Ward 3 winner could shape race for Providence City Council president

Providence City Council chambers. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The winner of Wednesday’s special Democratic primary in Providence’s Ward 3 will instantly become the most sought-after vote in the ongoing race for City Council president, even though they will still have to win the general election against two candidates next month.

Nirva LaFortune, Daniel Chaika and Mark Santow each declined to say who they’ll support for council president, but their endorsement could play a major role in breaking the current stalemate within Providence’s legislative body.

The City Council has been led by acting President Sabina Matos since May, after President Luis Aponte resigned his post following his indictment on four charges related to his alleged misuse of campaign funds. Matos, who represents Ward 15, has said she would like her colleagues to elect her the permanent president for the rest of the term, but Councilmen David Salvatore (Ward 14), John Igliozzi (Ward 7) and Terry Hassett (Ward 12) have all shown interest in the top spot as well.

Eight out of a possible 15 votes are needed to become the council president. None of the potential candidates have attempted to call for a vote.

LaFortune, a Brown University employee, told Eyewitness News she wants a council president “who believes in inclusiveness and recognizes the importance of developing a strong and collaborative council that can work with the mayor.”

“Municipal government is a team sport, and we need someone who can build cooperation,” she said. “I would like the council president to be accessible, open to seeking help and expertise and encouraging transparency in council business. Someone who shows respect and empathy for people and who is able to listen to opposing views and allow space for discussion. Someone who is ethical and recognizes public service is a privilege. And of course, someone who is committed to the success and growth of Providence.”

Chaika, a family attorney and former member of the city Ethics Commission, said none of the candidates have asked for his support. He said he wants the next president to “someone who is ethical, knowledgeable and accessible.”

“I would also want a candidate who has the management style and temperament required to balance the interests of the various wards, make difficult decisions, and build a consensus around those decisions – all to move the city forward,” Chaika said.

Santow, a member of the Providence School Board, said he would “have to know the competitors as individuals before I’d feel qualified to pass judgment on something like that.” He did not say what qualities he is looking for in a council president.

The winner of Wednesday’s primary will be a heavy favorite against Republican David Lallier Jr. and independent Chris Reynolds in the general election Aug. 16. No Republican has won election to the City Council since 1986 and the last time an independent secured a council seat was 1990.

The candidates are running to replace Kevin Jackson, a longtime Democratic councilman who was overwhelmingly recalled by Ward 3 voters May 2. The recall was organized after Jackson was arrested and indicted last year on charges that he embezzled from a youth sports organization he founded in 1978. Jackson is also accused of using his campaign fund to cover personal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty.

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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