Edith Ajello (incumbent) Vs. Nathanael Hannah
Democratic Primary, Representative District 1
Territory: The midsection of the East Side from the river to where Smith & Orms intersect. Includes parts of Brown and RISD, Waterplace Apartments and the State House
The election battle between current District 1 representative Edie Ajello and newcomer Nathanael Hannah echoes an age-old innocence/experience dichotomy. Ajello is obviously experienced; she’s represented the district for over 20 years and has held key positions in numerous committees including the powerful Judiciary Committee (which she headed). Hannah however, is green; he’s an innocent in terms of political background and he offers a very different set of skills than his opponent.
Ajello obviously has an intimate knowledge of how the state political system operates and has introduced major bills. She is a huge proponent of women’s rights, voted to increase minimum wage, was in favor of marriage equality and works with various organizations including the R.I. Council on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse and Volunteers in Providence Schools. Most recently, the New Jersey native voted to eliminate the master lever from RI ballots (to go into effect in 2015) and she’s worked to update the Access to Public Records Act, making it clear which records public individuals have access to.
Most pressingly, Ajello wants to see ethics reform. She wants legislators to be governed by the ethics commission, especially when it comes to speech and debate, although she “had to vote against the legislation that came to the house from the senate this year, because it was not supported by any of the groups that are so eager to see ethics reform – Common Cause, League of Women Voters and Operation Clean Government were all opposed to that so called compromise.”
Nathanael Hannah, however, believes that Rhode Island gets a bad rap regarding ethics and corruption. From within the bowels of The Coffee Exchange Hannah states, “I don’t think RI is any more corrupt/dishonest than any other state. Because we’re a smaller community, there’s a greater focus on this issue – everyone knows each other, we’re the “brother in law” state. So word spreads faster here. Other than that I think RI operates fairly well for its size.”
Nate grew up in the East Side on Laurel Avenue, went to school in East Providence and attended college in Newport. He is the Operations Executive at a laser-manufacturing firm and while he does not have a political background, he believes his intimate business knowledge paired with a passion for Providence makes him a solid candidate.
“It gets to a point where you stop talking about change and want to make a difference. And in this particular instance the person that I’m running against has been there for 20 years. When you look at change and see that degree of repetition, something has to be done.”
In terms of policy, it’s obvious that Hannah approaches issues from a business standpoint.
"RI benefits because we have great access to water, we have Quonset, we’ve got airports and we’re on I-95, so we are in a key location shipping wise. RI has to figure out what we are. A fundamental basis of starting/owning/running a business is you have to have an identity. Once you have an identity then you can allocate resources towards marketing... And I think RI really needs to focus on that niche if it wants to be successful."
Hannah insists that he is very similar to Ajello in terms of progressive ideals. Where he believes they differ is in their approach and their respective representations within the community. “I’m not sure people actually know who she is... and if elected it would be almost a seamless transition apart from the fact that I’m more financially and pro-business focused... I want to make Providence a destination."
A splash of controversy taints the District 1 campaign cocktail. Before Hannah could officially be called a candidate, Ajello challenged his signature papers believing there might be a chance that Joseph Paolino Jr. was attempting to manipulate Hannah into office. Six of the signatures endorsing Hannah were from Paolino Jr. and his family, and according to Ajello, he also apparently notarized his own signature.
But Hannah is not impressed. "I think it’s bush league,” he exclaims. “The fact is I had 150 signatures of people that reside on the East Side of Providence. Of those 150, 58 were in our district, registered owners; she challenged six, she thought I had 56, but I had 58 so the whole thing was a waste of time. It scares me when somebody wants to avoid competition, because I think competition – at least in terms of private markets – makes things better because it forces people to put out a better product... the whole point about it was so that voters would have a choice"
Fundamentally, Ajello undoubtedly has a better understanding of our state’s political system than her opponent. However, Hannah offers a distinct skill set in finance and business that could be of help to our state’s struggling economy... but what else can he do as only one vote within a 75-seat system? Maturity vs. youth, experience vs. (political) innocence. Come September 9, the voters must decide which is more beneficial to the district.