About 150 neighborhood residents and political advocates gathered in a large, muggy room Tuesday evening to hear the candidates for Providence mayor and District 4 representative plead their cases.
Democrats Jorge Elorza, Brett Smiley, Michael Solomon and Christopher Young, all vying in the September primary for the chance to run for mayor, joined fellow Democrats Aaron Regunberg, Miriam Ross and Heather Tow-Yick, who will face each other in the primary for the General Assembly seat vacated by Gordon Fox.
Held at 7 p.m. in the main dining room of Summit Commons at 99 Hillside Ave., the forum was the first of two sponsored by the Summit Neighborhood Association. The second will be Wednesday, July 30, and feature both parties’ candidates for governor in the primary. The Democratic opponents for state senator are unable to attend.
At Tuesday’s session, SNA President Dean Weinberg introduced SNA board member Thomas Schmeling, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Rhode Island College, who was moderator. He posed a series of questions developed from topics submitted by neighborhood residents. The first part of the forum was devoted to the General Assembly race.
Responding to the issue of the local economy and what specific proposals they support, Ross, speaking first, cited her support for small businesses and vowed to get rid of regulations that hinder their growth. Tow-Yick urged increased public education, municipal services and support for small businesses. Regunberg denounced the “let’s make a deal” system and called for more investment in education and a bottom-up economic system.
On public education and the controversy over the common core curriculum and standardized testing, Tow-Yick stressed her experience in running Teach for America, Regunberg urged getting rid of the top-down administrative system and Ross said she would make sure adequate funding is available and suggested vocational schools.
All three candidates said they do not support a constitutional convention but would work to repeal the law requiring identification at the polls for voters.
After a short break, the mayoral aspirants took the stage in a similar question-and-answer format.
Asked what steps they would take to improve public education, Smiley said he would focus on great teachers and proposed a master-teacher track, Solomon said he would rebuild decayed facilities and give schools more autonomy, Young said student imagination needs to be fostered and would tax Brown University to pay for improvements and Elorza promised a more holistic approach since every child is a product of the cultural environment.
On the subject of crime, Solomon supported more police on the streets and said he would start a second police academy, Young linked street crime to corrupt politicians in a corrupt administration, Elorza stressed community involvement with police and Smiley said he was committed to funding a community-based police system.
Regarding the economy, Smiley urged a train link to the Boston zone and derided the “know a guy” attitude in city hall, Solomon said he would work on infrastructure to help small business and suggested jobs in a nursing school, Young said federal funds could be used to build the port and Elorza said he would work to reverse the “brain drain” of talent leaving the city by building trust in government and linking an arts and culture economy to the neighborhoods.
In a closing summary, Young stressed his plan to tax Brown University, repeal the car tax and prosecute criminal corruption in the city administration. Solomon said he was not the most articulate or degreed candidate, but was the most experienced and can-do candidate. Smiley stressed his experience elsewhere and his commitment to not use the mayor’s office as a stepping stone to further political ambitions. He also said that electing former mayor Vincent Cianci would be “a terrible idea.” Elorza pushed the same theme, saying he could build a coalition to beat Cianci and prevent the city from going backward. Elorza said he was the only candidate equally at home with school kids and corporate chief executives.