2011-10-06 / News

Candidate says his financial know-how can help in these tough economic times

BY MARGO SULLIVAN


LOWELL THOMAS LOWELL THOMAS A political newcomer, 51-year-old Lowell Thomas has thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate for the School Committee.

He is running to offer his financial expertise to the committee, he said. Thomas worked as an investment banker for several firms in New York, London, Zurich and Boston. He currently manages investor portfolios at the Newport firm he founded in 2008, South Shore Capital Advisors.

Thomas has spent most of his life in world capitals or major U.S. cities, where he felt he couldn’t make a difference, he said. In Jamestown, he feels he can contribute by following his neighbors’ example.

“Residents seem to make an out-ofsize contribution to the community in terms of volunteering,” he said, a trait he attributes to island life.

“There’s something about being an island community,” he added. “People depend on themselves to take care of their town and invest in it.” Jamestown is not so isolated now that the bridges connect it to the rest of the state, but the old self-reliant attitudes seem to persist. He has seen similar attitudes on islands off the Maine coast, he said, where he spent childhood summers and where his family now lives.

He also absorbed a commitment to community service from family, he said. His father was an attorney but he also volunteered with the American Red Cross, taking on jobs drawing blood at drives. He became national head of the volunteer chapter in the years when Elizabeth Dole led the organization.

Lowell, a Republican, said these difficult economic times demand candidates with financial experience.

“The schools are 60 percent of the overall budget,” he said. “Keeping the cost of that budget under control is important to keeping the cost of living in Jamestown under control.”

With payments looming for the state’s unfunded pension liability, he anticipates the local schools will come under pressure.

Specifically, Thomas said, Jamestown will face a dilemma when educators fight to maintain the high quality of education only to realize money that should have been earmarked for the schools is being siphoned off to pay the state pension liability.

“There’s resistance to raising property taxes,” he said, as a way to find money to continue school programs and absorb that “big hit from the state.”

“It’s an issue for all of Rhode Island,” he said. “Unfortunately, these are problems created 10 years ago by some bad decisions made in Providence. But the bill is coming due.”

The current School Committee is “doing a very conscientious job,” he said, and they offer expertise as teachers, former teachers and parents.

“One of the things I believe I bring to the School Committee is the one thing they’re missing,” he said. “Someone with a financial background.”

This is his first bid for elected offi ce, he said. Earlier, he did serve on the Committee on LNG Threat, which battled the Hess Oil company plan (since abandoned) to build a liquefied natural gas terminal at Mount Hope Bay’s Weaver’s Cove.

Thomas said Town Council member Bob Bowen asked him to work on the threat committee.

“We’d had discussions about the natural gas industry,” he said, and Thomas’ financial knowledge made him a “useful addition” to the panel, he said.

“We did serve a purpose,” Thomas said, but stressed the reason the company abandoned the plan was due to economics.

“It stopped because the laws of economics told Hess it didn’t make sense to build an LNG terminal up here. But our efforts helped slow down the process,” he added.

That experience introduced him to town politics as a participant; he had previously observed New England local governments as a news reporter, a job he took right out of college.

Thomas covered town meetings for a chain of suburban papers.

“They loved running my stories on the front page,” he said, because his byline could be confused with the name of famous CBS television correspondent, Lowell Thomas.

They were not relatives, he said. But his father, also named, like his grand- father, Lowell Thomas, did meet “the other, the real Lowell Thomas.”

The chance encounter happened in Arizona over a mixed-up hotel reservation. The broadcaster later sent his father a humorous note about having a funny name, and the two men corresponded for several years, Thomas said.

As a beat reporter, Thomas covered Acton and Concord, Mass., until the car expenses of commuting from Medford, Mass., convinced him to try a new career.

A Philadelphia native, Thomas moved to Jamestown permanently 12 years ago. He had vacationed on the island — in some years for several weeks and in other years only over the Independence Day weekend, as work permitted — since 1985.

“I spent a few weekends in the Hamptons,” he said, acknowledging the Long Island resort towns were the typical weekend destinations for Wall Street financiers. But college friendships and ultimately the sailing beckoned him to Jamestown and Narragansett Bay, both as good places to sail as he has ever found, he said. He also describes himself as an “avid golfer” and enjoys reading history.

Thomas faces two opponents, Sarah Baines and incumbent B.J. Whitehouse. (The other incumbent, Julie Kallfelz, is not running again.)

The race will be decided at the Nov. 8 town election. The two top vote-getters win School Committee seats, with three-year terms.

Thomas graduated from Tufts University in Medford, Mass. He is single and has no children. Although he has no direct experience in the Jamestown school district, he has served on the board of Kieve-Wavus Education in Nobleboro, Maine.

The nonprofit foundation provides “outward bound type” experiences for middle school youngsters. Approximately 7,000 children, many from underprivileged homes, go through the Leadership School annually, he said. The goal is to help children learn to make good decisions and develop selfesteem and self-respect by teamwork, he said.

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