The decision of Sam Zurier, the well-respected city councilor who has represented Ward 2 in the heart of the East Side for the past eight years, not to seek reelection caught many of us by surprise. But to his credit, the Councilman announced his decision several months before the filing deadline to allow any resident interested in the position plenty of time to step forward. This has not always been the case on the East Side, where in the past, a few incumbents made their decisions at the last possible moment seemingly preferring what unfortunately resembled more of a hand-off than an open election. “I’ve always felt strongly about the need for transparency in these situations,” explains Zurier, “and as a result I will not be endorsing any of the three candidates who will be seeking the office except to say I think they are all excellent candidates and are committed to representing our community as Providence continues to wrestle with its ongoing challenges. Any endorsements came from the Ward 2 committee and I specifically refrained from involving myself in their decision.”
As it turns out, the three candidates do in fact share many common positions with the outgoing councilman. They all opposed the Fane tower, objected to plans to rezone the area around the proposed suboxone project, are committed to the importance of the City’s doing what is necessary to maintain the high standards at Classical High School, and of enforcing regulations that currently prohibit the number of unrelated individuals in our residential dwelling units. Each of our 15 City Councilmen have different priorities, Zurier admits. “In my case it was education and fiscal responsibility.” Here is a look at the backgrounds and priorities of the three candidates seeking to represent the Ward.
While two of the candidates running to succeed Sam Zurier have a long history in Providence, candidate Helen Anthony feels her relatively short time (five years) should not be seen as a deterrent. A land use attorney working with the Providence law firm of Handy, LLC, the Connecticut native returned to the East Coast after more than ten years living in Columbia, MO when her husband took the job as head of pathology at Rhode Island and Miriam Hospitals. But it’s not like she has no experience in the intricacies of city governance. “I worked on the planning and zoning committees in Columbia for four years before winning a seat on the City Council there as a Democrat after a rigorous campaign in this Republican part of the country.” She believes this experience will serve her well as she adapts to her new home base and perhaps provide some useful new perspectives for the Council.
In the years she has been in Providence, Anthony has quickly become active in many of the civic areas that have always interested her. She was recently appointed to the Zoning Board of Providence by Mayor Elorza and has taken leadership roles at Crossroads on issues of domestic violence and at the Providence RI Coalition for the Homeless free legal clinic. She admits to falling in love with Providence – ”its parks are way better than Boston’s” – and as a community activist at heart with actual hands on governmental experience, she’s excited about trying to help her adopted new city deal with its problems.
She has identified three areas she plans to concentrate on if elected: Preserving the quality of life here in the city, addressing what she feels is the threat of overoccupancy in all family dwellings throughout the city, and the need to join with our other Providence elected officials on securing more funding for local public education.
She acknowledges that one of the issues that affect the East Side is that only three of the City’s 15 wards are here. “There was a time when much of the City Council leadership came from the East Side, I’m told. While it’s important that whoever represents the East Side has a clear vision of what needs to be done, there must also be recognition to the importance of establishing relationships with other stakeholders in the Council.” While admitting she doesn’t know many of the other members of the Council, she feels her success in dealing with similar issues in Columbia, particularly during a heated ward redistribution controversy there for example, will serve her well here.
Anthony (age 58) and her husband Doug live on Angell Street near Patterson Park. They have four adult children.
A successful businessman and active board member for many local charitable entities, Mark Feinstein is the first to admit there are a lot of things he will have to learn in terms of the way the City Council formulates and implements policy. “But I’m a quick study,” he laughs, “and I do know a lot about businesses and how things should run.”
A graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Insitute (RPI), Feinstein moved to Providence almost thirty years ago, initially to lead a business in northern Rhode Island. Soon however he began running his own businesses, ultimately owning some 29 Blockbuster stores and 10 Discovery Zone locations around RI and MA. His business acumen earned him a spot in Providence Economic Development Advisory Committee for the past 22 years and to which he has been appointed by four different mayors. He has recently become an investor in Providence Bagel, which he hopes to help franchise around the state, as well as finding time to teach business at Bryant. Feinstein shares his expertise in the non-profit world as well, serving on the Boards of Miriam Hospital, Temple Emanu-El, and Bank Rl, among others.
So why does a successful and already actively engaged man like Feinstein want to join the City Council? “Because of my kids and to protect their future. Rhode Island is a wonderful place to live and work. I have both the time and the energy at this point in my life to try and find solutions to the problems that are holding us back. My experience has taught me that the best way to do this is it to analyze how we got into a bad solution and learn from it, so we don’t do it again.”
If elected, Feinstein has several areas he hopes to work on in the Council. Most important to him is economic development, something he feels he knows quite well. He is especially interested in seeing how the City can help in the development of startups and developing the economic engines our city and state so badly need. On a more basic level, he also feels it’s important that the City at least follow the rules it already has in place: to take care of our sidewalks and parks, implement existing zoning, and insure public safety.
“I may not have all the answers, but I would very much like to part of a group to analyze and correct the things that continue to hold us back.”
Feinstein (age 62) and his wife Cindy live on Laurel Avenue and have three adult children.
Though the youngest of the three candidates, Holt represents the kind of resident that Rhode Island needs more of: A lifelong Rhode Islander who left for work but now has chosen to move back and wants to be part of the effort to rejuvenate our City and state. He and his wife Lilia were both born and bred in Providence, he from Smith Hill, she from the East Side.
Holt went to PC and then the Law School at Northeastern. Both he and his wife Lilia started their working careers in Boston but soon bought a house on the East Side and moved back a few years ago. Ryan is an attorney and lobbyist with the law firm of DarrowEverett, LLP. Now a member of both the boards of College Hill Neighborhood Association and the Mile of History Association that deals with Benefit Street, he is fully committed to historic preservation and the importance of community building. “My goal is to help neighbors effectively address their concerns to the powers that be over issues like infrastructure and public safety so that they are dealt with quickly and efficiently.”
In terms of his priorities, Holt lists three. His first is on what he calls “a community-centered policy of sustainable and smart economic growth. But it must be smart growth which is why I have opposed the Fane building both in terms of its size and especially its placement.” His second area of concern is over public service. Here’s where he thinks his Providence roots kick in. “I’ve known the police chief since I was a young boy and would love to work with him to develop a more rapid response to property crimes and emergency situations on the East Side.” His third priority is to improve our public schools. As a member of the Classical Alumni Board for twelve years, he feels he is ideally positioned to advocate for our East Side schools.
From his earliest days, Holt says politics has always been at the top of his life’s goals. He logged some valuable time working for the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania and he now hopes to meet every one of his constituents before the primary during his door-to-door sweeps, usually accompanied by his wife or mom… or both. Holt feels that because of his local background, his having lived in several different parts of the city, and his ongoing experience as a part-time lobbyist up on the Hill, he’s the only one of the three candidates who can hit the ground running and start getting things done in the City Council from day one.
Our interview ended with another one of those “only in Rhode Island” moments. When asked if he had any final thoughts, he mentioned with a grin “Well, should I add that my wife Lil was a baby sitter to some of Mark’s children growing up?”
Holt (age 31) and his wife, now a business development consultant, live on Halsey Street.