patently untrue. This mentality permeates our total existence, from personal relationships to financial matters to infrastructure. We wander around proclaiming how wonderful everything is while ignoring the crumbling economic, moral, intellectual, and physical infrastructures around us. We must get back to basics: "Fix the potholes, stupit," and call out political correctness wherever it raises its ugly head. I believe in this city. I have seen much of the world. I cannot imagine anywhere I'd rather live than Newport. But we have serious problems, and they won't go away until we stop being politically correct and start fixing them. It's not "not being nice" to point out problems and their solutions. It is "not being nice" to ignore problems that offend the Doctrine of Fundamental Fairness.

#2) Absolutely not. What business is it of the city to regulate free and open enterprise, a principle that made this nation, once upon a time, but no longer, the greatest country in the world? Mind your own business, keep your hands off my stuff, and we'll all get along just fine.

Justin McLaughlin

Married with three children
Resident of Newport 33 years
Retired from NUWC
Ward 2 and At Large Councilor,

#1) Choosing one thing as the highest priority from among everything that is currently underway or planned by the city or proposed by City Council candidates is not the best course of action. I think a better approach is to consider how we prioritize what the city does and how we monitor and measure progress. Thus, I think the highest priority for the city should be implementation of a comprehensive system with which to track everything that is being done and to identify things that need to be done, and concurrently establish a performance measurement system that keeps city staff, City Council, and residents informed of the status of what the city is doing and needs to do.

#2) Short-term rentals are already a reality in Newport, some as matter of right in certain districts and others as a result of homeowners, landlords and renters operating under the radar and not complying with existing ordinances. I would support investigation of short-term rental options that consider things such as rental length, neighborhoods in which they might be allowed, and how they would be monitored and controlled (e.g., allowing someone who lives in a neighborhood to rent a unit for short periods is not the same as allowing an absentee landlord to do that). If the city allowed short-term rentals, however, it would need to establish regulations that were acceptable to residents and then actively enforce them. Ultimately, consideration of the impact on quality of life for all residents would be paramount.

Jeanne-Marie Napolitano

66, widowed with four children
Resident of Newport 49 years
Retired insurance agent
Ward 1 Councilor, 1992 – 1996;
At Large Councilor, 2000 – present;
Mayor, 2008 – 2010, 2014 – present

#1) Our priority should be the development of the North End for a diversified economy. This will bring the jobs of the future to residents throughout the city. This should enhance our tax base, which will keep Newport affordable for families and businesses. Year-round employment in new technologies should include green infrastructure, cyber security, and new and innovative ways to mitigate the effects of sea level rise of concern for some locations in the city. This also requires our continued work with the School Department to prepare our younger residents for the future economies.

#2) I would have to hear all the arguments pro and con before I could support weekly rentals. Does the city have the capacity to regulate this activity, would it be approved throughout the entire city, and does it require state involvement? I would not want to see our city neighborhoods “go dark” in the winter as a result of summer activity. We need to stay vibrant throughout the year.

Henry F. Winthrop

66, married with three children
Resident of Newport 66 years
Retired from Electric Boat in 2007,
currently a defense contractor
Newport City Council,
1990 - 1993, 1995, 2011 – 2014

#1) The Number one priority for the next City Council will be to secure funding for the realignment of the Newport-Pell Bridge ramps which will cost $50 to $75 million. This funding will come from federal and state sources and will take a cooperative effort of local officials, our federal delegation, and state leaders.

Realignment of the bridge ramps will free up 43 acres of land and be the biggest economic development project in Newport since redevelopment of the downtown in the '70s. In addition,this project will be two-and-a-half times as large as the Tway project in Providence.

#2) I favor regulating short-term rentals in the city as a way of encouraging more families to vacation in Newport, while controlling the location of these rentals and increasing revenue for the city. This matter should go to the Planning Board for review, so they can solicit input from residents and businesses as to how best this can work.

Newport Ward 1 Candidates

Marco Camacho

38, single
Resident of Newport 29 years
Sports Marketing and Promotions
Ward 1 Councilor, 2013 – present;
Council Vice Chair, 2014 – present

#1) We on City Council must strengthen our support and investment in our public schools. Recent PARCC test results show we are still behind Middletown by 12 percent and 16 percent in English and math proficiency, and even farther behind Portsmouth by 20 percent in English and 19 percent in math. This is partly due to a flawed state funding formula that largely ignores the educational needs of Newport, but is also our fault as a city for cutting school funding so deep and for so long. Fortunately, we are smart with our budgets and have managed in the last two years to keep tax increases below 2.5 percent and still increase school investment by over 4 percent per year. We must continue investing in order to close the island’s achievement gap.

#2) Rentals like Airbnb must be regulated. If left unchecked, they will destroy Newport’s year-round livability, drive up cost of living, run families out of town, and turn neighborhoods like off Broadway, the Point, and Historic Hill into “Zooport” again. Hotels, inns, B&B’s, and even house and condo rentals already legally exist in Newport to provide short-term lodging. However, they are properly taxed and located in specially zoned areas of our city. Airbnb can operate in Newport but must not be allowed to operate outside of the zones authorized under our current ordinances. Airbnb got so bad in New York that the governor had to pass legislation to regulate it. Let’s be proactive so the same doesn’t happen here.

Susan Taylor

65, married
Resident of Newport 9 years
Civil Rights and Immigration lawyer

#1) Solid communication and engagement with Newport residents, and most important, First Ward residents, to achieve effective urban planning as part of the redevelopment of the properties in the North End. The end result should take sea level rise into account and should factor in the environmental concerns with the different properties, as we already face flooding issues. We also need to achieve attractive development to lure businesses to Newport that will offer high-end jobs, while the layout should provide for improved geographic linking of our neighborhoods in the North End.

#2) I have two primary concerns: One, maintaining housing stock at prices that are affordable for people who work in Newport, and thus not encouraging the practice of buying a house on “spec” for the purpose of using it for rental income with short-term rentals; and two, maintaining a decent quality of life for Newporters in residential neighborhoods, and thus monitoring the behavior of short-term renters. These concerns will inform any decisions I make with regard to specific proposals.

Newport Ward 2 Uncontested Candidate

Lynn U. Ceglie

55, married with two children
Resident of Newport 32 years
Ward 2 Councilor,

#1) Newport’s aging infrastructure is a major priority for the city. Aging roads, sidewalks, sewers and any upgrades required to mitigate sea-level rise are of vital importance. The Pell Bridge ramp realignment is integral in improving the city’s north-south artery, and the realignment would open up several acres of land that would greatly benefit Newport’s tourism and year-round economies. The city is committed to working with RIDOT and developing public/private partnerships with infrastructure developers to bring major changes to the North End. In addition, my priority as the Second Ward City Council member is to be attentive, responsive and responsible to the residents and businesses of the Second Ward.

#2) I believe there is quite a bit of confusion concerning Newport’s short term rental policies. We need to make sure residents understand that, by right, a certain number of bedrooms in "owner occupied" homes can be rented short-term if the owner registers their property with the city. Any “non-owner occupied” home cannot be rented for fewer than 30 days. Airbnb is a great worldwide service; however, the city and residents need to work together to make certain all ordinances are observed and fees are collected. I am very interested in having serious discussions about the effects of all rentals on the quality of life in Newport.

Newport Ward 3 Uncontested Candidate

Kathryn E. Leonard

70, Single
Resident of Newport 38 years
Real Estate
Ward 3 & 4 Councilor,
1995 – present (excepting two

#1) There are really two big issues that are affecting local Newporters. The huge amount of traffic that has escalated this summer has shown an increase of tourism buses, cars, trucks, pedicabs, bicycles, fake Maserati rentals, etc. The "No Turn On Red" signs have caused more bottlenecks. People are frustrated because we are not "moving people" with any system such as the Charlestown model. Property tax increases are also putting fear in many people. How can I afford to stay here? Are there better jobs? Can my children get a good/better education? Many elements are included in a good quality of life.

#2) Council had a workshop attended by many, many residents. Only one person spoke in favor of short-term rentals. The council did not proceed. Short-term rentals are allowed in specific zones like General Business and in other zones for specific uses – this can be seen online in Zoning Code. Short-term rentals can be very problematic, in the R10 zone particularly.

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