By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — Patricia Douglas has changed her mind and will not seek re-election to the Town Council in November.
“There is an ample number of candidates running and I wasn’t so happy about putting my name on the list,” Douglas said, explaining why she withdrew her candidacy.
Douglas served previously on the council from 1986 to 2000, and she said that in the years before re-entering public life two years ago, she had come to enjoy a life of retirement with her husband, David. It’s a lifestyle she is looking forward to resuming.
“We had a wonderful life,” Douglas said. “It’s the way life is supposed to be.”
After formally declaring her intention to run again, Douglas decided against it and never obtained nomination papers that were required to be filed with the Board of Canvassers by July 11 for candidates to be included on the November ballot.
At 76 years old, Douglas said she does not feel old but acknowledged “the number is there.” Serving on the Town Council, which meets most Monday nights throughout the year, except for a lighter schedule during the summer, can be taxing, she said. She recalled one night when her dinner consisted of four corn chips.
“It’s so time consuming if you’re doing your job and want to do it thoroughly like I’ve done it,” Douglas said. “No one understands how time consuming it is.”
Douglas prides herself on researching issues before the council, often referring to it as her homework. During a recent council meeting she reached for a large envelope stuffed with documents. For a time this year, she lugged several file boxes, packed with documents, from her car into Town Hall before each council meeting.
Robert Priolo, Republican Town Committee chairman, said Douglas’s decision not to run again will likely have a direct effect.
“I think she is popular enough so that she might have been elected again,” Priolo said. “The impact is that someone else will get on the council.”
Douglas, currently an unaffiliated voter, ran at times as a Republican and at times as a Democrat. Besides her research, she is known for her willingness to spar over the issues.
“She does her homework and she has brought out points about things that have taken place in the last few years,” Priolo said. “I don’t always agree with everything she says but she did what she thought was right.”
Over the years, supporters have told Douglas that she is more effective as “a free agent” at the podium on the other side of the council dais. She promised to stay attuned to the affairs of the town and said she will not hesitate to speak up during the public comment section of council meetings when necessary.
“I won’t disappear. Politics is entrenched in your blood once it becomes part of you,” she said.
“I will be back at the podium like I have been in the past.”
The town, Douglas said, “is in a much better position” than it was prior to her most recent election to the council. She attributed much of the improvement to the departure of former Town Manager Steven Hartford, with whom she often clashed. Hartford resigned last year and has since joined the administration of Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee.
Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. praised Douglas for her long record of work for the town.
“She’s dedicated to the town of Westerly and served longer than most anyone else in the history of the town and her willingness to get back involved after a period of time away from the council, all of those things certainly deserve some accolades,” Cooke said.
Like Priolo, Cooke said he was struck by Douglas’ willingness to discuss sometimes sensitive topics.
“She says what she believes and doesn’t care what other people are going to think, which is something I don’t do as well, and is definitely something to emulate,” Cooke said.
Cooke and Douglas do not always see eye to eye. He and other council members were the target of her criticism both before her most recent term, when she frequently criticized the council, and at times since her re-election. But the two have also at times been the lone dissenters, including in their opposition to the town’s settlement agreement in the Copar case.
Unlike most politicians, Douglas “doesn’t play favorites, which is something all of the rest of us tend to do. She is unique in politics in that she doesn’t owe anybody anything,” Cooke said.
“I thank her for serving,” he added. “She didn’t have to come back. We didn’t agree on the former town manager but she felt strongly about it and put her money where her mouth was by running again. She didn’t have to do that and a lot of people would not have.”
Douglas predicted that the town would be embroiled in difficulties related to the Copar quarry for years to come and said the town’s aging infrastructure and crumbling roads will require attention from the current and next councils. “The roads are critical at this point. We’ve reached a point where we can’t ignore it anymore,” she said.
She predicted that news of her decision not to run again would be greeted with a mixed reception.
“I’m sure there will be people who are happy I’m not there and some people who will miss me,” she said.
Above all else, Douglas said she was seeking personal happiness and believes it is more attainable, at this stage of her life, away from life as a town councilor.
Is this the final chapter of her political life?
“I learned a long time ago to never say never but I can’t picture running again. I doubt it,” Douglas said.