On July 12, residents in Ward 3 will vote in a primary election to choose their major party candidates for a new city council representative. On August 16, they will elect a replacement for Kevin Jackson, who was arrested in May 2016 for improper use of campaign funds, and for embezzling almost $130,000 from the Providence Cobras, a youth track and field group he had founded. Jackson was recalled in Ward 3 by a vote of 1,772 to 158.
By all accounts, Jackson was making enemies in the Ward even before his indictment. In the 2014 election, he won by only 55 votes over a write-in candidate; he has been criticized for a disappointing legislative record of accomplishments, for spending too little time with his constituents, and for what seemed to be, after 22 years as city councilman, a sense of entitlement to the position.
There are four Democrats, one Republican, and one Independent currently registered as candidates for Jackson’s seat. “I’m pleased that Ward 3 voters will have qualified candidates from whom to choose,” says Tricia Kammerer, a lead organizer of the recall effort. “Ward 3 deserves a city councilperson who is ethical and honorable, someone who believes in civic responsibility, and in the principles of open government.”
Meet the Candidates
Here is East Side Monthly’s guide to the candidates. We were able to communicate with Nirva LaFortune (D), Mark Santow (D), Dan Chaika (D), and David Lallier Jr. (R) about their political beliefs and goals. Christopher Reynolds (I) could not be reached for comment.
Nirva LaFortune manages Brown’s Presidential Scholars Program, which supports students from historically underrepresented groups. She co-chairs the youth and education committee for the East Side Community Alliance and serves on the Committee of Practitioners advising RIDE. She serves on an advisory council at the East Side YMCA and is a member of the School Design team for Providence Public Schools. LaFortune points out that she is the only woman running, and that her experience as an immigrant from Haiti, a graduate of and parent of children in Providence public schools, and an administrator and active community member all set her apart from the other candidates. She describes herself as progressive.
Mark Santow was appointed to the Providence School Board in 2015. He is an associate professor and chair of history at UMass Dartmouth. He has volunteered locally in the Fix Our Schools Now coalition, in opposition to the expansion of Achievement First, and in rallying support on the East Side for the Community-Police Relations Act. He is the director of the New Bedford Clemente Course in the Humanities. Santow’s unique qualities among the candidates are, he says, his experience on the School Board, including chairing its policy committee, and as a teacher, and his understanding of US history and urban studies. He describes himself as a progressive.
Dan Chaika is an attorney at the firm Chaika & Chaika; he resigned as vice chair of the city’s Ethics Commission in order to run. He emphasizes his background as a lawyer and negotiator and his work on the Ethics Commission as setting him apart from the competition; he has also “delivered several education programs on the subject of ethics.” His volunteer work “consists largely of pro bono legal services.” The Ethics Commission was inactive until early 2015; Chaika has been involved in its inaugural efforts since then and in creating an education framework for the commission’s work. Chaika is “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”
David Lallier Jr. is the sole Republican to join the race; if he wins, he will be the first Republican to be elected in Providence since 1992 and the first on the city council since 1986. Lallier works for a trucking company in Lincoln, doing warehouse work and loading and unloading trucks. His distinct qualities are “tradition, values, and honor” and that he is “not stuck on an ideological way of thinking.” He was a member of Troop 28 Pawtucket of the Boy Scouts of America and worked as a camp counselor for the Narragansett Council Boy Scouts at Camp Yawgoog in Rockville for 10 years. Lallier is a self-described “center-right” Republican, who believes that “we need less government in our lives.”
In listing their top three priorities if elected, all candidates named schools, and several mentioned their commitment to honest, accountable government, reflecting the circumstances of the special election. Chaika wants schools that are “warm, safe and dry,” “to continue to refine and enhance the role of the Commission in City government,” and to “hold the line on taxes.”
LaFortune also focuses on safe and high-quality education and transparency and hopes to “protect the rights and safety of immigrants and others.”
Aside from safe schools and ethical government, Santow wants to ensure “that the city’s development policies lean toward the small, the local and the ecologically sustainable, and toward living wages for Providence’s working families.”
Lallier hopes to “reinvent the Education Wheel” from lecture-based to “a hands-on, entertainment-based education.” He wants to lower property taxes, make sure that all residential properties are taxed at the same level, eliminate property taxes for those over 75 and on a fixed income, and allow active police officers in Providence to “be tax exempt for one house and one car,” in order to encourage them to live in the city. His other top priority is “community relations with our brave men and women in our police department.”
School Budget Priorities
Each candidate was asked to name their budgetary priorities vis-à-vis schools. Chaika wants to channel city, state and private funding toward maximizing “student learning and achievement” and “to allocate more of any available funds to retention and graduation.” He also recommends channeling funds “via the Providence Public Building Authority to improve and upgrade our badly aging schools.”
LaFortune is also concerned about infrastructural decay: “My number one budget priority for our schools is repairing the environment where our kids, my kids, learn,” she says.
“Our schools have leaking roofs (MLK), mold (Central), and inaccessible auditoriums (Classical).” She also wants to channel more support toward “principals, teachers and students” so that they have “the flexibility to maximize the resources we have to support student achievement.”
Santow pledges to “rally all parts of our public, private and non-profit sector – and those of other Rhode Island communities facing similar issues – to change how money is raised, borrowed and spent on schools at the state level” and “to tap available resources from the corporations, foundations, and universities in the city – many of which own productive land in Providence, but don’t pay taxes.” He also wants to expand access to high-quality public pre-kindergarten “ for families in Mt. Hope and other Ward 3 neighborhoods.”
Lallier wants to ensure that students have access to afterschool activities, and that school facilities are in
The Community-Police Relations Act
The Democrats are similarly united in their approval of the Community-Police Relations Act, formerly known as the Community Safety Act, and Santow and LaFortune particularly so. LaFortune recounts, “I have been racially profiled by police officers, and as the mother of a black teenage boy, these issues are very real and very important to me. It is important for both residents and the police to have clear protocols for accountability.” She wishes, however, that the act clarified “appropriate use of physical force or a weapon to stop or target an individual.” Santow helped organize support for the bill but notes that “it is very important that the Council fully resource the Providence External Review Authority, to ensure that the quarterly data collected under the law can be promptly and thoroughly gathered and interpreted.”
The lone voice of opposition, Lallier argues that the Act “gives criminals an easy way out. For example, police will have to take the word of someone if they say they are under the age of 18. This lets people who look under 18 take advantage.” As for the list of gang members, “I would rather see 10 years before you’re removed. But I would be fine with after 5 years you may apply to be removed if you have no record in the last 5 years.”
What to Do About Corruption
And how will the candidates fix residents’ deep cynicism about Rhode Island government and elected officials’ seeming inability to root out corruption? Chaika, predictably, proposes “strengthening the Ethics Commission.” Lallier argues that “anyone who holds a position of power over others, including politicians, police officers and teachers, should face stiffer penalties when convicted of a crime.” He also calls for a “personal ethics committee” staffed by the leaders of Ward 3’s various neighborhood associations to hold elected officials accountable.
LaFortune calls for “new voices to step up and run for office” and for city council members to put “more emphasis on sharing information with residents so we can engage everyone in solutions.” Santow proposes examining “the public financing of city council elections in Providence” and that “members of the Council with outstanding campaign finance fines or late reports” be prohibited “from holding leadership positions.”
This echoes a recently proposed measure by Councilman Samuel Zurier of Ward 2 to remove any council members from their leadership roles who have been criminally indicted or have failed to promptly file ethics and campaign finance reports. Aside from Lallier, who supports it, the candidates seem wary of the ordinance, with Chaika promising “to craft a legislative solution” with Zurier “that both strengthens the Ethics Commission as he’s envisioned, and also passes constitutional muster.” LaFortune points out that “indictments are different than being proven guilty, and people of color are extremely aware of the power of being wrongly accused in our society” and Santow argues that “the presumption of innocence in a criminal case should carry some weight” and proposes instead that “the majority of the council should be able to simply vote to remove someone from a leadership role.”
This issue may end up as the most significant of the election for the world-weary residents of Ward 3. “I hope with this election” says Kammerer, the organizer, “we can end the days when corruption in Rhode Island politics is met with nothing more than a roll of the eyes and a shrug of resignation.” As Chaika puts it, “None of the candidates that I’m running with have any real political baggage. We’re all people who seems to be incensed at the situation and have decided to get off the sidelines and see if we can make a difference.