Group seeks to recall embattled Providence councilman

City Councilman Kevin Jackson
City Councilman Kevin Jackson

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A group of residents on Providence’s East Side took the first steps Friday to initiate a recall of embattled Ward 3 Councilman Kevin Jackson, who is facing criminal charges that he embezzled more than $127,000 from a youth sports team and violated the state’s campaign finance law.

A declaration of intent to petition for recall was submitted to the city clerk’s office shortly after 3 p.m. by Tricia Kammerer, a Warwick elementary school teacher who has lived on the East Side for 21 years. She said 17 of her neighbors spent much of the summer collecting the signatures, which totaled 388.

“This petition sends a message that people are frustrated when [elected officials] don’t play by the rules,” Kammerer told Eyewitness News.

Jackson, a 58-year-old Democrat who has represented Ward 3 since 1995, was arrested by State Police in May and indicted by a statewide grand jury in July. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege Jackson embezzled $127,153 from the Providence Cobras youth track-and-field team, an organization that received more than $67,000 in taxpayer-funded city donations between 2005 and 2015.

Investigators claim Jackson used the organization’s money to fund campaign-related expenses, including an advertisement in a local magazine during his 2014 re-election bid. He is also accused of using the Cobras’ money on apparel, car repairs and monthly Netflix charges.

Jackson is also accused of using $12,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, including apparel, health care, cash withdrawals and paying a fine to the R.I. Board of Elections. Jackson has a long history of failing to file campaign reports.

Following his arrest, Jackson resigned his position as majority leader of the council, but he has not resigned from the legislative body altogether. He regularly attends council meetings. Kammerer said she spoke with Jackson over the summer and asked him to consider leaving the council, but he declined.

“This isn’t personal,” Kammerer said. “This is about what’s best for the citizens of this ward moving forward.”

It isn’t easy to recall a councilman in Providence.

To begin the process, a petition signed by 300 qualified electors must be submitted to the clerk’s office, which is the action Kammerer took Friday. Once the signatures are certified by the Providence Board of Canvassers, Kammerer will have 120 days to collect signatures from 20% of the registered voters in Ward 3 – about 2,000 voters.

If the group manages to secure the necessary signatures, a question asking whether the councilman shall be removed from office would be placed on a ballot for a vote that must occur between 30 and 60 days after the signatures are certified. If the majority of voters support the recall, Jackson would be removed from office. Then a special election would be held.

Informed of the recall effort this week, Jackson told Eyewitness News he wants to continue serving the community. He declined to comment on his legal troubles, but has long maintained his innocence.

“In some ways, this is unsurprising since these are the same people that have been pounding me,” Jackson said.

Jackson has faced criticism within his ward since before his arrest. In 2014, after Jackson endorsed Buddy Cianci for mayor, write-in candidate Marcus Mitchell came within 25 votes of defeating him.

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Dan McGowan ( ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan