WARWICK, RI — In 2016, Zachary Colón led Toll Gate and Pilgrim High students on a walkout protesting inadequate special education staffing, and now he hopes to represent Ward 9 on the Warwick City Council.
Colon was the first of the candidates to announce a run for the seat in the fall. His competition includes a Democratic primary challenger Sept. 8 (the deadline for registering to vote in that contest is Aug.9). In 2019, when 20-year incumbent and Council President Steve Merolla was still in the running, Colon’s platform included term limits. Merolla recently announced a run for the Dist. 31 Senate seat.
“I’m glad to see that he realized that it’s a little too long to be in office,” Colon said of Merolla.
Aside from his belief in limiting terms for political office, Colon intends to be an ally for the Warwick School Department, something he sees an urgent need for on the Council.
Since his student activism, Colon said, the Warwick School Committee has undergone positive changes that have made challenges like the special education staffing level issue easier to deal with. New leadership is sympathetic with efforts to improve student-teacher ratios, even if the problem itself has not been remedied.
“I think the biggest change since 2016 is the members,” Colon said, particularly Karen Bachus, once a lone voice of support for increasing special education staffing, now the Committee Chairwoman.
Colon said now, some of the council’s priorities also need adjusting.
“I want to be an ally for the School Committee. I want to be an ally for our schools,” Colon said.
While Colon acknowledges the city has a lot of work to do on road repair, “I think education should come before asphalt,” Colon said.
When asked about the millions regularly budgeted for road repair, but historically unused, Colon said money budgeted for paving ought to be fully spent for that purpose. He said many of the people he spoke to before the COVID-19 pandemic struck expressed a desire to repair the city’s roads, and that he agrees it’s a problem the city needs to be more assertive in solving.
Colon said he would like to install solar panels on all school buildings, saving the district money on electricity and also earning it money as excess power is sold back to local utilities.
Also, Colon said he’d like to work on establishing a home rule charter for Warwick, one of the only major cities in the state without one. Colon said a home rule charter would empower the city to directly address issue, instead of running major changes through the General Assembly.
Finally, Colon pointed to his status as the sole candidate who attended Warwick Public Schools.
“I think somebody who is fighting for the schools should have gone to school here,” Colon said.