20 vie for nine City Council seats
No race goes unchallenged as the Democrats look to maintain control of the Cranston City Council, and Republican Mayor Allan Fung puts forward a full slate of conservative candidates. In Wards 2 and 4, candidates have no incumbents to take on. Emilio Navarro decided early on not to run for reelection in 2 and Democrat appointee Maria Bucci also kept her name from the race in 4.
With the exception of Ward 2, it is a partisan election, with one Democrat and one Republican per ward race, plus three Democrats and three Republicans vying for the three citywide seats, along with Independent citywide candidate Robert Pelletier. In Ward 2, Republican Don Botts is competing against two Independents, Joseph Rhodes and Diana Gordon. Many of the candidates are familiar names and faces to Cranston residents; of the 13 ward candidates across the city, only four are newcomers to the political arena.
The endorsed Republican in the Ward 1 Council race, Michael Glucksman ran for office once before in 2004, and decided to challenge Steve Stycos this time around after getting a closer look at city operations as a city solicitor. He also runs a private practice in Warwick and is an adjunct law professor at Johnson & Wales University.
Many of the issues his neighbors face surround quality of life, from responsible development to protecting the interests of renters against unsavory landlords. Glucksman notes that Ward 1 must maintain its village appeal while bringing in commercial taxes.
“We need business; we need revenue,” he said. “It’s trying to strike a balance and try to alleviate the community’s concerns.”
He identified education as another crucial element to a strong city, and the element most likely to attract new families into Cranston. He and his wife, Susan, have a daughter, Victoria, who is a student in the Cranston Public School system. In his campaigning and in his work with the city, Glucksman said he has gotten to know his neighbors and looks forward to working with them if elected.
“I want to help our in any way I can. That’s the best part, is going door to door and meeting people and finding out their thoughts on different issues,” he said.
Democrat Steve Stycos followed up 10 years on the Cranston School Committee with two years on the Cranston City Council, and the farmer now pursues a second term on the Council.
Like his opponent, Stycos is concerned with development in Cranston. He has consistently opposed major development, and believes that the city’s Zoning and Planning Boards must take strong positions to preserve the character of Ward 1 and of Cranston overall. Preserving that character, he said, has as much to do with securing open space and offering outdoor recreation to residents, such as through the Pawtuxet Village Farmers’ Market that he started.
“We need to make walking and bicycling more attractive to people and that can be as simple as sidewalk repair or bike paths,” he said.
Among Stycos’ other priorities are promoting recycling, historic preservation and keeping a close eye on the budget. He sees consolidation between city and schools as an option for savings, but admits that it is going to take more than some cuts to battle the city’s looming pension problem.
“With what we owe on the pension, I think there are two options: you don’t raise taxes and you avoid the problem, which is what has been traditionally done, or you raise taxes a little bit and you chip away at the pension,” he said.
After coming close to then 16-year incumbent Peter Palumbo in the Dist. 16 House race in 2010, picking up 46 percent of the vote, Don Botts decided to keep it local this time around, pursuing the Ward 2 Council seat as the endorsed Republican.
As a Councilman, Botts believes he could have a real impact on how the city operates.
“You do have a greater amount of control over budgetary issues, not just for the city side but also for the school side,” he said.
Botts is a network manager and senior web developer, and he and his wife Christine have three children in the Cranston Public Schools.
A fiscal conservative, Botts sees opportunities for cuts in the budget, and believes significant savings could be realized through moving to 401(k) pensions for all of the city’s collective bargaining units. He adds that additional reform will be needed to get a handle on the city’s unfunded pension liability.
Botts says tackling these issues is within the city’s power, and he supports the vision of Mayor Allan Fung.
There are positives on the horizon for Cranston, too, he said, including the potential for economic development, in Ward 2 especially, where he would like to see the Wellington corridor developed. To attract business, he suggests streamlining the licensing process and offering incentives.
“With Taco, giving them that tax incentive over the 10 years, that’s huge, not only for existing businesses, but I think we should look at some kind of program where we could attract businesses to the Rolfe Square area or Wellington Ave.,” he said.
A first time candidate in 2010, Diana Gordon mounted a formidable primary challenge against incumbent Emilio Navarro, despite having few resources behind her. But Gordon learned a lot and stayed involved over the past two years, and is back in the race as an Independent who knows the ropes.
Formerly the owner of Antiques in the Attic and now the proprietor of an online t-shirt business, Gordon believes small business is the heart of the community and the future for the city’s growth. She says Cranston needs to do more to make it easier and less costly to do business here, and focus on areas with growth potential like Rolfe Square. She has suggested offering free events, like outdoor concerts, that would bring traffic through the area.
“I want to encourage and support new and existing local businesses. The small business is the backbone of our community,” she said.
The other component of Gordon’s platform is public safety. She started the Central Cranston Crime Watch and is supportive of similar community groups across the city. In particular, she wants the City Council to regulate halfway houses and keep them out of residential areas, and also better inform the public about safety issues in their area.
Redistricting bumped Joseph Rhodes from Ward 3 into Ward 2, but that didn’t stop him for running for Council for the second time. A Moderate candidate in 2010, he is running as an Independent for Ward 2 this year, looking to bring a “commonsense approach” to the Council.
“I want to be a watchdog for the people because I am an average person. I know what it’s like to be on the other side, struggling,” he said.
Part of Rhodes’ commonsense approach would be to mend fences between the city and schools. He believes the district has done a good job getting its financial house in order, and that the two sides of the city must now move forward together. Collaboration, he said, is important across the board, giving credit to the collective bargaining units for their understanding of Cranston’s financial crisis.
“I know the municipal workers - police, fire, everybody - did a tremendous job negotiating with each other. We have to remember that we do have to maintain services in the city. We don’t want to give away the store but we all live in this city and we have to protect the quality of services,” he said.
An employee of the Department of Corrections, Rhodes and his wife have four children. For a brighter future in Cranston, he says the city needs to do more to keep businesses informed of the programs and tax incentives that are available to them.
“Making the move to offer tax incentives to keep a company and have that company grow within Cranston is absolutely wonderful,” he said, adding that growth must be “in harmony” with residential areas.
Democrat incumbent Paul Archetto has served the City of Cranston for 14 years, as a six-year State Representative, a four-year School Committee member and a four-year City Councilman. As he pursues a third term in Ward 3, Archetto is optimistic about the direction the city is headed in. He sees businesses moving in, citing Chapel View and the Taco expansion as examples of success.
That is not to say that more can’t be done.
“Here in Cranston, we have to work with the Chamber and work with the unions. I think jobs are very important in this economy that we have. We need to get Cranston working again,” he said.
Archetto believes this is a crucial election in Cranston, and hopes that voters will maintain balance in government, rather than giving Mayor Allan Fung a veto-proof City Council.
“We need checks and balances in the city,” he said.
If reelected for another two years, Archetto pledges to keep listening and working closely with his constituents.
“I always return phone calls,” he said. “Whatever is asked of me, I try to get done.”
Nicholas Lima only moved to Cranston in 2007, but his interest in politics is deep-seeded. While at Rhode Island College, he served as secretary and president of the student body and later ran for School Committee in his native Tiverton. The 27-year-old Republican was unsuccessful in that race but was named chairperson of the committee’s Public Relations Committee and also served as chairman of the Republican Town Committee there.
Now, in Cranston, he hopes to be a voice for his constituents and neighbors on the City Council.
“I’ve always had a drive and a passion to be involved in my community. What makes me happy is when I’m serving in some capacity,” he said.
The communications manager for the Newport Gulls baseball team, Lima counts education and economic development among his priorities. He does not oppose tax incentives for the latter, but said it must be done when there is documented success and a commitment from that company to grow.
“We need to keep Cranston competitive and keep Cranston attractive to business,” he said, adding that the “sky is the limit” for what businesses the city might attract.
At the local level, he believes the Council must continue to advocate on behalf of Cranston to state legislators, opposing cuts in state aid and legislation like the car tax that negatively impacts residents.
Mario Aceto served the people of Ward 4 for four years before moving into a citywide seat, but after a loss in 2010, he hopes to return to his ward seat. He believes his voice is important now more than ever.
“I really don’t think the city is headed in the right direction. I always vote what I think is the right voter for the constituency and I think I could hit the field running,” he said.
Picking up where he left off, if reelected Aceto would seek a resolution to illegal tie-ins on the Cranston sewer system. The senior marketing representative for Hess and father of two would direct more funding to the city’s economic development department, which has experienced cuts in recent years.
Also for economic development, Aceto suggests lowering the commercial tax rate and offering tax incentives.
“For businesses that have been in the city for 25, 30 years or longer, maybe we should give them an incentive to keep them here,” he said.
Development is a balance, however, and Aceto opposes businesses that would change the character of western Cranston. He opposes the Lodges at Phenix Glen.
Most of all, Aceto is concerned with the financial future of the city if savings aren’t realized, commercial revenues don’t increase and the pension liability is not tackled. Pension reform would be a priority if elected, as would better delivering services through consolidation and other cost-saving initiatives.
“If there is a more efficient, cost-effective way to do things, we should do it,” he said.
In 2010, Mark Collins was so close he could taste it. Less than 100 votes separated him from a Ward 4 victory, and this time, he’s in it to win.
“I still think the taxpayers need better representation. We really need people on there who are going to put the taxpayers first. We need people in there who are going to be willing to work with each other,” he said.
A father of three Cranston students, Collins says the Council needs to take its responsibility to ratify contracts seriously. They need time to evaluate them, and Collins said he would not be a rubber stamp on the Council.
In terms of the city’s bargaining units, he is hopeful that they will be understanding and cooperative for pension reform, which he said cannot wait any longer.
“It’s going to really come down to having a good relationship with those bargaining units and hopefully having everyone understand that the problem needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” he said.
That is not the only issue Collins sees as strengthening city finances. He opposes one-time fixes like dipping into the Rainy Day Fund, and said the city must reduce the cost of government.
On the revenue side, Collins agrees with the Council consensus that commercial development is key and can only be accomplished by making Cranston more attractive, improving infrastructure and implementing a tangible tax credit that could offset the $500 state charge - an idea he conceptualized as the mayor’s appointee on the Tax Policy Review commission.
“Doing something like that would really open up Cranston,” he said. “We want to get all of our empty buildings filled.”
He does oppose inappropriate development, though, and has concerns about The Lodges proposal.
If you’ve driven through Ward 5, chances are you’ve seen countless signs for political newcomer Chris Paplauskas, a Republican who says he has the best interests of his city at heart.
“I want to do the right thing for everybody in Ward 5. I care very much about Cranston and I’ve always had a passion to give back to the community,” he said.
He and his wife Judy have two children, and in order for his kids to have a better future in Cranston, Paplauskas believes the city must grow its commercial base. The Falvey Linen manager would advocate for cutting business fees and improving infrastructure as a means to attract new development. For both businesses and residents, he says there are quality of life issues that can’t be ignored, like speeding, trash removal and roadway improvements.
In order to pay for these services, Paplauskas says the city needs to cut costs, especially through consolidation between the city and schools, which he called a “no-brainer.”
“Anything we can do to consolidate and save money, without cutting a service we provide, I’m all for that,” he said.
If elected, Paplauskas looks forward to working closely with the School Committee and improving transparency on the Council. He promises to host town hall meetings every three months if supported by the voters of Ward 5.
“I’d like them to come to the meetings so I can found out what’s going on in the neighborhoods and also let them know what’s going on in the Council. I want to be straightforward,” he said.
Democrat Richard Santamaria has six years on the Council under his belt, and is looking to tack on two more. Looking back at his time in service so far, he is especially proud of tackling ward issues like the traffic light that is planned for Atwood Avenue and Walnut Grove, and citywide issues like advocating to keep PILOT monies.
As chairman of the city’s Flood Commission, he hopes to continue to work with the people on Perkins and Fletcher Avenues and Amanda Court to find resolution to their perennial water problems. While some buyouts have been authorized, Santamaria would like additional measures implemented, like floodwalls in some areas.
Infrastructure is another concern, and Santamaria continues to push the state to do more with upkeep on state roads.
As chairman of the Safety Services and Licensing Committee, Santamaria sees all business applications, and would like to see more come forward.
“We welcome any business into the city,” he said. “I think we’re doing a good job. We want them to know Cranston is a great city to live in and work in.”
Santamaria, who works for the Family Court, says tax incentives should be given carefully, only in cases where there is a demonstrable benefit - particularly job creation.
In the past year, Santamaria has also voted against pay increases across the board and has advocated to hire a grant writer for the city as a way of bringing in more revenue.
Going forward, he says his priority if elected will be maintaining services while holding the line on taxes.
“You can’t keep asking people to pay higher taxes,” he said.
A lifelong resident of Cranston, Democrat Stacy DiCola has a vision for the city, and that vision brings quality of life back to where it was when she was growing up.
“I want to make sure our money is spent wisely and the future of Cranston is still there. It’s time for me to give back,” she said.
During her campaign, DiCola has heard time and again about overspending and too-high taxes. If elected, she said she would go through the budget and consider any cost savings that didn’t impact direct services like public safety.
DiCola is likewise concerned about safety and crime in Ward 6, as well as the growing rodent problem in Cranston. Perhaps of even larger concern to constituents is infrastructure, which she said she would try to address if elected.
“The paving of roads is a big concern. I have a lot of constituents down by the prison area that feel that their roads are neglected and haven’t been maintained - same thing in Garden City,” she said.
DiCola is especially worried about transparency. As the director of public information in the Secretary of State’s office, she has seen the benefit of open government and hopes to bring accessibility to the local level. She suggests creating a City Council e-mail newsletter, among other things.
“If we’re doing things the way we’re supposed to, there shouldn’t be anything hidden,” she said.
Finances are at the center of this election, and Republican Michael Favicchio said that cutting costs is a process that takes time. He has learned a lot in his first two-year term, and recognizes that the opportunities for savings are not necessarily easy to find. Keeping an eye on contracts, though, is one area he says must be watched carefully.
“We want to try to work on the pension issues for the long-term. That’s going to stay with us for a while so we have to try to attach that and maintain the budget at level funding if we can,” he said.
Fortunately, Favicchio sees commercial growth in Cranston and in Ward 6 in particular, in the areas of Garden City and Chapel View, as well as growing businesses like Cadency and Taco. To continue to attract business, he suggests working closely with the city’s Economic Development department, as well as playing up the city’s strengths, like its central location. Going forward, he hopes to get the city on the forefront of bidding for state projects and projects in progress at area colleges.
“That’s one of the key areas, is making our community business-friendly. In the end, it provides more jobs for local people and it also keeps property values up because of the desirability of living here,” he said.
If reelected, Favicchio, who is an attorney, would continue to keep an eye on minimum housing and enforcing violations, diversifying city boards and keeping Ward 6 and Cranston clean and safe.
Former Ward 4 Councilman Robert Pelletier, who resigned over residency issues in early 2012, says that a citywide seat on the Council is the “natural step up” in representing his constituents. An employee of the Department of Corrections, Pelletier is a newlywed and is running this year as an Independent. He says Cranston residents can count on him to be an objective voice in Council Chambers.
“I’d rather just stand for myself, and all the accomplishments I’ve done on my own. I’m not going to stand behind a party agenda,” he said.
The two concerns Pelletier has heard the most revolve around keeping taxes low and ensuring the quality delivery of day-to-day services, such as police and fire, plowing and street cleaning. When it comes to quality of life issues, Pelletier says he has had wide success on behalf of voters, from reopening Natick Avenue Bridge and infrastructure improvements to areas like Oak Hill Terrace and Hope Road, to advocating for responsible development and against the developments opposed by his constituents, like The Lodges at Phenix Glen, which he says must be scaled back. He has also worked on consolidation efforts, and says that the city and schools must push forward on that.
“Nobody wants to give up turf, but I would like to see a consolidation of more city services,” he said.
Pelletier believes Cranston needs to stay the current course on economic development, crediting the Economic Development department for their work. In the future, he hopes that Rolfe Square will be added to the list of growth centers.
If he is able to rejoin his colleagues on the Council, Pelletier said taxpayers can rest easy that he will always be available to them.
“I always answered my telephone when constituents called with a complaint. I’ve never taken a constituent issue as something that’s not worth responding to,” he said.
LESLIE ANN LUCIANO
First-term Councilwoman Leslie Ann Luciano, the sole woman in the Council for these past two years, has enjoyed working alongside Mayor Allan Fung and hopes that the administration and Council can continue to work together.
“Looking back on this term, I’m really proud of the effort that I made to try to get everyone to cooperate with one another and work as a team, rather than Republicans, Democrats. I really tried very hard to foster a team mentality as opposed to a partisan type of thing,” she said.
The Republican Luciano believes that party politics and in fighting on the Council are part of the reason many constituents do not attend meetings or get involved.
“I think it’s all of the arguments and some people just go on and on and on during the Council meeting. I think that aggravates the public. You’ve got the plane circling but it’s not landing,” she said. “If we could be more efficient and try to all work together, I think the people would come out to meetings more often.”
Luciano said she is proud of the Council’s work on reducing expenditures and promoting reasonable economic development, an ongoing priority for the city.
“I think we need to be more business friendly here in Cranston,” she said. “There’s a lot of zoning problems – you’ve got businesses that want to open up on Reservoir Avenue and you’ve got residents who live behind where the business would be located and the residents don’t want it there.”
“We have to find a way to appease everybody,” she added, citing appropriate buffer zones as an example of how to make the two coincide.
If reelected, Luciano says pension reform will be the biggest issue of the next two years, as well as controlling rodents and holding the line on taxes.
“For the most part, for me, it’s been taxes, taxes, taxes,” she said of constituent concerns. “I think if we try to maybe consolidate some of our services in the city and try to reduce spending and find more economical ways to purchase items that we need, I think that would be a good start.”
SARAH KALES LEE
The only first-time candidate in the citywide pack, Democrat Sarah Kales Lee moved to Cranston in 2005 because of the services and the schools, and believes the city must continue to deliver these services efficiently and effectively for future generations. She thinks her experience in real estate and as an industrial designer would benefit Cranston.
“With design, a lot of it is about solving problems and about innovation, so that’s something that would be very useful in the City of Cranston. We’re going to have to get innovative,” she said.
Taking a look at the next two years, the mother of two says that pension issues can no longer be pushed down the road. It’s going to take cuts to fully fund the pensions, but she pledges to make sure those cuts aren’t shortsighted.
A good start, she says, would be looking at municipal best practices.
“It is interesting when you reach out to other towns and cities and see the solutions we could bring back,” she said.
On Lee’s to-do list is working cooperatively with the district and investing in infrastructure so that road and facility improvements are not put off, costing more in the long run.
Lee is learning a lot about politics and government, and hopes that women will have a voice at the table.
“As a woman and mom, I represent a huge portion of the population and we’re underrepresented currently in politics. We even decide, often times, which communities we are going to move to, so I’m running because I want to make Cranston a better place for families and residents in general,” she said.
A 10-year veteran of the City Council, John Lanni is back, unhappy with the work of his colleagues during his two-year absence. At the top of his list of complaints is an inability to collaborate. The Democrat believes the Council needs a leader, and he could fill that void.
For starters, Lanni would tackle the budget.
“A budget as large as we have in the City of Cranston, there’s always room for improvement. I think Council people should be more in tune with the finances of the committee than stop signs,” he said.
A retired auditor, Lanni says no budget is perfect and there is always room to find savings, such as through contracts and consolidation. He wants to see the Cranston/Warwick consolidation committee resurrected.
There are some things, though, that Lanni thinks are worth an investment, like new covered trash bins that could virtually eliminate the city’s rodent problem. He would spend some of the city’s capital budget on that type of project and said eradicating rodents “would be a priority” if elected.
Lanni is concerned with responsible development as well, and in the past opposed Cullion Concrete, among other things. Addressing these and other issues would be Lanni’s focus for the next two years.
“It will be a full-time job for me; I can guarantee that,” he said.
By day, Michael Farina works in finance for CVS. He hopes this election will carry that work into the night as a Democrat representative on the Cranston City Council.
“I believe in fiscal responsibility; I believe in being a watchdog for the taxpayers,” he said.
With his financial background, Farina has already identified areas of concern in the city budget, including a formula to fund pensions that he says is overly aggressive, a lack of consolidation of services and an overinflated legal budget.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re doing the best to protect the interests of our city,” he said.
There is more revenue to be realized as well. Farina believes the city needs to offset its tax burden on businesses, making Cranston a more appealing location.
“We have to make businesses know we’re going to help them and engage with them. We have to prove that we’re business friendly,” he said.
A father of two with his wife Ruthanne, Farina is a regular at City Council meetings already, but says the majority of voters are disengaged from the process.
“The biggest complaint I hear from people is, ‘I don’t see my Council person until it’s time for them to run for office.’ I don’t want to be that kind of Council person; I want to be engaged with my constituents,” he said, noting that an updated website, Facebook page and even a blog could keep taxpayers informed.
Cranston residents should also be informed, he continued, when it comes to problems like rodent control. His plan would be to disseminate advice on mitigation, through mailers and other efforts.
“It’s that communication we have to get back to,” he said.
One of three Republicans currently sitting on the City Council, Jim Donahue says the past two years have been eye-opening in terms of understanding municipal budgets. He is the president and CEO of Old Sturbridge Village, but is now well versed in a different type of budget, having served on the Finance, Ordinance and Audit Committees.
“I feel good about what we’ve been able to do financially,” he said. “We’re both balanced, realistic and we didn’t rely on gimmicks or budget decisions that weren’t structurally sustainable.”
The needs of the city continue to grow, however, and Donahue recognizes that infrastructure improvements are needed on roads, in schools and for water and sewer management. He believes economic growth is the best way to finance these projects, and that investments into economic development could pay the city back in the long run.
“I do think that sometimes there can be a perception that a business may have that the Council may not be as supportive of new businesses in Cranston, so I think at some point it may make sense to do an analysis that if we put more resources financially into economic development, would we see a greater return on the other side,” he said. “We’d like to see more business development in the city.”
If reelected for a second term, Donahue says that addressing local pension plans is undoubtedly a priority. He hopes to institute reform that is both affordable for taxpayers and fair to pensioners. On that count and on issues that emerge on an almost daily basis, Donahue hopes to represent the interests of the entire city.
“I really want to listen to all perspectives on an issue,” he said.
A Providence Police officer and law enforcement instructor at CCRI, Republican Jim Carr wants to now protect the people of Cranston and their wallets.
“We need some fiscal responsibility. I am a self-professed fiscal conservative. I’m going to treat the electorate’s money as if it’s my own,” he said.
Carr supports Mayor Allan Fung but does not believe partisan politics should get in the way of productive discussions when it is kept “business, and not personal.” The focus, he said, should be on the needs and wants of taxpayers. Right now, he sees those taxpayers struggling, and wants to step in.
“My motto, integrity matters, does matter to me. If elected to the City Council, I think I can do a better job with a fresh, new vision,” he said.
To save money, Carr says the city needs to look at restructuring departments and potentially finding additional concessions from bargaining units.
“I’d like to see city services streamlined. I’d like to see all unions pay the same percentage for health care and have that continue,” he said. “Because I’m in a union doesn’t mean that everything I do or say is union-based.”
That would extend to pension reform. If elected, Carr said that the city can no longer put reform off, and he believes that union members recognize that changes must be made.
On the revenue side, he said that Cranston needs to better market itself and grow the commercial tax base.
“I think the city might explore the idea of increased advertising,” he said. “I’m 100 percent in favor of a healthy, viable bureau of tourism.”