Aponte, Jackson want new City Council leadership team

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – That didn’t take long.

Less than a week after the Democratic primary, several Providence City Council members are already lining up the votes to overhaul the council’s leadership team beginning in January, WPRI.com has learned.

The new leadership team would include Ward 10 Councilman Luis Aponte as council president and Ward 3 Councilman Kevin Jackson as Democratic majority leader, the two councilmen told WPRI.com. Ward 12 Councilman Terry Hassett would remain president pro tempore, while Ward 6 Councilman Michael Correia and Ward 15 Councilwoman Sabina Matos would serve as deputy majority leaders.

Both Aponte and Jackson said no deal has been finalized and no official vote would take place until January when the new term begins. Ward 14 Councilman David Salvatore, the current chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, told WPRI.com he is also running for council president.

“We are close to having all the votes we need,” Aponte told WPRI.com Sunday. In 1998, Aponte was the first Latino elected to the City Council; he would be its first Latino council president as well.

The council’s top leadership post is open because City Council President Michael Solomon ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for mayor. While Solomon will not be a member of the council when a new president is picked, he will likely play a behind-the-scenes role in the selection process over the next three months.

In addition to his duties as majority leader, Jackson would serve as chairman of the Finance Committee, a position he held from 1999 until 2007. That committee is currently led by Ward 7 Councilman John Igliozzi, but the panel hasn’t met since late 2012 because Igliozzi and Solomon had a public falling out. Solomon created the Ways and Means Committee to oversee budget matters as a way to circumvent the Finance Committee.

“We’ve talked to just about everyone that we needed,” Jackson told WPRI.com Friday. “We want to be more inclusive than the previous four years. We’ve got a tough year in front of us.”

Aside from the four other members of his leadership team, it is unclear how Aponte plans to win the three remaining votes needed to secure the presidency.

Councilmen Seth Yurdin (Ward 1), the current majority leader, Sam Zurier (Ward 2), Nick Narducci (Ward 4), Wilbur Jennings (Ward 8) and Salvatore are considered strong supporters of Solomon’s leadership team and would likely have some reservations about placing Aponte and Jackson in the council’s top two posts.

That would leave Igliozzi, Ward 9 Councilwoman Carmen Castillo and Ward 13 Councilman Bryan Principe as potential swing votes in the race. Igliozzi and Principe have long clashed with the current leadership team, while Castillo has maintained a strong relationship with both Solomon’s team and the group lining up behind Aponte and Jackson.

Jo-Ann Ryan, the Democratic nominee for Solomon’s council seat in Ward 5, and Mary Kay Harris, who knocked off incumbent Davian Sanchez in the Ward 11 Democratic primary, also figure to play a prominent role in the race for president. Both Ryan and Harris face Republicans in the general election, but they are considered heavy favorites in their respective races. Providence hasn’t elected a Republican to the council since 1986.

Only four incumbent councilmen have an opponent in November. Yurdin is taking on Republican Michael Long. Igliozzi has a challenger in independent Charles Edward Lawrence. Jennings will face off with independent Dave Talan, the former leader of the city’s Republican Party. Hassett is running against perennial candidate Dan Grzych.

Taking control of the City Council would cap a stunning four-year turnaround for Aponte and Jackson.

The two councilmen were left off every council committee in 2011 after Aponte lost the council president’s race against Solomon, an unprecedented move that immediately created a divide in the legislative branch.

In 2012, Jackson tried unsuccessfully to oust Yurdin as majority leader. In an effort to win back control of the council, Solomon appointed Jackson to the Education Subcommittee as well as the Urban Redevelopment, Renewal and Planning (URRP) Committee. Aponte was appointed vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Aponte ended up supporting Solomon for mayor. Jackson is serving as co-chairman of independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci’s mayoral campaign.

Aponte and Jackson are widely considered among the council’s savviest dealmakers, having served a combined total of 36 years in the city’s legislative branch.

Representing Lower South Providence and Washington Park, Aponte is known for his leadership around the city’s First Source Ordinance, which requires that Providence residents be given first consideration for certain jobs within the city. Jackson who represents the poor Mount Hope neighborhood on the East Side, is considered a leading voice when it comes to recreation and schools.

But both councilmen will also likely face questions about their failure to file campaign finance reports in recent years. Aponte owed the state $46,809 in campaign fines as of June, according to a list published by the Rhode Island Board of Elections. Jackson owed $30,057.

Salvatore, the other candidate for council president, is considered a rising star in city politics. He led the subcommittee that laid the groundwork for the city’s pension reform ordinance in 2012 and managed the passage of two city budgets as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

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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