Taking aim at Mayor Elorza, Pichardo resigns from Providence liquor board

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former state Sen. Juan Pichardo resigned as a commissioner of the Providence Board of Licenses Thursday, accusing Mayor Jorge Elorza of caring “more about politics” than “due process.”

In a Facebook post following Thursday’s board meeting, Pichardo said Democrat Elorza “engineered my removal from the position of chair while taking credit for the very accomplishments that I, our board and staff had put in place during my leadership.”

“The mayor’s choice to care more about politics then [sic] due process is unfortunate and his decision to bend to the pressure of self-serving interest[s] is not representative of the leadership the community deserves from the leader of their city,” Pichardo wrote.

Pichardo, a Democrat who lost his seat in the Rhode Island Senate last year to Democrat Ana Quezada, publicly announced his resignation during Thursday’s board meeting. He said the board has been “compromised” by politics.

Pichardo’s resignation comes days after Elorza called for him to step down as chairman of the powerful five-member panel, claiming the city “deserves leadership on our licensing board that reflects the shared values of the communities that they represent.” A spokesperson for the mayor cited Pichardo’s decision last week to reschedule a show-cause hearing for a controversial Penthouse nightclub as one of the reasons he was asked to resign.

Located at 334 South Water St. on the East Side, Penthouse was temporarily closed over the weekend after police said five gunshots were fired near the club. The board voted to cancel all of its business licenses Thursday for violations unrelated to the weekend incident. Nicholas Hemond, an attorney for the club, confirmed his clients will appeal the decision to the state Department of Business Regulation.

The licensing board is supposed to function as an independent judicial panel, with the city solicitor’s office serving as the prosecuting body. But commissioners are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, and mayors have long had an influence over which member will serve as the chairman. Elorza supported Pichardo to become head of the board in 2015, but their relationship has become frosty over the last year. (Elorza refused to endorse Pichardo in his competitive primary against Quezada last year.)

The board, which took a vote of no confidence in Pichardo earlier in the week, was already planning to vote on a new chairman for next week. Vice-Chair Charles Newton or attorney Dylan Conley are considered the favorites to succeed Pichardo, whose term on the board was not scheduled to end until January 31, 2019.

Commissioners for the five-member Board of Licenses are paid $19,713 a year – the chairman earns $26,850 – and generally meet about three times each week. The panel processes more than 8,000 licenses each year and handles disciplinary matters, such as punishment for underage drinking or fights in bars.

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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