PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In a stunning decision, Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt resigned Thursday as she faced growing scrutiny over a controversial land deal, Target 12 has confirmed.
The mayor, who has been in office for a decade, sent a resignation letter dated Thursday and stamped by the city clerk’s office at 2:48 p.m. She attributed the abrupt decision to health concerns, pointing back to April, when she collapsed during a news conference.
City Council President Christopher Beauchamp was sworn in Thursday afternoon as mayor, in accordance with the city charter, and will stay in place until the next regularly scheduled mayoral election takes place in November 2024.
“I have done my best to continue the work I was elected to do and have accomplished for the past 10 years here in our beloved city,” Baldelli-Hunt wrote in Thursday’s letter, which was addressed to “the citizens of Woonsocket.”
“Unfortunately, my health issues have not been resolved as I hoped and the effects on me, as well as my family, have impacted my ability to continue to move the city forward,” she wrote.
However, Baldelli-Hunt’s decision to resign also comes amid a worsening scandal over a land deal the mayor struck with a former business associate, first revealed last month by Target 12.
As Target 12 has reported, Baldelli-Hunt steered $1.1 million in city-controlled federal funds to purchase five acres of vacant land off Mendon Road. The land had most recently been assessed at less than $200,000.
The city bought the land from a company owned by Raymond Bourque, a well-known real estate developer who had once given Baldelli-Hunt a personal loan and whom she had listed as her employer on ethics forms in 2011.
The $1.1 million deal drew the ire of the Woonsocket City Council, whose members said they knew nothing about the transaction until well after it had closed. The city solicitor, who was also in the dark, quickly moved to reverse the transaction. He said earlier this week Bourque’s attorney had returned the $1.1 million, which would be kept in an escrow account until the city could transfer the land deed back to Bourque.
Baldelli-Hunt initially answered questions from Target 12 about the transaction, touting it as an opportunity to build affordable housing. But she stopped responding as more information emerged, and she did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Thursday.
Baldelli-Hunt, a 61-year-old Democrat, has been a vote-winning Woonsocket politician for over a decade, first as a four-term state lawmaker and then since 2013 as mayor.
But she has also been a reliable source of controversy, culminating in a vote last fall by the City Council to remove her as mayor. She won back the office weeks later since she was already running for re-election unopposed.
In Thursday’s letter, Baldelli-Hunt said “the time has come for me to address my health and the well-being of my family.”
“As much as I love the City of Woonsocket and all of you, I must reorder my priorities to suit the current circumstances,” Baldelli-Hunt wrote. “For the first time in my decade of service to the city, my health and my family must come first.”
While the city charter specifies that Beauchamp will serve as mayor through next year’s election, there will be a special election scheduled in the interim to fill his now-vacant council seat. The secretary of state’s office has not yet announced a timeline for that vote.
Beauchamp, a 64-year-old Democrat, has served on the City Council on and off over the years and just rejoined the panel after running successfully in last fall’s election. His day job as of last year was as an estimator for a paving company, according to his annual ethics disclosure filing.
“The city is in a much better place with Mayor Baldelli-Hunt’s leadership, energy, commitment, and love for this city,” Beauchamp wrote in a letter to residents early Thursday evening. “I will forever be indebted to her.”
The new mayor pledged to work with his former council colleagues and city employees “to continue to shepherd our great city toward continued progress and success.” He also promised “to discharge the duties of mayor with upmost integrity, honesty, and transparency.”
In a brief interview with Target 12 as he left City Hall on Thursday evening, Beauchamp said it had been “a tough day.” He described the situation as “bittersweet — more bitter than sweet.”
State Rep. Jon Brien — a Democrat-turned-independent who has tangled with Baldelli-Hunt repeatedly over the years — offered a less positive assessment of the ex-mayor than Beauchamp.
He noted that when he was on the City Council, from 2016 to 2020, “we were forced to pass multiple remediative measures to combat conduct very similar to the very transaction that led to Lisa’s ultimate resignation.”
“The latest, and most unfortunate event, that has resulted in Lisa’s political demise comes as no surprise to those who have been paying attention,” Brien said in a statement. “There has always been a common denominator in what has held Woonsocket back for years, and I can assure you that it was not the City Council.”
“I wish Lisa well, and hope she can remain in good health, but I suspect that had she gotten away with this latest transgression, she would have felt just fine for the foreseeable future,” Brien continued. “It is time to turn the page and finally work to change the perception of Woonsocket around the state of Rhode Island.”
Gov. Dan McKee, who has known Baldelli-Hunt for years dating back to their time as fellow Blackstone Valley mayors, said through a spokesperson he had not spoken with her on Thursday “and did not know that she planned to resign.”
“He has now seen her letter and is wishing the mayor and her family well as they address the health issues she is dealing with,” said the spokesperson, Matt Sheaff.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.