Daniel Chaika (D) Un-Debate Q&A

Main Questions (200 word maximum answers)

1) What specifically would you do to improve the state of our public schools in Ward 3?

We need to maximize student learning and achievement, and I want to see us use all available resources to do that, including city, state, federal and private sources of funding. The Mayor’s proposed budget for 2017-2018 has an almost 3% increase in local funding with allocations to summer jobs and learning as well as additional technology in the classrooms, all of which is a good start.

I would be seeking to allocate more of any available funds to focus on individualized learning, special needs, and improving retention and graduation rates. Our badly aging schools need updating and repairing. They are actually owned by the Providence Building Board Authority, who issue bonds for the financing of such repairs. I propose that the City Council and the Mayor lobby the State legislature to issue the bonds, which the State is primarily responsible for, using the State’s credit rating which is considerably better than the City’s.

2) How would you address the issue of violence, before it happens in our ward, and how would you respond to it after it does happen?

People need to feel that the community is fair to them and has a place for them and that they belong. When this happens, they become invested in their community, making violence less likely. We address the underlying causes of violence by providing people with opportunities — by providing strong local neighborhood schools and youth programs,  through the schools, community centers, church groups, sports, theatre or the arts. People also need to be able to work and make a decent wage, whether it’s a teen looking for summer or part-time work or an adult looking to support themselves and their family. This is essential to breaking the cycle of violence.

We need to bring the police department to a full staff, with people who reflect the diverse community they serve. We need to get them out on the beat and reopen the community police stations. After a tragic event occurs there is a need in the community for information and knowledge. I would hope to be able to get that information and be able to share it in hopes that the community can examine what has happened and work to try to prevent the same things from happening over and over again.

3) Ward 3 is diverse, and sections of the ward are divided along race and class lines. How do you hope to keep the cross-Ward community conversation going? Do you support efforts to encourage residents to spend time in other parts of the ward, crossing the invisible borders that separate the various communities on the East Side?

When my mother worked at Harry’s Spa at the corner of Camp and Lippett, a store owned by my grandfather, the neighborhood was not torn apart by race but united as a community.  We need to instill that old fashioned sense of community across the Ward. The associations in the Ward and their leadership can play an important role in making this happen. Sponsored events, dialogue groups, and guest invitations among and between the various organizations will be key to the “cross-Ward” conversation that needs to occur. However, we need more than talk, there needs to be business development in the commercial properties on Camp and the empty spots on North Main Street. These businesses need to hire from the community and residents from the whole community need to support them.

4) Beyond community block grant funds, how would you specifically fund and support the community organizations and programs that do important work in our ward, such as the learning center, food pantry, youth sports, and theater? Will you work to endow these organizations for the long-term, so they can become less reliant on annual grant funding?

Community Endowment Programs will be essential to the long-term survival of organizations and programs which are vital to our community. Other than block grants, there is very little other available funds to sustain these programs, leaving them vulnerable to shifts in yearly budget priorities. I would certainly assist however I could to help these organizations create their own endowments to become self-sufficient and less reliant on community block grants. It is essential for the whole Ward to become invested and consistent in securing funding for these vital programs.

5) How would you address the issues of affordable housing and gentrification in Ward 3?

Affordable housing is certainly a concern among many residents in the City. We can use the homestead and policies that include tax incentives for long-term residency and other such items that promote stable and affordable housing. I would work with my fellow councilors and members of the community to take a serious look and professionally study the issues surrounding this problem to formulate a strategy that addresses this vital concern. Gentrification most significantly affects the Mt. Hope parts of the community. Unfortunately, some members of the community who have lived here for a long time — in many cases for generations – are being displaced by these market forces, which is a shame.

I would like to see programs where we freeze the taxes for our elderly residents so that they can hang on to their life-long homes and not be forced to sell as a result of the City’s ever-increasing tax burden. I would also like to see City funds become available for loans and grants and other programs which would help these residents to preserve, repair and maintain as well as transfer their properties to future generations.

6) How would colleagues describe your temperament, your communication style, your strengths/weaknesses? Is there a specific situation in your professional or personal life that demonstrated what type of person you are?

I have often had colleagues describe my temperament and communication style as even-handed, measured, thoughtful, and educational. I have developed these skills over thirty years as a practicing attorney and believe they are some of my greatest strengths.   I believe on a regular basis my job requires me to seek consensus among widely diverse positions, usually motivated by self-interests and exacerbated by the financial motivation of the attorneys on the other side of many issues. I always view it as a failure, especially in a Family Court situation, when we are unable to resolve things in a manner that allows the parties to move on with their lives and families. By reaching a consensus as to what is best for them and their families we allow them to move forward.  For the past several years I have offered these services and provided them pro bono as a conciliator helping both sides and their attorneys to reach these objectives.

7) What Ward 3 community work and/or groups have you been involved in prior to deciding to run for city council?

There are many ways to give back to our community. In addition to sitting on the Providence Ethics Commission for the past two years, which has been a privilege and an honor, my greatest community contribution has been providing thousands of hours of pro bono legal services throughout my 30-year career as an attorney. I have helped many people across Rhode Island, Eastern Connecticut, Southeastern Massachusetts, and specifically in our Ward, to address their personal and family crises.

8) A complaint is that some city council members do not participate in enough community meetings or events. How will you devote the time to stay involved? Beyond official council business, how will you balance your personal and work life with the unofficial expectations of being a councilperson?

This is an important issue and one that is difficult for anyone to manage. We all have work-life balance issues and City Councilmembers are no different. Having a full-time job and being an elected official in the evenings is not going to be easy. I do have the advantage of being self-employed, meaning my schedule has more opportunity for flexibility than others.  With few exceptions, I can prioritize where to spend my time, and I feel confident I will be able to achieve the right balance.

9) As a city councilor, how will you fight corruption, which does both real and reputational harm to our city? Do you think ethics and campaign finance policies could be improved, and if so, how? Or, are they strong enough as they are?

My work on the Providence Ethics Commission has been rewarding, and although I’m not on that Commission any longer, I want to continue to refine and enhance the role of the Commission in City government. In just two short years the Commission has created an educational framework to help city government and employees understand what is and is not acceptable ethical behavior. I am hopeful that I can join Councilman Zurier’s efforts to strengthen the Ethics Commission and its mission. I do believe the campaign finance policies if enforced are sufficiently strong to fight against abuses of the past.

10) Consensus building is important to be an effective councilperson, because legislation can’t be passed with just one councilperson’s vote. Describe a time when you demonstrated skill in creating consensus for change among a group of people.

As an attorney, I pride myself on being able to work with all kinds of people under all kinds of circumstances and work out fair solutions for everyone. That is exactly what I will do as a member of the City Council. On a daily basis, I demonstrate my skill in creating consensus for change amongst various groups of  people with various motivations. I believe this has been the perfect training for dealing with a legislative body that appears to be more motivated by the interests of the individual Wards than by the City as a whole.

11) Please share your thoughts on jobs and business development opportunities focused on Camp Street and North Main Street. More broadly, how would you propose to connect under-employed residents with job opportunities?

It is my desire to create and work on programs with the Mayor and City Council to revitalize North Main Street as well as Camp Street and to access money to reinvigorate the area and grow jobs. I would like to work with local businesses to facilitate training and education programs in concert with our schools, to prepare a trained local labor force. This would involve tax exemptions related to job growth and business development. Initially tax stabilization agreements required the creation of both temporary and permanent jobs. This is a focus that seems to be lost in the current environment, and we need to return the focus to this important goal.

12) Our political parties are going through upheaval and change nationwide. What changes would you make to improve your party as a whole if it was up to you, and why? Policies, strategy, etc.

I believe that all politics are becoming too partisan which is why I’ve decided to run for City Council, to see if I can bring a more rational and practical approach to City government. I really can’t be concerned with the partisan politics and childish antics of our elected officials in Washington – these things detract from the established platforms of all parties and works as a disservice to all the people of this fine country. My goal for the democratic party would be a more open, honest and robust body that attracts new faces and fresh blood which would allow it to go back to its roots and get a better sense of what we all expect from our elected officials. I have made a career of listening to clients, opposing attorneys, and opposing sides in order to move people’s lives forward, and I will do the same with and for the voters in this Ward.

Hot Topic Lightning Round (50 word maximum answers)

1) Did you vote in the recent recall election? Why or why not?

I have voted in every statewide and general election, and most primaries, since 1980. That day, I got tied up unexpectedly in what should have been a simple matter north of Boston. More than two additional hours of Boston traffic meant I wasn’t able to get home in time.

2) Providence does not currently have at-large city councilors. Many other cities do. Do you support the idea of adding at-large city council members in Providence, and why?

I think at-large councilors would be a great addition, but I am loath to consider adding more members to an already bloated Council. I would be in favor of reducing the number of seats to 10 or 12, and allowing the remainder to be at-large seats in an effort to move Providence forward and put the City’s interests first.

3) Are you in support of the overnight parking program in Providence, still technically a pilot program under executive order of the Mayor?

Provided it is enforced, I believe the overnight parking program is a positive for the City and effectively addresses the needs of its residents.

4) Smoking ban in Kennedy Plaza – for or against, and why?

I do not support the present smoking ban. It singles out an already marginalized group of people under the pretext of a public health initiative. Additionally it takes valuable law enforcement resources, time and energy away from more important issues that need to be addressed.

5) Providence Community Police Relations Act (formerly CSA) – for or against, and why?

I supported the CSA and was pleased the working group reached a consensus and got this important ordinance passed. Transparency and accountability are essential and it is critically important that our community and public safety professionals all feel confident and comfortable working together.