Meet Your Councilor: Chris Semonelli
Patch sat down with Councilor Chris Semonelli to learn where he came from and where he hopes to take Middletown.
When State Sen. Lou DiPalma suggested that Councilor Chris Semonelli run for office, he was unsure if he was qualified.
“I don’t have experience. I’m more of a small business man,” Semenelli said.
Friends and family encouraged the decision, so he began to knock on doors.
Now in his second term, Semonelli says he uses his business background to focus on high priority issues such as the budget, economic stimulus and the local education system.
After graduating from Middletown High School in 1973, Semonelli went on to receive a bachelor's in chemical engineering from Northeastern University in Boston.
In 1980, when Semonelli was 26 years old, he married his childhood sweetheart, Trish. He was hired to work for an environmental group at Exxon Mobile in New Jersey, and in 1985, he got a job transfer to California.
He received a master's in business sdministration from Pepperdine University while in California but as his family started to grow, he decided it was time to relocate back to Middletown, to be close to the beaches.
He found an opportunity in textiles, and in 1985 he relocated his family back to Aquidneck Island.
The Semonelli family went on to raise six children in Middletown. Once the children grew into young adults, the couple took in over 12 foster children over a 10-year period.
“My wife loves babies,” Semonelli said with a laugh.
Today, Semonelli is still employed in the textile industry and works as the VP of sales for EREZ USA.
In his first term, Semonelli served as council president, but he said the administrative responsibilities took away from his ability to focus on his initiatives.
He said when the "politics are flying," the job can be challenging, but he tries to ignore any personal attacks and focus on what is best for his 17,000 constituents.
“You don’t gain thick skin,” Semonelli said. “You bear down on your principles. In the end, people understand that.”
One of Semonelli’s main objectives is education and to equip Middletown students with the skills that are currently in demand in the local workforce.
To work toward that goal, Semonelli is a leader in the Salve Hope Program, which pairs college mentors with high school students who are struggling.
“They may take the students to a basketball game, or the boys club,” Semonelli said.
Another program that Semonelli has played a founding role in the Newport County Co-Op Mentor Program, which partner schools across Newport County with local businesses to teach students industry specific skills that will make them competitive right after graduation.
Semonelli said he would also like to explore the idea of a five-year high school program, where students would graduate with an associate's degree.
When asked if he would run again, Semonelli nodded yes before the question had even been completed.
“We have the chance to make a real difference,” he said. “In such a small state, even a local council member has a voice. It's so obvious to me. Yes.”
If elected again, he said he would like to continue to make progress with his educational programs, revamp the beach house on Second Beach and reignite the conversations on combined services with other towns in Newport County.