What Councilman Jackson’s recall means for Providence now

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The voters of Ward 3 on Providence’s East Side sent a clear message Tuesday.

By voting 91% to 9% to recall embattled Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson, voters emphatically stated they wanted to get rid of the Democrat who represented the ward for 22 years.

So what does it all mean for Ward 3 and the City Council? Here’s an overview.

A special election will be called to replace Jackson.
We still don’t know the exact timeline, but it’s safe to say a special election will be set in Ward 3 for sometime this summer. The recall results must still be certified by the Providence Board of Canvassers – this will likely happen next week – and the Providence City Council still has to formally declare the Ward 3 seat vacant. Because the election results came in after the council set its agenda for Thursday’s meeting, the council can call for a special meeting or wait until its next meeting on May 18. The city charter requires the special election to be set within 90 days of the vacancy. A special primary would be set for 30 days before the special election.

The race to replace Councilman Jackson should come together quickly.
We only know of one candidate who intends to run for the seat at this point: School Board member Mark Santow got a head start on everyone when he announced his candidacy in March. (He reported bringing in $2,675 during his first month of fundraising, according to R.I. Board of Elections filings.) It’s hard to believe he’ll be the only person in the race, though. In 2014, Marcus Mitchell nearly defeated Jackson as a write-in candidate and would be well-positioned if he decided to give it another shot. There is also some dispute as to whether Jackson can actually run again, an unlikely scenario given his overwhelming loss Tuesday. Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for the city, has said Jackson would be eligible to run, but others point to a court ruling in the 1980s that blocked former Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. from running in a special election after he resigned from office.

All eyes are on the organizers.
The Recall Kevin Jackson group led by Tricia Kammerer and Karina Holyoak Wood was one of the most impressive political campaigns the city has seen in a long time. With that infrastructure already in place, earning the group’s support in the Ward 3 special election should be a top priority of any candidate. There’s also state Rep. Aaron Regunberg’s network. Regunberg is considered a rising star in Democratic politics and he already knows how to win in Ward 3. His endorsement matters. Then there are the rich people. Ward 3 is home to some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the city. And while Gov. Gina Raimondo or former state Sen. Myrth York don’t typically dabble in City Council politics, their support could help any candidate. Don’t forget about Mount Hope, either. While the recall results showed Jackson no longer had a true base, residents in Ward 3’s poorest neighborhood are still going to expect strong representation. If they can organize, they can still play a big role in the special election. (It’s worth noting, too, that all of these groups have some overlap.)

Ward 3 won’t have a vote on the budget this year.
Jackson’s departure comes at an inopportune time in the calendar year: budget season. Mayor Jorge Elorza unveiled his tax-and-spending plan last week and the City Council Finance Committee began the vetting process this week. But when the council eventually votes on the proposal in June, there will be no one to represent Ward 3’s interests because the special election won’t be held until later in the summer. On the bright side, the mayor’s budget doesn’t include a tax increase, so constituents won’t find themselves in a position of needing to lobby their councilor on that issue. On the flip side, the all-important federal Community Development Block Grant budget hasn’t been set, so the nonprofit organizations in Ward 3 will need to keep an eye on things without having the ability to lobby Jackson for support.

The road to approving the Community Safety Act just got bumpier.
There are plenty of people – namely the police union and Chief Hugh Clements – who might consider this a good thing, but there’s no question the Community Safety Act does have strong support from a lot of Providence residents. And Jackson was one of the most vocal supporters of the far-reaching police reform ordinance. The City Council is expected to consider the ordinance in June, which will be after Jackson has left but before the special election. That means the council is down one solid yes vote.

The City Council power structure is in flux.
Jackson resigned as majority leader after his arrest last May, but he still remained a loyal member of Council President Luis Aponte’s team. While not everyone on the council votes with their allies 100% of the time, here’s how the factions break down: Aponte’s team still includes Majority Leader Bryan Principe and Councilors Jo-Ann Ryan, Michael Correia, John Igliozzi, Carmen Castillo, Mary Kay Harris, Terry Hassett and Sabina Matos. The other side includes Councilors Seth Yurdin, Sam Zurier, Nick Narducci, Wilbur Jennings and David Salvatore. While Aponte would still appear to have a majority of the council on his side, his own legal troubles continue to dog him and his team appears to be splintering. For example, one of the reasons he moved to table the Community Safety Act was because Ryan, Correia, Igliozzi and Hassett all supported putting it on hold.

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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