NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — After a tumultuous summer during which his company temporarily lost its liquor and entertainment licenses after fights broke out at the venue and on the Block Island Ferry, Ballard’s Beach Resort owner Steven Filippi lost his unopposed bid for a town council seat.
The businessman, who was on the ballot, received just 92 votes, while more than 1,050 people wrote-in alternative candidates. The three candidates with the most votes win the three open seats on the Block Island Town Council, which also serves as the island’s licensing board.
Longtime incumbent Martha A. Ball, a Democrat who was also on the ballot, received 509 votes, or 30.8 percent of the overall vote. Of the 1,051 write-in votes, business owner and Block Island School substitute teacher Margaret “Molly” O’Neill received 369 votes and Neal Patrick Murphy, a local business owner, received 363 votes. Ball, O’Neill, and Murphy will assume their roles on the town council on Dec. 5, according to the New Shoreham town clerk’s office.
Another write-in candidate, Christopher Willi, a business owner, received 210 votes. Willi and Filippi will not serve on the town council.
Voters had to spell the write-in candidate’s name correctly — including any middle initials — in order for their vote to count.
Filippi could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday morning.
Filippi is a well-connected local businessman whose estranged brother is State Representative Blake Filippi, who until recently served as House Minority Leader. Filippi quietly filed candidacy paperwork in June, but Ballard’s made news after it hosted a crowded music festival on Aug. 8 that led to brawls and arrests at the venue and on the Block Island Ferry. Soon after, Murphy announced he would also run for town council as a write-in candidate. Willi and O’Neill quickly also launched write-in campaigns.
Murphy’s roots on the island go back to 1900; he currently owns the Old Town Inn — where he and his family would eat Sunday breakfast in the 1970s. He told the Globe that he was concerned about the direction in which Block Island was going.
Historically thought of by mainlanders as a blue-collar version of ritzy Martha’s Vineyard, Murphy said he has seen prices skyrocket to $1,200 for a room per night.
“That is going to set a tone that this island is becoming a place for the rich who can afford it, not for families, when that’s always what this place has been about,” Murphy said.
Murphy noted in August that the issues with “drunkenness, chaos, and ugly behavior” at Ballard’s were not new, “But it never spilled out into town until now. It’s becoming a big issue.”
The fights at and after the Aug. 8 music festival were the last straw for many of the island’s year-round residents and long-time vacationers. Incidents reported at Ballard’s earlier this year included underage drinking and an alleged sexual assault, which the Rhode Island State Police and the Attorney General’s Office began investigating in July. The alleged victim, who was reportedly under age, declined to file a police report or press charges at the time.
From May 1 to Aug. 23, there had been 49 calls to police or fire service because of disorderly conduct, noise, and other issues at the venue, according to a review of town records by the Globe.
On Aug. 22, the town council held a six-hour long show cause hearing where testimony, cross examination, and video footage led to the New Shoreham Board of License Commissioners (which is made up of all the Block Island Town Council members) voting to unanimously approve a motion to suspend Ballard’s Beach liquor and entertainment licenses for 14 days.
Ballard’s suspensions should have lasted through Labor Day, but Ballard’s appealed to the state and was able to reopen about two days after the suspension.
The popular inn, restaurant, and bar on Block Island is located on Water Street and opened as a family-friendly restaurant by Filippi’s father in 1952.
As Ballard’s grew from a family restaurant to popular entertainment hub, it gained a reputation for serving alcohol to minors and ignoring crude behavior and binge drinking.
In 2004, Ballard’s was the subject of another show-cause hearing after more than two dozen noise complaints, which also resulted in actions against their licenses. The town and Ballard’s reached a settlement agreement at the time, according to records, which dismissed the complaints and legally wiped out any record of Ballard’s facing action on their licenses by the town.
This article has been updated with the results of the election in New Shoreham.