Let the Races Begin

Providence's political scene heats up


Politics in Rhode Island, and especially on the East Side, is generally not for the faint of heart. People here take their voting seriously, often investing serious dollars into candidacies they feel can bear fruit appropriate to their tastes. And even if unwilling to dig into their wallets, many are at least willing to dig into their lawn space to provide all manner of signage.

Even before the last minute announcement of you know who for mayor, things were already shaping up for some particularly spirited East Side races this year. There will be a three-way race for a City Council seat in Fox Point, a two-way race for state rep in College Hill, a bigger four-way race to succeed Gordon Fox in the greater Summit Avenue area and a two-candidate contest for State Senate that encompasses the entire East Side. Also, there are all the statewide races, most significantly the tightly contested race for governor with strong Republican and Democratic candidates.

And then there’s Buddy. Let’s face it. The man is catnip for journalists, guaranteeing an unending source of one liners, historic bon mots from the old days (could anyone make up someone like “Buckles” Melise?) but also hopefully some interesting ideas worthy of debate on what needs to happen to improve things in our capital city. (Oh, and by the way, what’s the over/under on the date to mark the 100th time the ProJo will work the word “felon” into the lead for a story on the mayoral election?)

The race for City Hall has now morphed into a two-pronged affair. Part one will be to select a Democratic candidate on September 9. Jorge Elorza, Brett Smiley and Michael Solomon will compete in the primary to move on. The winner will then face Buddy
and Republican Dan Harrop. Undoubtedly one of the most polarizing Rhode Island politicians ever, Buddy has his 40% who will follow him into the sunset as well as 40% who see him as Darth Vader incarnate. Will the election ultimately evolve into a mano-a- mano battle between Buddy and the winner of the primary? Or can Harrop generate enough traction to splinter the vote and make it more complicated but oh so much more interesting? And with Lorne Adrian now out of the race, where will his followers ultimately put down their new roots? Look for the answers in Mike Stanton’s new book Prince of Providence: The Epilogue.

Here’s what we can look forward to over the next few weeks

For City Council: Two of our current councilors, Sam Zurier in Ward 2 and Kevin Jackson in Ward 3, won the gold ring this time around and will run unopposed. Not so for Seth Yurdin. The current majority leader of the council, who has represented Fox Point since 2006, will be facing a primary challenge from Malcolm Reis, a board member of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association and resident of John Street. The winner will be opposed by Republican Michael Long, who also was born in the area. He lives in the Corliss Landing Apartments and is a policeman in Cranston.

For State Representative: While Fox Point’s Chris Blazejewski gets a free ride this year, Edith Ajello, the East Side’s longest serving legislator, is being challenged. The 11-term Representative will be opposed in the Democratic primary by Nathaniel Hannah. An East Side native, Hannah lives on Waterman Street and works in manufacturing. But the liveliest action promises to be in District 4 (Summit and some areas east of Hope Street) where a crowded field of four has filed papers to run for Gordon Fox’s old seat. Three of them will compete in the Democratic primary. Aaron Regunberg came to Providence to go to Brown and has decided to stay. He has been working as a community activist. Heather Tow-Yick is also a Brown alumna. She grew up on the East Side and currently runs the Teach for America program in Rhode Island. The third Democrat is Miriam Ross. An attorney and longtime resident of the East Side, she ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate against Rhoda Perry as an Independent four years ago. Also filing papers to run is the Independent Ethan Gyles who lives on Rochambeau Avenue. He currently is employed as an environmental engineer and plans to focus on ethics.

For State Senate: Two years ago, State Senator Gayle Goldin took over the seat held for years by Rhoda Perry. The Brown Street resident will now face her first primary challenge as an incumbent as she takes on Chris Wall, a former television news reporter, who now works as a real estate agent for Residential Properties and lives on Benefit Street.

For Mayor of Providence: Housing Judge Jorge Elorza, former lobbyist and Water Board Chairman Brett Smiley and City Council President Michael Solomon are obviously the leaders in the race to win in September’s primary. Perennial candidate Chris Young will be there, of course. Several other candidates have also filed papers to run but as we go to press their signatures have not been validated. While Solomon has secured the party’s endorsement, given the fractured nature of the City’s neighborhoods, it’s unclear how much this still matters. It is likely our streets will be an important battle-ground in September since East Siders traditionally vote heavily in primaries. Elorza is hoping to recreate the East Side-Hispanic connection that served former Mayor Cicilline and current Mayor Taveras so well. Smiley lives on the East Side and has been very visible, gaining significant traction here. And Solomon hopes to capitalize on the endorsement of popular City Councilman Sam Zurier. Republican Dan Harrop and former mayor Buddy Cianci await the winner.

For Statewide office: The statewide race that will capture the most attention here will be the one for governor. The current State Treasurer, Gina Raimondo, has lived on the East Side for years and is well respected for her heroic efforts at pension reform. Mayor Angel Taveras ran well on the East Side and has always enjoyed a high level of support here. Newcomer to Rhode Island Clay Pell lives on Barnes Street and obviously is well served by the iconic reputation of his grandfather. There should also be a reasonable turn out of Republicans given the contest gubernatorial race between Cranston mayor Allan Fung and businessman Ken Block. In addition, Republican Catherine Taylor, who narrowly missed out on becoming secretary of state four years ago, is a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. She is well known and respected on the East Side, which should help with her party’s turnout here. Also on the primary ballot will be David Cicilline as he bids for his third term in Congress, as he faces political newcomer Matt Fecteau from Pawtucket.