Ward Three incumbent City Councilor Kevin Jackson and his write-in challenger Marcus Mitchell both came in for some pointed questions at a forum sponsored by SNA.
For Jackson, part of the focus was on his failure to file the necessary campaign finance reports and his subsequent fines, but the most heated questions concerned his support of Vincent “Buddy” Cianci in the race for mayor.
For Mitchell, there were harsh allusions to his time on the staff of U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., an extreme conservative.
The two council candidates spoke Thursday evening to about 100 people in the main dining room of Summit Commons, 99 Hillside Ave. The exchange of views was introduced by SNA President Dean Weinberg and moderated by Mike Ritz, executive director of Leadership Rhode Island. Weinberg stressed that the forum was the result of Summit residents asking for an opportunity to discuss issues with the office seekers face to face.
Each of the two men had opening statements, then began the question-and-answer segment. Three of the questions were prepared by SNA, but the rest came from the floor.
Both candidates said their backgrounds and records showed their qualifications. Jackson listed his legislative accomplishments, including being instrumental in repaving streets and repairing sidewalks, restoring parks and recreational facilities plus writing ordinances to protect residents, even to suing the city to demand compliance with job-creation laws. Mitchell cited his years of community service based upon the civil rights movement, his authorship of a book on leadership and his role in forming the Providence Community Library organization.
Soon, however, the questioning from the audience became more pointed.
A resident asked Jackson about the $30,000 in fines that had been levied against him for not filing the proper campaign reports. The councilman responded that the “administrative” fines had “been settled” and the situation was “my mistake.” Later, another resident asked Jackson when he had filed the missing reports since “as of noon” they were not on the web site of the Board of Elections. He replied that the reports had been filed and cleared, and that he could not “speak to why they’re not evident.”
Then near the end of the forum, another audience member said he had just checked the Election Board site and the reports were still missing. Jackson then said the “paperwork had not been submitted” and “was still being developed.”
Jackson also came under intense questioning over being co-chair of Cianci’s campaign. Responding to a question about which candidate he supported for mayor, Jackson said he clearly backed Cianci. The councilman said he “was and am disappointed with what happened in his administration,” but “we need to get things done.”
Another questioner demanded to know how a candidate could support Cianci when during his terms as mayor “$1 million went to a crony” to register children for school “in a dirty garage.” Jackson said he was not at the forum “to defend Cianci” but that city services had deteriorated and “we need someone who could step in” and improve the situation.
An irate listener then said he was “insulted by support of Cianci” and asked Jackson how he could represent the community by supporting the former mayor. The councilman said he was exercising his “right of individual choice” and he was making “a personal decision.”
During these exchanges, Mitchell said campaign financing was a matter of ethics and that he had filed all the required reports on time. He further said he backed Jorge Elorza for mayor and that he didn’t “want to go back to criminal enterprises” of the Cianci administration.
Mitchell was asked if he had run for office in Philadelphia as a Republican. He responded that he had indeed run for court clerk there as a Republican to get into an administration that was blocking the distribution of funds for needy people and that he sought to build coalitions. Under pressure from Jackson, who said he had always been a “liberal Democrat” and noted that Santorum “has rightist views,” Mitchell said he was asked to join that administration and “went into office” to try to temper that attitude. He said he spent a night in a homeless shelter to understand the situation and was “very proud” of his work for which he won citizenship awards.
On many other issues, the two council candidates had similar priorities. They both see economic development and job creation as a major concern, both advocate “green” practices to mitigate climate change and both support an emphasis on improving schools.
One issue they differed on was discovered by moderator Ritz when he asked for questions from some school-age children in the audience and one wanted to know each candidate’s favorite color. Jackson replied quickly that he liked purple on black, but Mitchell said “my wife dresses me” and that she liked green “because it’s nature.”
The forum ended after the candidates thanked the audience for the opportunity to speak and SNA for arranging it.