Republican candidates for Citywide Council on the ballot this year, incumbents City Council President Michael Farina and Councilman Ken Hopkins and Amy Ricci, are focusing on development, schools, and infrastructure as key issues as they try to retain a Council majority.
Farina said the “biggest thing” for him going forward is collaboration. He said he wants to partner with the school department and school committee to improve school safety and construction. In regards to development, he’d like to ensure that there is a traffic study done at Sockanosset Cross Road that will help the city and the developer, the Carpionato Group, decide what best fits there.
Hopkins said his biggest focuses in the election are on maintaining public safety, improving school construction, and working with the other Council people to make the right decisions.
Ricci, who ran unsuccessfully for school committee in 2016, said she’s a big supporter of Mayor Allan Fung and decided to run because she’s loved “seeing Cranston succeed under Fung’s administration.” She thinks that road infrastructure and school improvments are the key challenges in the coming years.
On schools, Farina said that there will be a school administration meeting on Nov. 14 to discuss school construction improvements and “a lot of the other things people are talking about.” He said he wants to see the problems solved, not just discussed. He said that collaboration with the school committee is the best way to address the issues.
Ricci said that the city “needs a plan” because some of the schools are getting older, though she added that some schools, such as Orchard Farms, are “beautiful” and just need a little tweaking. She said she thinks the schools should have more funding, but she “can’t promise anything” because there may be a lack of resources available right now.
Hopkins said that the schools aren’t in nearly as bad a shape as some may think, saying that people move to Cranston for the schools and “we’ve got some of the best in the state.” He also added that the school infrastructure does need work and he is in favor of the $250 million bond as long as the money is distributed evenly throughout the school systems in the state.
“We need some infrastructure work because of how old they are, but we also have a career and technical school that’s second to none, new libraries at both high schools, a career-oriented charter school that’s getting kids into the public service sector,” he said. “I would challenge our schools to any in the state.”
Hopkins said that although public safety is “number one” on his agenda, education is a close second because he believes the communities with the best schools systems are the ones with the best communities. He said he wants to continue seeing new playgrounds and sports fields built through public-private partnerships to benefit the kids in the city.
Commercial or residential development in the city is another major issue on the minds of the three candidates in this year’s election, with the most prominent area of development being on Sockanosset Cross Road with Chapel View and Garden City.
Farina said that he wants to find the line between “responsible business development and neighborhood concerns.”
“I want to see something that fits with what is already there,” he said. “I also want to ensure that the traffic study is done before any new developments go in. With Citizens Bank going out, potential other developments going in, car counts will be vastly different depending on what goes there.”
Farina also said that the City Council has worked with the Carpionato Group to make sure there’s more transparency with what will be happening there.
“This idea that the developers have a blank check is not true,” Farina said about an attack by Councilman Steve Stycos. “They have to go to the board with information before doing anything. And nothing will move forward with that site, as long as I’m Council President, without studying the traffic that would result.”
Hopkins said that he “likes the idea” of putting more housing in that area because Cranston is in need of it, and he’d ideally like to see a combination of small business and housing there. However, he said he doesn’t have any personal plans, but from living in the Garden City area he knows how bad the traffic can be there at times, and would like to see action taken by Carpionato to decrease the congestion when they do continue development. He added that he’d also like to build up the tax base through more businesses, though.
Ricci said she’d rather see the developers “go for the little guys” rather than big commercial businesses, because it would “lessen traffic.”
“If big corporations do come in, I believe it’s going to create more congestion,” Ricci said.
She did add that she was happy with how vibrant Chapel View and Garden City have become in recent years because it “used to be a ghost town” and she thinks the influx of businesses is “good for the city.”
On retaining a Republican Council majority, Farina said that he doesn’t politicize issues because his focus is on “moving Cranston forward” rather than keeping control over the Democrats.
Farina also responded to Stycos assertion that the sub-committees are “stacked” in favor of the Republicans to “shut Democrats out.” Farina said that they’re operating under the same rules that were written in 2008 and that the Democrats operated under for the eight years prior, when they had control.
“It’s disingenuous for someone to complain about rules when in the minority after being in the majority in other years,” he said. “Steve complains a lot that we control the Council with this iron fist. But we’ve passed things that he’s put forward. If there’s things that come up that the residents do not like – the difference between this Council and prior Councils is we will vet projects. We don’t just say no. We will review it. We are pro-Cranston.”
Hopkins called himself a “bridge-builder,” and said he doesn’t care what party he’s with, but rather what to do in the best interest of the city. He said he didn’t support the Cumberland Farms proposal and has also “reached across the aisle” to do projects such as the Beachmont basketball court in Ward 1.
“As a team, we’ve worked hard to focus on issues,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re from but where we’re going as a city.”
Ricci said that the Republican Council has “been doing an excellent job,” and she’d like to join them to bring her own ideas.
“We need to beautify the city more and fix the roads,” Ricci said. “It’s going to take a lot of time and effort, and hopefully the residents will be patient. I just want to listen to the residents of Cranston. Listen to their concerns, compliments, and I just want to work together with them and whoever else is on the Council at the time, regardless of party.”
Hopkins said that he might have the ultimate goal of becoming the city’s next Mayor at some point, but for now he’s focused on winning reelection to start his second term on the Council. He said that he’d like to continue supporting police and fire, continue doing community projects like playgrounds and basketball courts, and try to solve some traffic issues around the city.
Farina said that through his six years on the Council, two of which were as President, he’s learned that working together with a variety of entities, from the school administration to the Mayor’s administration, and putting aside ego for the betterment of Cranston is how to get things done. In this election, he said he’s focusing on “supporting the people.”
“When I am elected again, the key things are to continue to save school buildings, work hard to pave the roads and streets, and work with Parks and Recreation on fixing the playgrounds, making them more handicap-accessible,” he said. “It’s been a great two years as Council President and six years on the Council, and I’m looking forward to continuing in both capacities.”