Providence mayoral hopefuls Solomon, Smiley at odds on crime

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The gloves are coming off in the Providence mayor’s race. And it has nothing to do with Buddy Cianci.

After Michael Solomon unveiled his public safety plan Wednesday, Democratic primary opponent Brett Smiley criticized Solomon for not doing enough to address crime during his two terms on the City Council.

“In seven years on the City Council, three years as council president, and over a year campaigning for mayor, Michael Solomon has not provided any real leadership on public safety, and now, just 48 days before the election, he is finally coming forward with a brief proposal,” Smiley’s campaign said in a statement. “We need a mayor who makes public safety a priority from day one.”

Solomon’s campaign immediately fired back, attacking Smiley for being relatively new to Providence and defending his record on the council.

“This is more sad, empty rhetoric from someone who hasn’t even lived in the city for ten years,” campaign manager Jake Bissaillon said in a statement. “Michael has spent his entire life volunteering to create stable, safe neighborhoods in Providence, whether it was on the board of the Federal Hill House, at the Joslin Community Center, or as president of the Olneyville Housing Corporation.”

Bissaillon continued: “As council president, Michael’s supported a police academy to train fifty new officers for our neighborhoods and advocated for increased funding for non-violence programs. Those aren’t plans – those are accomplishments.”

Solomon and Smiley are running in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary along with former Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza, Chris Young and Reinaldo Catone. The winner will take on Republican Daniel Harrop and independent former mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. in the general election. Incumbent Mayor Angel Taveras is running in the Democratic primary for governor.

The bickering between the two candidates began at a candidate forum Tuesday when Smiley suggested Solomon should have done more to convince his council colleagues to uphold Taveras’s veto of an ordinance that reduced landlord property taxes beginning next year. Smiley also suggested the mayor and the council “dragged their feet” on launching a much-needed police academy this year.

In his public safety plan, Solomon pledged to budget for at least one more police academy if elected mayor later this year. He also wants to teach more nonviolence training in schools, expand recreation options for city youth and improve neighborhood watch programs across Providence.

Smiley’s plan to address crime includes growing the police force as well, but he also wants state lawmakers to approve a 10% supplemental sales tax on all gun and ammunition sales to pay for nonviolence programs in urban communities. In addition, Smiley wants to reduce gang and domestic violence and expand treatment services for addicts and offenders.

Despite a police force that shrunk to 399 officers – down from 492 in 2002 – statistics provided by the public safety office show violent crime, property crime and other crimes such as weapons and drug offenses are all down compared with the same point in 2013. Following a national trend, violent crime in the city dropped 45% between 1991 and 2012, according to Uniform Crime Reports published by the FBI.

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

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