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Western Voters Speak Out on 2022 Election Issues

Listen to our preview of the series or read the transcript below.DADE NUNEZ: Well, the issues – the most important thing that concerns me is making sure that our country gets back on track. I would like to see us less divided.

WESTIN PLACE: We keep sending the same type of people to the State House and to DC. They’re the same politicians as always, the same people who have been in power locally who just want to move up the political ladder.

LESLIE DUNN: Everyone’s answer is always, “We want to be diverse. We want to be inclusive. But no one shows up. If we have a community of people here who feel that their well-being is not a priority for a community, that’s very indicative of their experience and what’s going on here.

WESTIN PLACE: I’m from North Westerly, which is kind of the poorer part of town. If you want someone who’s the most politically ignored, it’s someone who’s a truck driver on the poorer side of Westerly.

ALEX NUNES: I’m Alex Nunes, reporter for the South County Bureau, and I’m also a resident of Westerly.

JOE TASCA: And I’m reporter Joe Tasca. I also live in Westerly. So Alex. One of the reasons we’re highlighting Westerly in this conversation series is that it’s more diverse than people often realize, and politically speaking, Westerly is quite a purple town. There are more Democrats than Republicans, but the majority of registered voters are unaffiliated.

ALEX NUNES: And when you talk to people, you hear them talking about a wide range of priorities, both nationally and locally.

MEREDITH INGRAM: It really irritates me that there are people working in this town who can’t find affordable housing in this town.

DANIELLE BELIVEAU: I think it’s a scary time to be a person with a uterus right now. There are already abortion bans in a ton of states.

MADELINE LABRIOLA: Well, I think for me there are two existential threats that we face right now. One is the climate, and the second existential threat is nuclear weapons. When I look at a candidate, whether at the national level or at the local level, I look and see what he says on these two issues.

ALEX NUNES: Joe, a trend we’ve seen in Westerly in recent years that reflects national politics is that advocacy around racial justice is becoming more visible in the city. Westerly is predominantly white, but the population of people of color is growing, and after the murder of George Floyd, more people of color became involved in local politics, organizing protests, meeting with different office holders and, in a few cases, deciding to show up. office themselves.

JOE TASCA: One of them that we’ll hear from in this series is Kevin Lowther. He is the only black candidate for city council this year. He decided to run after watching a candidate forum during the last election cycle and being disappointed with what he was hearing.

KEVIN LOWTHER: I just wasn’t represented. When asked about “Is there systemic racism at Westerly?” or “Should Juneteenth be a holiday?” I just saw that there were a lot of candidates who really didn’t have to consider this prospect.

ALEX NUNES: Like many communities across the country, Westerly has also seen this tension between views on race and gender and other cultural issues play out in discussions about the future of our schools.

JOE TASCA: That’s right. You have a small but vocal group of right-wingers who question how race, gender, and American history are taught in our schools. But you also have people like school council candidate Leslie Dunn pushing for a greater focus on equity in our schools.

LESLIE DUNN: An equity audit would really go through everything, especially if it’s done by a third-party company. It really takes a scientific look at what this community can do best to ensure that our students, in all areas, get what they need.

ALEX NUNES: And Joe, it wouldn’t be a full Westerly conversation without a discussion of the ongoing battles over shore access.

SECURITY AGENT: This is a private car park.

BEACH ACCESS LAWYER BEN WEBER: I’m just going to end very quickly.

SECURITY GUARD: You don’t have a pass. I am sorry.

ALEX NUNES: It was a security guard in the exclusive Weekapaug section of town who recorded a defender’s denial of shore access on a blocked beach. This debate over who controls access to the beach and who can go where has gained considerable momentum in several coastal states in recent years, and it is a particularly important issue here at Westerly.

JOE TASCA: Controversy has spilled over into local politics and messages from this year’s election season. And it’s likely a question that has had some influence in the Democratic primary race for Westerly’s open state Senate seat. City Council President Sharon Ahern was not considered a friend of shore access by some people, and she lost by a wide margin to an opponent, Victoria Gu, who made shore access to the shore part of his campaign platform.

ALEX NUNES: Okay, Joe. We’ll leave it at that for now. Looking forward to more conversations in our special election series from One Square Mile: Westerly.

JOE TASCA: Yeah, a lot more to come.

Alex Nunes and Joe Tasca can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected]