If Jackson is recalled, Providence School Board member will run for council seat

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The recall election of embattled Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson hasn’t even been set, but a member of the Providence School Board is already planning a campaign to become Ward 3’s next councilman.

Mark Santow, a liberal Democrat who has served on the school board since 2015, filed organizational paperwork with the R.I. Board of Elections Thursday, allowing him to begin raising funds. Santow confirmed he has also purchased the website http://www.marksantow.com.

“If my neighbors in Ward 3 decide to recall Jackson, I do intend to run for the seat,” Santow said Sunday. “I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 14 years, and I believe we need to be represented by a transparent, accessible, honest and progressive City Council person, focused on improving our public schools (the buildings, and what happens inside them), on criminal justice reform, on affordable housing, and on making Providence a more just and sustainable place.”

Santow, 49, is among the 2,383 residents of Ward 3 to sign papers seeking the recall of Jackson, a Democrat who has represented the neighborhood since 1995. Jackson was arrested by State Police last May and indicted by a statewide grand jury last July. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege he 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. He is also accused of using $12,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.

The City Council, R.I. Board of Elections and Providence Board of Canvassers have all scheduled special meetings for Monday to set a May 2 election where Ward 3 voters will be asked to vote up or down on Jackson’s political future. If he is recalled, a separate special election will be scheduled for the council seat. Jackson said Friday he is still planning a legal challenge to the recall process.

Santow is the first candidate to publicly state his intention to run for the council seat. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, he earned a master’s degree in American history from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He works as a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

As a member of the mayoral-appointed school board, Santow has been a vocal critic of the proposed expansion of the Achievement First Mayoral Academy. He has also supported the efforts of the Providence Student Union to add ethnic studies to the curriculum in Providence.

“While I’m a newcomer to electoral politics, I’ve been on the School Board for two years now, and I have written and taught about urban policy for two decades,” Santow said. “I have raised my children here, and my wife and I are Rhode Islanders for the long haul. I think I have something to contribute, and I’ll do my best. In the wake of the presidential election, I’d like my children to see that public service is for good people with the best of intentions – that it has to be.”

Ward 3 stretches from the University Heights apartment complex off of North Main Street all the way north to the Pawtucket line. Jackson’s base has traditionally been in the poor Mount Hope neighborhood, but the district added a tiny pocket of affluent streets to the east, including Laurel Avenue, Hazard Avenue and Savoy Street, during the 2012 redistricting process.

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