This coming Wednesday, July 12 is the primary in the special election for Ward 3, Providence City Council. I spent time with all 3 Democrats, interviewed them all, and I have seen them in action at community meetings and debates. I have also followed their social media presence and my colleague Steve Ahlquist has ensured RI Future had the most extensive video coverage of the campaign’s public events.
Who is best suited to represent the ward? Well, it depends on what people are looking out for in a councilor and each of the candidates can pitch to different areas of interest.
If you are looking for someone with a deep understanding of the financial issues relating to Providence City Council, Daniel Chaika makes a good case. His answer in relation to my question about bankruptcy was unequivocal and he was clear about the very serious financial situation facing the city, especially after 2018. He described himself as more fiscally conservative than his two Democrat opponents and has been endorsed by the State building trade union. He has also made ethics a key theme, having resigned from the Providence Ethics Board to be a candidate. Given the background to this special election and the relatively high numbers engaged in the recall vote of Kevin Jackson, he will hope to have tapped into voter anger to turn the election his way.
One of Mark Santow‘s strong points has been education; not surprising given he works in the field and his experience on the Providence School board. He has made play of this in campaign literature and he has been endorsed by Providence Teachers Union. He has considered and well thought out positions on a variety of other issues including an impressive statement on urban development. This alone could make him a valuable addition to the city council in terms of making the progressive case for improving the local economy. He comes across as thoughtful and calm and he has a good ability to stand up and debate – necessary qualities for a locally elected representative.
Nirva LaFortune‘s ace is her activism with the East Side Community Alliance. She’s been endorsed by RI NOW and she was excellent when it came to questions related to community participation. She has shown strength during the debates, intervening strongly when confronted with issues relating to justice and inequality. In her interview she showed both passion for doing the job of a councilor and a sharp mind. She is a good communicator and makes people feel at ease, making the point that listening is an important part of the work she seeks to undertake.
Whilst some still may be skeptical of the reach of social media in the electoral process, evidence from the UK in last month’s election is that it did have an impact on the increase in turnout in the 18-35 age groups and contributed in the late upswing for Jeremy Corbyn‘s Labour Party.
So how are they doing in this contest? At the time of writing, Mark Santow has over 350 ‘likes’ and a similar number of followers on his campaign Facebook page. While we can’t see how many of those live in the ward it can only help to have a good number people to pass messages on to friends and family that are potential voters. He has also used his personal Twitter feed as a campaign tool and has nearly 1000 followers, but the vast majority of these were added before the campaign started. It meant he had a decent sized audience to tap into, and again whilst many will not be neighbors, they can cascade retweets to people who are. Meanwhile Santow’s website has significant depth in terms of issues.
It was reported in June that Nirva LaFortune had raised more money than her two Democratic rivals put together, and that one of her most substantial items of spending was voter database software, perhaps indicating a strategy of boosting turnout. She has around 500 ‘likes’ and followers on her busy Facebook page, which looks to be the focus of her social media campaign rather than twitter. LaFortune’s website is crisp and punchy too.
Daniel Chaika is slightly further back with social media, with under 200 likes and followers on Facebook and looks to be slightly more reliant on traditional methods of campaigning. There is nothing wrong with this and certainly all the candidates are trying to make sure they spend as much time on the doorsteps with voters as they can. If Chaika is to win the primary it is likely to be that he convinces regular voters that he is the best candidate. His website can be found here.
For Ward 3 voters who are still undecided, you can also see RI Future’s extensive video coverage of the debates in June and July. If you aren’t a Ward 3 voter you can at least voice your thoughts on one slightly lighter election matter – Steve Ahlquist asked who had the best lawn sign.