EAST PROVIDENCE — An overflow crowd gathered for most of the evening Wednesday night, Oct. 24, in the Newman Congregational Church gym for the
East Providence Coalition-sponsored debate among candidates running for General Assembly House Districts 63 and 65 as well as those for City Council At-Large and Wards 1, 2 and 3.The most engaging of the three forums held during the General Election cycle, Wednesday’s debates offered the well over 100 residents in attendance both substance and some fireworks.
The most blistering of the attacks came from Edward Lynch against opponent James Briden in the race for the open Ward 1 Council seat. The two candidates, as each of the office-seekers did Wednesday, gave a two-minute opening statement then answered a handful of questions from the electorate.
Before their closing remarks, the candidates were allowed to ask the other a question, and that’s when Mr. Lynch unloaded a roundhouse in Mr. Briden’s direction. The former claimed the latter, the one-time East Providence City Solicitor, had asked out of his contract only months into his two-year deal. Mr. Lynch implied there was a backroom deal cut between the then-city manager and City Council to keep Mr. Briden in the position and at an increased salary.
Mr. Lynch also attempted to link Mr. Briden, who was the Central Falls City Solicitor prior to handling the same position in East Providence, to that city’s disgraced Major Charles Moreau, who recently resigned due to corruption charges.
Mr. Briden calmly brushed both of Mr. Lynch’s barbs aside, saying “I think the information you received must be about someone else because it is clearly erroneous.”
Mr. Briden said he never attempted to prematurely leave his position as East Providence City Solicitor and his salary, $54,000, was the same throughout his time on the job. He added he never worked for Mr. Moreau, who became mayor in 2004.
Mr. Lynch was just as bawdy when responding to a question posed from the audience about who should vote for the so-called “Mayor” of the city, the Council or the electorate. Mr. Lynch said the body’s majority leader should be called “Council President” and that the mayor title has caused more problems recently than its worth. He finished by calling the mayor title a “foolish gimmick.”
Mr. Briden said he was fine with how the City Charter is currently written and that it was incumbent upon those on the Council to act in a responsible and appropriate manner no matter anyone’s particular title.
The evening began with the debate between the candidates vying for the State House of Representatives District 65 seat; Moderate Joe Botelho and Democrat Gregg Amore.It, too, started with a bit of a bang when Mr. Botelho called into the question the amount of “special interest” or PAC (political action committee) contributions Mr. Amore, an East Providence High School teacher, had received.
Mr. Amore dispatched of the assertion, saying his only special interests were his family; his wife and two daughters.
Asked about education reform, Mr. Botelho said teacher pay-for-performance, increased evaluation and changing tenure rules should be considered. Mr. Amore said paying teachers based on performance has been tried and failed elsewhere several times. He said the “root cause” of problems in the education system was “poverty” and that “targeted” early education programs should be made available.
Both candidates agreed All-Day Kindergarten should remain in the East Providence budget beyond this year, something which may not happen under current Budget Commission proposals.
Mr. Amore said the state aid formula for schools must be “accelerated.” Mr. Botelho said “good” legislation like making All-Day K mandatory throughout the state has languished on Smith Hill and was an example of the need for change in the General Assembly.
Like his counterpart in the House 65 race, Independent House District 63 candidate David Sullivan used his opening statement to send a salvo in the direction of his opponent, Democrat Katherine Kazarian.Mr. Sullivan, self-employed and in his mid-40s, questioned the life and professional experience of the youthful Ms. Kazarian, in her early-20s and only a few years removed from college.
Mr. Sullivan also drew a distinction between the two on taxes, repeating his call to repeal most levies issued by the state and city, which he claims would draw businesses and jobs back to East Providence and Rhode Island. Ms. Kazarian questioned the math behind such proposals. She also said she would be open to discussion on most issues, saying she would like to have the state put a greater emphasis back on its tourism industry.
Both candidates agreed binding arbitration for city and state employees was a bad idea. Ms. Kazarian said her first order of business if elected would be to see more money put into education. Mr. Sullivan said he would initiate a call for term limits on state office holders.
Unlike most of their cohorts, At-Large Council candidates Steven Santos and Tracy Capobianco debated for the first time Wednesday. Mrs. Capobianco did not participate in two previous League of Women Voters forums. Mr. Santos attended, but was not allowed to speak due to concerns about the League’s tax-exempt status.At Newman, the two candidates were in agreement on their desire to see middle school sports brought back, keeping All-Day K in the budget and the need for the new Council to work in concert.
Mr. Santos, while lacking detail, said the fiscal issues were a matter of “prioritizing” the desires of citizens with the realities of the budget. Mrs. Capobianco offered fewer specifics, repeating only her stance those things mentioned were important to current residents and any new families thinking about moving into the city.
Wards 2 and 3
Ward 2 candidate Helder Cunha and Ward 3’s Candace Seel did not get a chance to debate their opponents, respectively incumbents Bruce Rogers and Thomas Rose. The latter pair didn’t attend Wednesday.
It wasn’t surprising neither Messrs. Rogers and Rose chose not to appear. The two have had an antagonistic relationship with members of the Rumford community over TLA-Pond View, an issue closely associated with the host East Providence Coalition.Unlike the League’s forums, however, Mr. Cunha and Mrs. Seel were allowed to give their positions on issues.
Mr. Cunha threw several verbal shots at Mr. Rogers. He said Mr. Rogers had “slid” into office in 2010, gaining his seat unopposed after former Councilman and State Rep. Brian Coogan chose to withdraw his name from the ballot.
He also charged Mr. Rogers, as the majority leader of the Council, the ceremonial “mayor,” had used his influence to repeatedly “violate the City Charter” by injecting himself into the day-to-day affairs of the city, had cut several “backroom deals” on issues and “fixed” the water bills of his friends and supporters.
Mr. Cunha said he should be elected to help bring stability and confidence back to the citizens and business owners of the city.
Mrs. Seel was a little less pointed in her remarks, never mentioning Mr. Rose by name. She, in a like fashion to Mr. Cunha however, said there is a need to bring “integrity” back to the City Council.
Mrs. Seel said she would give back the $3,500 salary she and other Councilors receive to help reinstate live streaming of Council meetings on the internet.
She also said if a new Council is elected it may “prove” to the state the city is serious about its current plight and maybe the Budget Commission would “pull off the restraints” a bit and give some meaningful powers back to the Council.
Mrs. Seel closed by answering a question about the reason why she chose to run. She said she did so because “after seeing two weeks of the current Council in action it was enough” and that she also wanted to give back to the community she has lived in for over three decades.