A voters’ guide to the special election in Providence’s Ward 3

City defends taxpayer funded grants that help renovate blighted areas.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The race to replace recalled Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson in Ward 3 is fully underway, with three Democrats, a Republican and an independent candidate all running in a special election this summer.

Democrats Mark Santow, Nirva Rebecca LaFortune and Daniel Chaika will compete in the Democratic primary on July 12, with the winner taking on Republican David Lallier Jr. and independent Chris Reynolds in the general election on Aug. 16.

So where do the candidates stand on the key issues? Eyewitness News asked each of them to respond to 12 questions. (Note: Reynolds did not respond to phone calls, a text message or several emails.)

1. Why should you be elected to the City Council?

Mark Santow
I’ve been on the Providence School Board since early 2015, and I’ve chaired the policy committee for the past year.  In my time there, I’ve become familiar with the ins-and-outs of city government, budgeting, and the long-term needs of the school district.  Thus, I bring direct experience that I can immediately use on the Council.  Also, as a professor of US history and urban studies, I have been teaching, researching and writing about urban policy for two decades.  I am intimately familiar with how American cities work, and with the policies that have shaped them.  My work focuses in particular on the historical origins of racial inequality in our metropolitan areas.  I believe this gives me some insights into many of the deeper issues that cities like Providence face, and possible ways to address them.  As a teacher, I’ve spent the past two decades learning how to listen, to ask good questions, to demand evidence, and to explain complicated issues on paper and in person.  I believe these skills and experiences will enable me to make thoughtful decisions for the city, to bridge differences within Ward 3, and bring resources and ideas to our neighborhood.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
I am running for city council because I grew up in Providence and I have experienced many of the challenges the city faces. Ward 3 is a very diverse community, and we need to elect someone who can represent the entire community. In our ward, approximately 52% of the people are women, 31% are people of color, 20% live below the federal poverty line, and about 22% were born in another country. I believe my background and experience make me the best candidate to represent Ward 3. I have a combination of lived and professional experience that can help bring our ward together and represent the entire population.

I also think our ward deserves strong, vocal leadership. I grew up in Providence, and I am active in our community. I show up and I speak up. I think my neighbors want someone who is going to listen to them, advocate for them and respond to them with clear information. We know the city faces challenges, but often my neighbors feel they can’t get answers to even simple questions. I will be a responsive city councilor who will help make city government more accessible and transparent for Ward 3 constituents.

Daniel Chaika

  • My background in the law is extremely helpful for understanding how City government functions and how to solve problems within a legal framework.
  • Having served as Vice Chairman of the Providence Ethics Commission, and delivered several education programs on the subject of ethics, I bring unique experience and perspective regarding ethics in City government.
  • As a practicing attorney for nearly 30 years – whether it’s business law or family law – I’ve become a skilled negotiator who is able to find mutually positive solutions in contentious situations. That’s an extremely valuable skill to bring to the City Council.
  • As a Providence business owner who also represents business clients, I’m sensitive to the issues that face Providence-based businesses, large and small, and want to work to foster an improved economic climate in the City.
  • I’ve been a Ward 3 homeowner for the better part of three decades; my family has generations of history here. I love the people and the neighborhoods, and have a longstanding vested interest here.

David Lallier Jr.
I bring to the table the average person in our city. I currently live check to check, dollar to the dollar just hoping that my checking account won’t overdraft. I know how hard it is to live on under $300 a week. I don’t have normal health insurance because I can’t afford it. I am on Medicaid because of my income. Unlike the other candidates, I don’t have the college education. I don’t have money to even enjoy life like I want to. I know the struggles financially and in education. I grew up in the special education system in Providence. I know how hard it is to learn and understand, even into my adult years and as I run for office I continue to struggle personally and now publicly. I am not proud to be low income and to have a learning disability, but if I am elected into office I can help those families and children who struggle as I do. I bring the perspective of an everyday person who wants a better life and just brakes even.

2. Ward 3 is one of the most unique neighborhoods in Providence because its constituents include some of the city’s wealthiest residents as well as some of the poorest residents. What is your plan for balancing the needs of everyone in the ward?

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
I agree, Ward 3 is one of the most unique neighborhoods in Providence. It is diverse racially, culturally and socioeconomically. It includes one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in the nation, a strong Jewish community, Ivy League faculty and public housing. Ward 3 has a rich history and many people who are active and committed to their community. This diversity is a tremendous strength and is one of the reasons people love living here.

With this diversity comes significant disparities, and this is one of the major reasons I am running for office. We need to address inequality (education, poverty, housing, transportation and violence) and advocate for improvement of our streets, sidewalks and schools. These are issues that the community cares about, but the solutions are larger than just one ward. We need a city councilperson who will listen to the needs of the ward, get residents and neighborhood associations involved and work with other municipal and state officials to identify solutions.

Daniel Chaika
Ethics in government, fiscal responsibility, and the safety of our residents are issues that cut across all socio-economic levels equally, and are important to every resident in the Ward. However, access to quality education, youth programs and vocational opportunities are the greatest challenge in balancing the needs of everyone in the Ward.

I want to focus on strong, local neighborhood schools, personalized learning, special needs programs, and enhanced family involvement, all of which are essential building blocks for a successful learning environment. In addition, I believe creating vocational opportunities and funding youth programs will be key.

David Lallier Jr.
Every person in our ward has a different perspective regardless of income and education. We need to focus on the poorest residents. We need to create jobs and find new better ways to educate our residents of ALL ages. I am happy and proud of those who are the wealthiest, they have done great for themselves. But our focus needs to be on those who are left behind. Those who go to sleep worrying how they will feed their children and if their children will even have a future. I want to focus on the poorest community and I have intentions to place an office in or around the Camp Street area. I don’t want to hide behind the walls of City Hall every day. If problems are going to be solved our next city councilman needs to see and experience firsthand where help is needed the most.

Mark Santow
As I see it, a city councilor has three missions – and they aren’t always in sync with one another.  First, they have duty to familiarize themselves with and act upon citywide policy issues, using both a short and long-term lens.  While virtually all of these things operate at the ward level too (city finances, public education, housing and land use laws, infrastructure, safety, urban development, etc.), there is a duty to think about the city as a whole, and its future.  This duty gets under-emphasized in Providence sometimes.  Second, it is really important to understand and fight for the varied interests of your own constituents, and whenever possible to bring resources and services back to the neighborhood – especially those parts that are most in need of them.  Third, a city councilor is perhaps the only force in a neighborhood that connects all parts of it.  As a consequence, s/he needs to be in constant communication with all parts of the ward, to look for ways to bring people, neighborhoods and institutions together, and to help them understand one another.  This is especially vital in Ward 3, where divisions of race, class and geography are very clear.   Striking a balance between these three ‘missions’ is a challenge.  If I’m elected to represent Ward 3, I will do my best to fulfill all three, and to ensure that all parts of the neighborhood feel like full and respected members of it.  Some of the challenges we face in Ward 3 can be addressed locally, internally, but many (if not most) cannot – they require reform and resources at the city, state and even the federal level.  A city councilor has to understand these things, and be able to communicate them clearly.

3. How would you have voted on the Providence Community-Police Relations Act?

Daniel Chaika
I supported the CSA, and was pleased that the working group reached a consensus and got this important ordinance passed. Transparency and accountability are essential, and it’s critically important that our communities and our public safety professionals all feel confident and comfortable working together.

David Lallier Jr.
As much hate as I am going to get, I would have voted against this act. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for protecting the community from abuse from Police. However, the only way I would have voted for the act is if we had an exasperation date that once it is up for renewal we could see the impact it had on our police force and community. Most of the bill is common sense and I could get behind. I do believe that parts of the bill give criminals more freedom to get away with crimes. Parts of this act hinders the Police Department from doing their jobs. I fear that the brave men and women will cut back and won’t be able to do their jobs correctly because of fear of being fired, arrested, sued and more. I think this act was rushed without finding a ground that everyone is happy with. This bill will increase the time it takes to complete stops and add paperwork that our men and women will have to work on instead of protecting our community. I just think there is a better way to get these same requirements this act demands then we currently have. I firmly believe this will do more damage to our community and will increase crime.

Mark Santow
I have long been a strong supporter of the CSA. I helped to organize a meeting of East Side voters in September 2016, to impress upon Mayor Elorza and Councilors Zurier and Yurdin that the CSA had strong support in this part of the city.  After lots of powerful testimony from East Side residents who have either experienced racial profiling themselves, or worked with those who have, Mayor Elorza for the first time publicly endorsed the spirit of the CSA, if not all parts of it.  For years I have taught my students about mass incarceration and the role our criminal justice system plays in exacerbating racial inequalities, and I find the passage of the CSA to be a proud and hopeful moment for Providence.

I was pleased to see that resources were provided in the city budget for the Providence External Review Authority, to ensure that the quarterly data collected under the law can be promptly and thoroughly gathered and interpreted.  The Council must make sure that the CSA is doing what it was intended to do, and the only way to do that is to use hard evidence to ensure that law enforcement is complying with the spirit of the law and not just the letter of the law – and that the police have the resources they need (including appropriate training) in order to do this.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
I strongly support the Providence Community-Police Relations Act, and was a supporter long before I decided to run for city council. I would have voted “yes,” and as city councilor I will work to ensure its full implementation.

For me, this is deeply personal — I have been racially profiled, and as the mother of a black boy, these issues are very real to me. It is important for both residents and the police to have clear systems for accountability. I am very pleased to see people come together to advocate for changes they wanted to see in our city. It took years, but people came together and change happened. Now we need to make sure that this ordinance is thoughtfully implemented.

Moving forward we also need to ensure that our local law enforcement officers do not serve as immigration agents, and that they work to cultivate a positive relationship with the communities they serve.

4. Providence’s unfunded pension liability is approaching $1 billion and the system was only 25% funded as of June 30, 2016. What steps would you support for stabilizing the pension system?

David Lallier Jr.
We have very few options, 1 is bankruptcy, 2 is higher or new taxes, 3 is cutting back in every department to the point that it would disrupt our city and do more damages then the liability itself. The 4th option buying out these pensions and our 5th option is all 4 options.

As much as I hate taxes, I think the city will need to find a new tax that we earmark 100% of to reducing our liability. An option would be a $0.05 transaction tax on each transaction within the city. $0.03 will go toward paying down our pension liability and $0.02 goes to an Interest bearing trust. The city would only be allowed to withdraw the interested earned on the account and 100% of the interest must go towards the pension. The city would not be allowed to touch the balance in the account other than the interest. We would have to require 2 thirds of the voters to approve to withdrawal from the account and no more than 30 percent may be touched.

Mark Santow
We should:  1) Work together on a kind of ‘grand bargain’ between the city, the state, and the unions to come up with a long-term plan for reducing the liability.  Pensions are deferred wages, and those who have obtained them through collective bargaining have a right to worry about them being greatly reduced or taken away.  Perhaps part of this ‘grand bargain’ might involve the state taking on some of the pension responsibilities.  It is absurd for so many jurisdictions in RI to have their own pension agreements.  There are economies of scale to be found by centralizing these obligations.  2) Providence needs to shift the focus of its economic development policies, away from tax giveaways to mobile capital, and toward investment in locally based businesses and workers, and the institutions that support them.  We can grow the tax base this way, and make sure that each dollar spent in Providence bangs around the city several times before leaving.  3) We need to look for more sources of revenue.  I strongly prefer revenue sources that are either progressive, encourage ecologically sustainable activity, or focus on people and businesses that aren’t Providence-based.  Too much of the land in Providence is owned by wealthy institutions that do not pay taxes, and the PILOTs are far too low.  The universities alone own hundreds of properties, which would generate approximately $70 million a year if fully taxed.  We should work with these anchor institutions to aim increased payments at specific investments in the city – like public education, including school repair and wider access to public pre-K for Providence families.  Or the revenue could be aimed at paying down the pension obligations, thus freeing up resources for these other kinds of investments.  An increased hotel tax (which is paid by visitors, not Providence residents or businesses) could be used in the same way.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
The pension liability is one of the most important issues our city faces. It is important to acknowledge that we didn’t create a pension liability overnight, and I we won’t solve it overnight either. First, we need strong, honest leaders who will work hard to understand our current fiscal position and make sure constituents understand the situation, too. Second, we need to make sure that our current budgets are balanced and do not increase the liability going forward. Third, we must involve all the players as partners in long-term solutions. If the solutions were easy, we would not be in the situation we are in. This must be a collective conversation; all the institutions in our city have a role to play. Lastly, we need to ensure we have strong relationships at the state level so that the state understands its responsibility to the long-term health of our capital city. We need a 10-20 year view on how we think about this – sometimes politicians look only as far as the next election. Ward 3 has individuals with real experience in this area, and we need to tap that talent on behalf of our city and our future.

Daniel Chaika
This is a problem that Providence shares with hundreds of states, cities, and towns across the country. We’ll need to work locally to determine a fair and equitable solution. We’ll also need to look nationally to determine how others are dealing with this critical issue and learn from their experiences. I am deeply concerned that past efforts to close the gap have not worked, and I’m skeptical of quick fixes like selling the water supply, which carries with it concerns of costs to rate payers and the question of whether or not the money generated from the sale would actually be used to close the pension gap.

5. The City Council recently approved a smoking ban throughout part of downtown. The mayor vetoed the ordinance. The council is currently considering an override. Would you vote to override the mayor’s veto? (Note: the council voted to override after this survey was sent out.)

Mark Santow
I’m torn on this, but I lean toward opposing the ban.  The mayor is certainly correct that a smoking ban will occupy too much police time and effort.  It will also lead to harassment of the homeless downtown.  Homelessness has many complicated causes, and criminalizing their behavior (and displacing them elsewhere) isn’t going to address any of them.  My hesitation on the ban can be quite simply stated:  the awful health consequences of smoking are crystal clear, I don’t want my kids or anyone else’s to be anywhere near it, and I’m too familiar with the physical, emotional and economic costs of lung cancer for me to see this as an easy up or down vote.  The people of Providence, through their elected representatives, have every right to ban smoking in public places as a health hazard.  I’m just not sure in this case that the law is enforceable or wise.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
I do not support the smoking ban in downtown Providence, and I would not have voted to override the mayor’s veto.  I am not a smoker, but Kennedy Plaza is a public space, and I am worried that the ordinance unfairly impacts the rights of the poor and working class. I think it is important for communities to address public health, but this ordinance seems to be more about impeding people’s rights and criminalizing poverty. Law enforcement resources should not be diverted to enforce an ordinance designed to harass low-income people.

Daniel Chaika
I did not support the smoking ban. It seemed to single out an already marginalized group of people under the guise of a public health initiative. Now that the Mayor’s veto has been overridden, I predict this issue will re-emerge in the future. The smoking ban takes valuable law enforcement time and energy out of the neighborhoods. Any dilution of public safety efforts in the neighborhoods is something I would oppose.

David Lallier Jr.
Yes, I would have voted for the ban and voted to override the mayor’s veto. As someone who used to take RIPTA daily, I know what it is like. On my way to and from Central High, I would have to walk around Kennedy Plaza and stand around people who smoke. As someone who doesn’t smoke this made me sick and small like I smoked. I would hold a shirt over my face at times to avoid second-hand smoke. It’s not right that our teens and adults have to breathe in others’ choices. Second-hand smoke is very real and hazardous to our health. Our school children should not have to hear the Cancer word because they decided to get an education and not smoke.

6. The vast majority of major development projects in Providence in recent years have received a tax-stabilization agreement from the city. Developers argue TSAs provide predictability in a city with a high commercial tax rate. But critics say those subsidies come at the expense of homeowners and those who pay the full commercial rate. Do you support offering TSAs to developers?

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
I worry about any tool that takes needed resources away from our kids and our schools. Tax stabilization can promote economic development, but I am concerned that we have given many wealthy developers financial support that creates a burden on Providence homeowners and other local businesses. There can be benefits to using TSAs, but only if companies are engaged in our communities, hire local people and really invest locally. I haven’t seen that happen on a large scale. The city needs to promote economic development, but I am concerned that some of the TSA deals are as long as 20 years. Will those businesses be around in 20 years for us to begin to reap the economic benefits? While TSA measures can be useful tools, we need to make sure we aren’t just giving away needed tax revenue to wealthy developers and not getting anything in return.

Daniel Chaika
Tax stabilization can be a very useful tool to bring business to the City. We need to balance this goal with the interests of residential taxpayers and businesses that pay the full commercial tax rate. Originally TSAs required job creation. We must ensure that this is not overlooked. As with so many things, we must find a balance between holding the line on taxes and being able to strategically and selectively offer TSAs to businesses that bring significant benefit to the City.

David Lallier Jr.
I support tax breaks for everyone who builds and makes Providence better. However, after construction has been completed and income is established there is no reason why everyone shouldn’t be paying their fair share in property taxes. Everyone including the ‘Non-Profit’ schools which make billions of dollars should be paying. The only people who pay taxes are those who can’t afford to live and work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet.

Mark Santow
I’m skeptical about the use of tax subsidies for urban development. Economists in general are very skeptical about the idea that if a city like Providence can just get its ‘giveaways’ right, it can take off.  In effect, we are extracting money from people and businesses that are rooted in Providence, to offer it to people and businesses who aren’t, in the hope that they will somehow kick that money back to us.  It depletes the public resources needed to make a city a livable and economically vibrant place, with little provable return.  In combination with the fact that almost half the land in Providence isn’t taxable — because it is owned by non-profit educational, religious and health institutions — it is hardly surprising that we struggle to maintain our schools and our public infrastructure, and to invest in the people who live here and the local businesses that serve and employ them.

Any development policy that shifts money from taxpayers to private firms has to be measured against some other potential use of taxpayer money – like providing healthy and high quality public schools, or access to pre-kindergarten for young families, or building affordable housing, or jump-starting local small businesses and cooperatives, or funding robust youth programs in Mt. Hope and other neighborhoods.  I favor a preferential option for the small, the local, the ecologically sustainable, and for living wages for Providence’s working families. More widespread local ownership of productive assets would create more anchored jobs – through worker cooperatives, micro-loans to foster small business development, consumer cooperatives, community-owned corporations, and municipal ownership of local assets, for example.  The goal is to focus on generating indigenous, stable, balanced economic growth locally.

Of course, sometimes TSAs and other tax subsidies may be the best way to get an important deal done. But when deals have to be made, we have to make sure that the gains are comparable and widely distributed, that the costs don’t fall on the least well off, and that attraction strategies don’t lead to displacement, the undermining of local businesses, and economic activity which is ecologically wasteful or destructive.

7. What is one piece of legislation you would like to see the General Assembly approve to help Providence?

Daniel Chaika
I would like to work with the General Assembly on legislation that supports my educational goals for the City of Providence: enhancing the funding formula that supports the cost of public education in Providence. Specifically, legislation that uses the State’s credit rating, versus the City’s, for the bonds that inevitably need to be issued to rehabilitate our crumbling schools and make them warm, safe and dry.

David Lallier Jr.
To allow Providence to collect taxes from nonprofits and groups that avoid paying taxes by hiding behind their nonprofit status. These groups buy up land in Providence and force homeowners to pick up the tab.

Mark Santow
There were several bills in front of the General Assembly this year that would have given school districts access to more funding for public school repair, construction, and energy retrofits.  The forthcoming Jacobs Engineering study of Rhode Island’s public school buildings will likely tell us that we need over $2 billion of investment just to bring them up to an acceptable standard – with almost half that investment to be aimed at Providence alone.  I believe it is time for Rhode Island to put together a dedicated and progressive funding sources for public education in general, and for the maintenance and construction of public school buildings in particular.  S0652 would have enabled districts like Providence to receive Housing Aid reimbursement from the state for funds borrowed from the Infrastructure Bank for energy efficiency improvements, but it didn’t pass.  Senator Picard’s proposed bill S0440 would have created a judicially enforceable right in the RI constitution to an “equitable, adequate and meaningful education,” thus offering the possibility of more equitable state funding, but it didn’t pass either.  I believe we should consider dedicating a portion of an increased state income tax to public education.  Or we can follow the lead of our neighbor, Massachusetts, and dedicate a portion of the sales tax instead (I prefer the more progressive income tax).  In 2018 the voters of Massachusetts will have the opportunity to vote on a “millionaire’s tax” to fund public education.  I’d like Rhode Islanders to have that opportunity too.  All of these measures would help the children, families and taxpayers of Providence.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
For years, the General Assembly has cut funding to cities and towns. Now more than ever, we need the state to step up and do their fair share to support Providence. Our school buildings are literally falling apart across the entire city. What kind of message does that send about our support for young people? Our respect for teachers? Our commitment to our capital city?  I will fight hard for Providence to get its fair share of resources. If I could ask the General Assembly for anything, it would be to invest in the cities in our state where our future lies.

8. Mayor Elorza has been advocating for the state to approve legislation that would allow Providence to generate more revenue from the city’s water supply. Would you support a sale or lease deal for the water system?

David Lallier Jr.
No, I would not support giving up our water. Providence Water is a huge asset to the city and lets us control cost. It would cost taxpayers more in the long run if we give away our water. Selling our water would only solve problems in the short term. We need to think about the long run.

Mark Santow
I definitely would not favor privatizing the Providence Water Board.  I believe strongly in the importance of public utilities, with the primary mission of serving the common good, not the bottom line.  In 2016 the federal National Resources Network indicated that Providence could get as much as $372 million from selling or leasing it, though it is unclear legally if that money could be applied directly to the pension fund.  I’m open to the idea of a regional water authority, as long as it is a public utility.  Regionalization should be a more efficient way of maintaining the state’s water systems, and it could provide economies of scale for investing in infrastructure and maintenance.  The multiplicity of jurisdictions within Rhode Island can lead to inefficiency, duplication and waste; it can also lead to inequality, with cities often getting the short end of the stick.  In short, I’m open to the idea of selling or leasing the water supply to a regional public utility, if it looks like it will help Providence and make our water system more efficient and safe.  I am not at all open to the idea of privatizing it.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
First, I would fight very strongly against any attempt to privatize Providence’s water supply. Our water is a fundamental resource and should remain in public control. Right now we have a system where Providence basically subsidizes half of the state’s water, so I applaud any effort to make sure that Providence gets its fair share of resources. Low water rates are good, but we can’t give other communities low rates when Providence needs resources for fundamental things like fixing sidewalks and maintaining safe schools. Some cities are taking the low-cost water we provide them, marking it up, and reselling it at a profit. If we are selling or leasing water, we need to ensure it is a deal that benefits Providence.

Daniel Chaika
The Providence Water System is a great asset and one that shouldn’t be used for a quick fix. I would be very skeptical of any sale or lease of such a valuable resource. I am concerned with the ultimate cost to ratepayers, the impact on the general fiscal stability of the City and its bond rating, as well as how the funds would ultimately be used.

9. The teachers’ union contract is set to expire shortly after you’re elected to the City Council. What is one provision you would like to see added to the contract?

Mark Santow
As a member of the Providence School Board, I should note that I think it’s unfortunate that the Board no longer participates in negotiating the contract.  The Board is in close and constant contact with PPSD administrators, staff, and teachers, and we’re in the schools all the time.  Particularly in recent years the Board has tried to set a strategic direction for the district, toward school autonomy, racial equity, and more supports for ELL and social-emotional supports for students and their families.  Direct participation in the negotiations would thus enable the Board to do what it’s supposed to do:  bring its expertise and strategic vision to bear.  All that aside, what the contract needs to do is provide some flexibility for moving toward the goals mentioned above.  In particular, I’d like to see more flexibility on alternative pathways for the certification of teachers in areas of need – ELL, in particular.  Schedule flexibility would enable much more peer-to-peer classroom observations, mentoring and collaboration; these things are far more useful ways of improving professional practice than more punitive measures dictated from above, especially when mentoring and collaboration begin to define school culture at the building level.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
I would like to see the school department and the teacher’s union place more emphasis on hiring teachers of color and increasing the amount of cultural competence training required of our teachers. This is a challenge in schools across the nation, but we know that having teachers who reflect and understand the backgrounds of their students can really make a difference in the culture of classrooms and in student achievement.

I strongly support the rights of working people and unions are a critically important voice. But from my experiences as a student and now as a parent of two children in our public schools, there are important things outside of the contract that we need too. We need a culture of respect and excellence. We need to respect the intelligence and commitment of our teachers, and give them the flexibility to meet the dynamic needs of their students in the classroom. We need parents, teachers, and administrators to work together in ways that go beyond any contract.

Daniel Chaika
I would like to see longer school days to focus on personalized learning for students, and more professional development for teachers to give them the resources to accomplish this goal.

David Lallier Jr.
We need accountability in our public sector. Teachers, Police, Firefighters, and all other city employees need to fear being fired and suspended without pay. I support our teachers, but we need more room to be able to do what is best for our children and not the individual and unions who has no consequences. If there is someone else better for the job then we need to get them in.

10. Councilman Sam Zurier has proposed an amendment to the city’s code of ethics that would require members of the council to resign from any of their committee assignments or leadership positions if they’re indicted on a felony charge. Would you support this proposal?

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
I have said this before: If city councilors are guilty of a serious crime they should not only be removed from leadership roles, they should be removed from office. I hope we can build a municipal government where the bar is set far higher for our elected officials. Indictments are different than being proven guilty, and people of color are extremely aware of the power of being wrongly accused in our society. So yes, I think that every city council member should abide by the law and file ethics and campaign finance reports in a timely manner. I agree with Councilman Zurier that having leadership under indictment is a distraction to the council. But we also must ensure that we don’t create a system that allows accusations to unfairly hurt individuals who are not proven guilty. So I agree with the premise, but would want to consider how the ordinance would be implemented.

Daniel Chaika
If I’m elected, I will work with Councilman Zurier to try to craft a legislative solution that both strengthens the Ethics Commission as he’s envisioned, and also passes constitutional muster. It’s important to maintain public trust and confidence in elected officials, but it’s also important to respect due process of law.

David Lallier Jr.
YES! I would support this. Anyone who holds the position of power should step aside until all charges have been cleared. If cleared they should resume their position. We need a clear and present trust of voters in Providence. How can we trust people to run our government if they can’t give up power, even for a short time?

Mark Santow
I agree with the spirit of Councilman Zurier’s effort.  My hesitation is that the presumption of innocence in a criminal case should carry some weight.  I prefer an ordinance that removes councilors from leadership roles for campaign finance fines and persistently late reports, and requires them to publicly post those reports on their websites (and/or on the Council’s website).  With regard to the removal of council leadership, I believe the majority of the council should be able to simply vote to remove someone from a leadership role, as would be the case in Congress.  If the charter or the council’s current rules don’t allow changes in leadership to be democratically determined, perhaps they should.  One doesn’t have a property right in a leadership position (or due process rights).

We need to believe in the honesty of our elected officials, if we’re going to deal with some of the problems Providence faces. Like an autoimmune disease, an unreflective hostility to or cynicism about government threatens to turn the protective forces of the body politic against the body itself.  Persistent dishonesty and plunder by our elected officials — especially at the local level — has a corrosive impact.  It undermines our capacity for discussing and meeting common needs.  I think we should look into the public financing of city council elections in Providence, as is happening in Seattle and other cities.  The Council should pass the rules proposed by the Providence Ethics Commission, to strengthen its authority.  Given the dumpster fire currently burning in Washington, it is more important than ever that local government be open, accessible, progressive, visionary, and effective.

11. Name one thing Mayor Elorza has gotten right and one thing he’s gotten wrong since he became mayor in 2015.

Daniel Chaika
The Mayor’s continued focus on education; his choice of superintendent as well as his increased funding in the new budget are truly important achievements.

He has done a lot of good things for downtown Providence, however I would like to see him focus more of his energy on the neighborhoods that are the backbone of the dity.

David Lallier Jr.
Wrong: I think he was wrong on signing the PCPRA. I think it was rushed and will hurt the community more than it will help.

Right: getting the ‘nonprofit’ businesses who buy up land to pay taxes. Providence has too much land owned by nonprofits and pay little to no taxes but use our resources. (Editor’s note: the mayor has proposed legislation that would require nonprofits to pay taxes on certain properties, but it has not been approved by the General Assembly.)

Mark Santow
I would have preferred for Mayor Elorza to hold fast on any expansion at all of the Achievement First charter schools, until more reliable data could be obtained about the likely financial impact on Providence’s public schools.  We are facing deficits in the coming years, because of cuts in both federal and state funding, and I don’t think anyone seriously believes that we are committing adequate resources currently to the education of our children.  While I believe charter schools have a valuable role to play as laboratory schools to help improve practice in the regular public schools, we have to be very careful not to let the former hamper the latter.  That aside, I have enormous admiration for two things Mayor Elorza has done:  in the wake of Trump’s election he has been a strong moral voice for Providence as a welcoming community to all people, and he has fought hard for important educational innovations, like summer learning, Providence Talks, and the Newcomer Academy.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
As an immigrant who came to Providence from Haiti at three, I think the mayor was right to push for municipal ID cards for documented and undocumented immigrants. We have a strong immigrant community in Providence and throughout the state, and this is a scary time for them. Having identification helps our residents, whether they are here with or without documentation, ensure they have ID when they need it.

I also think the mayor got it right in hiring Superintendent Maher. I have been really impressed by the way the superintendent has advocated for our public schools in the city and at the state level. I know he is responsive to teachers, students and parents. We are lucky to have him.

While I am glad that our public schools have recently become a priority in the city’s budget, I think this should have happened sooner. Our kids are in our city schools today. We cannot wait to invest in our future.

12. Budget negotiations for the 2017-18 fiscal year are just wrapping up. What is one thing you would have liked to see in the budget that isn’t?

David Lallier Jr.
The budget only calls for $287,000 for training our Police. We just passed the PCPRA and people want the police to be better trained but we only budget $287,000 to train a department that needs to keep up with the changing times and laws.

I would like to see tax breaks for the elderly and those who have hit had financial times. I would like to see persons over the age of 75 who have retired and live on a low fixed income to not have to pay taxes for homes they live in.

I am still currently reviewing this budget and will have more to say at a later time.

Mark Santow
I was very pleased to finally see an increase of $3.65 million for the public schools, after years of level funding.  This money provides essential resources for our middle schools, the newcomer school for refuges and recent immigrants, summer learning, and the nationally innovative ‘Providence Talks’ program for young children and their families.  It will also make it easier to go to the state in coming years to ask for more resources.  The condition of the public school buildings is a top priority for me, because of my work in the Fix Our Schools Now coalition, and I’m pleased to see money set aside to hire a consultant to put together an infrastructure plan.  In connection with this, I believe the city needs to dedicate resources to an air quality audit of our public school buildings, given recent issues with roof leaks and mold in several schools.  I’m also happy to see that resources were put in place to implement the CSA and to fund the PERA.  I do believe the Council should have considered reducing the non-owner occupied tax rate (the ‘landlord tax’), as promised a few years earlier.  The city is facing an affordable housing crisis, which is stressing thousands of Providence families, including many in Mt. Hope who are finding it harder and harder to live where they want to live.

Nirva Rebecca LaFortune
It was great to see a budget process that was relatively smooth and that increases funding for public schools. I noticed that there was some funding set aside for the neighborhood improvement program, which is great, as I am hearing lots of comments from constituents about maintenance of sidewalks, curb cuts and other basic infrastructure needs. Just as we are attempting to understand the comprehensive work we need to do to repair our school facilities across the city, I’d love to see some investments in a comprehensive plan for other infrastructure in our neighborhoods too. I know the backlog of repair is large, and without a clear strategy for how to move forward it is hard to imagine how we can work together to identify some creative solutions.

Daniel Chaika
Considering that the unfunded pension liability is such an important factor in the future stability of the City, I would like to have seen a greater effort to address it. Some ways to address this pension liability may include a fairer mechanism for non-profit entities to contribute to City revenues; finding ways to encourage more Providence-based business growth; and continuing to attract more tax-paying Providence residents.

Continue the discussion on Facebook

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