It’s an unlikely political story: Frank Picozzi, 61, a long-time worker who has just become mayor of Warwick. You can sometimes find him in jeans and sneakers in the town hall with his vinyl tool belt on the office wall as a reminder of where he came from.
Today some scenes from the life of the Mayor of Rhode Island:
It is 7 a.m. on January 5th when Frank Picozzi arrives for his first day as mayor.
City Hall isn’t open yet, but he likes an early start.
As he gets out of his pickup truck on the property, a middle-aged woman comes up to her and asks if he knows where the district court is.
Picozzi is not sure.
She shows a piece of paper and asks a few more questions.
Picozzi is sorry but he has no answers. The woman becomes frustrated.
Finally she asks, “How long have you been working here?”
“Actually,” says Picozzi, “it’s my first day.”
“How are you?”
“Well … I’m the mayor.”
The woman is surprised, then laughs and says she voted for him.
Picozzi enters the building, but soon a problem.
He doesn’t have a key to the mayor’s office.
Luckily there is a maintenance worker nearby who lets him in.
A few days later, Picozzi arrives early again and enters the disarming code into the building’s security pad.
He does it wrong and the town hall alarm goes off.
He later writes about this and other such moments on his Facebook page.
“Just another episode of the Rookie Mayor,” writes Picozzi.
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Accidentally pull over a cop
In his first week, Picozzi drives his city-exhibited car, a Ford Explorer with 20,000 on the sign, on the Apponaug bypass. It is considered a response vehicle and is therefore equipped with emergency accessories.
Picozzi walks over a bump and releases the PA system microphone between the visors. When he hangs it up again, he presses a button nearby and triggers the flashing lights.
It’s night so the lights are dramatic.
“Oops”, Picozzi thinks and manages to turn it off after a few seconds.
But by then, a car would have stopped in front of him, apparently thinking it had been targeted.
The mayor notices that the car, a Crown Victoria, has a blue police sign on it.
“Uh-oh,” thinks Picozzi.
He stops in front of the car, gets out and goes to the driver’s door to apologize.
It’s a young policeman in uniform. He was on normal patrol in an unmarked vehicle.
“Hey buddy,” says Picozzi, “I’m sorry. I accidentally turned on the light. “
The officer who discovers the 20000 plate realizes who he is talking to.
“I didn’t know what was going on back there,” he told the mayor.
The two laugh together and it turns out that Picozzi went to school with the officer’s uncle.
This is Warwick.
Later, Picozzi joked about the moment: isn’t it every driver’s dream to turn the tables and run over a cop?
On the flip side, he admits that this is not a best practice for the city’s executive director.
Picozzi writes about it on Facebook, adding, “I’ll be searching YouTube for” How to be Mayor “videos.”
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On the plow crew
It is the evening of February 1st when a lot of snow falls. Picozzi knows the city will have its hands full keeping the streets clear.
At 9 p.m. the mayor goes to the DPW garage and asks director Eric Earls if he could use another man.
Picozzi first makes sure that he does not take the place of union workers who want to work overtime. As a career worker, the mayor honors that.
Earls says no, the whole fleet is out.
But there is an older truck that the mayor can drive. Only a few repairs are complete.
As it turns out, Picozzi is a skilled plowman. Twenty years ago he bought a single-bladed pickup truck and began a sideline plowing privately. It was tough on his family when the snow bumped him from vinyl siding jobs, so this was a way to make ends meet.
Picozzi stopped the side gig a year before running for mayor, but now he was here to plow again, except for free. The Mayor of Warwick, he explains, doesn’t work overtime, just his $ 100,000 salary. According to Picozzi, it’s $ 100,000 and 16 cents. He’s never paid that much before so he knows the full amount.
Now the mayor is behind the wheel and soon plowing his assigned route in the Hoxsie-Conimicut area.
At one point he clears one side of a residential street and then turns to meet the other. As he is making the return flight, a man comes out of a house and waves him down. He’s not happy – he says Picozzi plowed snow into the driveway he just shoveled.
Picozzi apologizes through his down window but explains that this is hard to avoid when plowing a road.
The man is still hot, screaming and talking salty.
“I’ll report you,” says the man.
Picozzi smiles. “To whom?”
Then it dawns on the man with whom he speaks to the mayor.
The embarrassed man apologizes.
Picozzi laughs, but asks him to understand that the drivers are just doing their job and it’s not easy.
Then he plows out the man’s driveway, stays behind the wheel until 3 a.m. and is back at the town hall to start his next day as mayor at 7 a.m.
A week later, Picozzi plows again after another storm. This time a man comes out and asks him to avoid his driveway, and tips Picozzi with cash.
“Sir, I can’t accept money,” says Picozzi.
The man insists and says, “You do nothing.”
“Actually,” says Picozzi, “I make $ 100,000 a year. I’m the mayor.”
The man laughs and says that he too voted for Picozzi.
Later, a resident named Charles McCormick posted a complaint on Picozzi’s Facebook page.
“As always,” writes McCormick, “the Marquette Dr cul-de-sac is never plowed year after year.”
Picozzi’s style is to be yourself.
So he writes back, “Charles McCormick, I told them to skip your street because you were a wise guy.” He adds a wink emoji.
An amused McCormick replies, “It’s great to have a mayor with a sense of humor.”
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On February 13, a fire broke out in the Les Chateaux complex on Warwick Avenue, displacing 60 people from 47 homes. The Red Cross will soon help them with the housing, but Picozzi believes the families could use more help to get through.
So he finds an old Home Depot bucket, cuts a hole in the lid with his vinyl tin pegs, screws it onto a card table, and places it in front of his house on 75 Gristmill Rd.
He posts on Facebook that donations are needed for the fire victims, and adds that cameras pay attention to security.
Picozzi soon raises more than $ 10,000 this way – a mayor who displays a bucket in his home.
But it’s in line with something that helped him get chosen – Picozzi became famous locally for his Christmas show of light shows. There he also had a collection box for his favorite thing.
A few weeks after his tenure as mayor, Picozzi and his wife Kim quietly set off to hand over this season’s Christmas donations. He does it under the radar and shows up unannounced at the office of the Tomorrow Fund, which helps families of children with cancer. That year he set a record of $ 25,000. He gives it to the secretary and rejects all photos.
“It’s not from me,” Picozzi says later, “it’s from the people in the community. I’m just putting the lights on. “
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Good Warwick style night lights
A week ago Picozzi discovered a Facebook post from David Shaw, Warwick’s father of 2-year-old Rowan, who was diagnosed with metastatic neuroblastoma last December. Rowan, the father says, is now at home at Hasbro Children’s Hospital after cancer treatments, but misses Good Night Lights.
Picozzi and Kim have been part of this tradition every Tuesday for years. You drive to a place on Allens Avenue in Providence and blink flashlights at the kids in Hasbro at 8:30 p.m. to say good night to them, and join dozens of others from buildings and cars and police cruisers around town.
Picozzi now gets an idea and asks Shaw, the Warwick father, to inform him.
A few nights later, Picozzi stopped in front of Shaw’s house in his city vehicle. He sees young Rowan, who has lost his hair, looking excitedly through the window.
Then the mayor turns on the flashing lights on the mayor’s car for a one-vehicle version of the Hasbro tradition.
Rowan is clearly delighted.
Picozzi wants it to be a private gesture, but the father writes about it on Facebook.
“What a man does when nobody is looking says a lot,” writes David Shaw. “Thank you, Frank. It means more than you will ever know. “
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There was something unusual about this story that struck me.
Most of the online comments on politicians are critical, and many are harsh.
Picozzi are different.
“This is what true leadership looks like,” wrote Mike Long of Picozzi’s fire dispenser.
“A mayor who really cares,” added Arthur Roberge
“You are unique, Frank”, said Linda Lanzi about Picozzi’s gesture “good night lights”.
“A full-service mayor!” wrote Patricia Battison about Picozzi’s snow removal efforts. “You rock Frank.”
There are hundreds of them. It turns out that being a worker who remains true to himself is a model for connection as a politician.
At least so far.
Now, this Saturday, February 20th, when Picozzi is working alone in his town hall office, he is taking a break to look at his old vinyl tool belt on the wall. It has the same clips, screws and gloves as it was last used two days before its inauguration.
The belt, says Picozzi, reminds him where he came from, that he’s not and never will be a great Sagittarius.
He’s still a worker, now with 83,000 bosses.
The belt tells him that.
Then Mayor Frank Picozzi turns to his desk and gets back to work.