Rep. Hull backs Smiley in Providence mayor’s race

Brett Smiley, left, listens as Rep. Ray Hull endorses his candidacy for mayor of Providence on July 16, 2014. (photo: Dan McGowan/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley picked up his first significant endorsement outside of the city’s East Side Wednesday, winning the support of state Rep. Ray Hull, who represents part of the vote-rich 5th ward in Mount Pleasant and Elmhurst.

Hull, a Providence police sergeant who used to work as Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr.’s police driver, said he’s backing Smiley because he’s the only candidate in the race with a comprehensive vision for public safety. He will serve as the campaign’s co-chairman, along with Myrth York and Christine West.

“I’ve read his plan cover to cover and I’ve had many conversations with Brett about what can be done to keep our streets safe and I know he’s the right man to get it done,” Hull, a Democrat who briefly considered running for mayor himself, said during a morning press conference in his home on Mount Pleasant Avenue.

Smiley, an East Side resident, is running in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary for mayor against City Council President Michael Solomon, Jorge Elorza and Chris Young. The winner will take on Republican Daniel Harrop and Cianci in the general election. Two other candidates, Democrat Reinaldo Catone and independent Jeffrey Lemire, have also filed paperwork to run.

While violent crime in Providence has steadily declined over the last two decades, Smiley said the city still sees more than 100 shootings a year and “it’s time for that to change.” He pointed to the five people who were shot last week in the city’s Chad Brown housing project as showing crime still needs to be addressed.

Last December, Smiley called on state lawmakers to approve a 10% supplemental sales tax on all gun and ammunition purchases in order to create a funding stream for anti-violence programs in Rhode Island’s urban communities. The bill never came up for a vote in the House or Senate.

The sales tax pitch was part of Smiley’s eight-page public safety plan to make Providence “the safest city of its size in the country,” a goal he said he could achieve by expanding the police force, reducing gang and domestic violence, and expanding treatment services for addicts and offenders.

The city’s police force is now at 399 officers, down from 498 in 2001, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare. A new crop of around 50 officers are expected to join the force later this year. All of the Democrats in the race have pledged to add more officers and expand the city’s community policing effort.

Politically, Hull’s endorsement is significant.

While Solomon has won the support of the Democratic City Committee as well as the majority of the city’s elected officials, Hull’s backing could lend credibility to Smiley in the African-American community as well as the city’s Mount Pleasant, Elmhurst and Fruit Hill neighborhoods. Hull is considered very popular in his district; in 2010, he trounced longtime incumbent Peter Wasylyk in the primary and then won 74% of the vote in their 2012 rematch.

At the same time, Hull and Smiley are different Democrats. Hull voted against same-sex marriage in 2013; Smiley recently ran a campaign commercial that featured him proposing to his husband. This year, Hull sponsored legislation that calls for stricter sentencing for gang-related crimes, a bill liberals strongly opposed.

Smiley said he was proud to have Hull’s support.

“The wealth of knowledge and experience he brings to my campaign team, particularly in the area of public safety, will be invaluable moving forward,” Smiley said. “I’m proud to have Rep. Hull’s support as I continue fighting for safer streets, stronger schools and a more prosperous economy.”

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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