Warwick School Board Election: A Litmus Test

Yesterday I “braved” the rain to vote in a special election that sought to winnow down the candidates for an open school committee seat from 5 to 2. Dr. Saleh R. Shahid and Lucille Mota-Costa emerged as the winners. Shahid is a registered Republican who has unsuccessfully run for both the State Legislature and State Senate before, though he didn’t do so this year because of a technical filing error (he checked the wrong box!). Mota-Costa is a retired West Warwick school teacher who finished last in the four-way primary held on November 2 to fill two other vacant seats.

Turnout was extremely low, (only 711 of an eligible 18,756 voters casted ballots)
with Shahid receiving 278 votes, Mota-Costa receiving 165 votes and other candidates receiving 268 votes. The vote totals would seem to bode well for Shahid’s chances in the final election to be held in January. In addition, the fact that Mota-Costa has already been rejected within the past month or so for the same position may prove a tough hurdle for her to overcome. Will voters who have already rejected her turnaround and vote for her?

I took note of the statements made by the candidates (as quoted after the results were learned), which I believe provided a clue as to their disposition and “management style.”

“I feel relieved but not rested. I know there is a lot of work to be done,” Shahid said last night. “I want to congratulate Ms. Mota-Costa … and the other candidates for an honorable and well-fought race. I hope in January to convince the voters that I’m the best man for job.”

“I think if the people in the city continue to support me they won’t be sorry,” she said last night. “I’m a hard-working woman.”

However, Mota-Costa said that in January the voters must come out in greater numbers.

“They need to vote,” she said, “otherwise live with whoever you end up with, live with the decisions other people make.”

Notice the difference? Shahid is nothing but complimentary and thankful and realizes that he needs to do more work. Mota-Costa says she works hard, but puts the onus on the voters to turnout and vote for her “or else.” Shahid realizes it is his responsibility to convince the voters, while Mota-Costa indicates that her credentials are self-evident and it is up to the voters to realize that she is right choice. In short, she sounds as if she feels entitled to the position. This makes Mota-Costa sound like a lecturing teacher and contributes to what I believe is her significant handicap going into the election: she is a teacher. A teacher on the school committee is like the fox watching the henhouse and I think that the average Warwick voter believes this. Mota-Costa will need the votes of teachers, and those sympathetic to them, to win. Shahid will need to make sure that more parents and taxpayers turn out for him. The raw numbers would seem to favor Shahid, but the motivation of the teachers union can never be underestimated.

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.