To celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence hosted a candidates forum, focusing on their approaches to minimize violence in Providence and Rhode Island. The forum opened with a session for gubernatorial candidates, and concluded with a session for the Providence mayoral candidates.
The gubernatorial candidates comprised only three declared Democrats: Todd Giroux, Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo. Likewise, the mayoral candidates also included only those declared (or not) for the Democratic nomination: Lorne Adrain, Jorge Elorza, Brett Smiley and Michael Solomon. GOP aspirant Daniel Harrop sent regrets. It does seem that any other more-or-less serious candidate who wanted to participate could have…as will become clear in a bit. I never bothered to find out why Fung, Block, Lombardi and other likely participants did not attend. (If you know for certain, please add it in the comments.)
Naturally, your Frymaster arrived late, far too late to get a seat in the already-packed assembly hall, which held fewer than 100 seats. The SRO crowd jammed the back of the room, spilled out the door and filled an adjoining room with the audio piped in. Under the pretense of taking photographs, I was lucky enough to get access to the Institute’s boardroom on the second floor overlooking the assembly hall.
Unfortunately, the only audio we had was the mobile phone of a staffer who had called another staffer whose phone was placed in front of a loudspeaker. Eventually, yet another staffer brought a pair of computer speakers from his office and, powered through the USB port on my borrowed laptop, we eventually succeeded in providing a passable audio feed for the dozen or so who filled the boardroom.
We got the jury-rigged system working just in time for the gubernatorial candidates’ 1-minute closing statements. Thus, this reporter can only comment on the action among the hopefuls for Providence City Hall.
Mayoral Candidates: Initial Impressions
Other news outlets can bore you with what the candidates said, but I’ll sum up: not much. As you might expect, all the candidates were long on the “what” and short on the “how.”
Overall, they all agreed that violence is bad and that nonviolence is good and should be encouraged. The unifying element of the “how” was that the broader community collectively needs to take ownership of the city…we all need to do our part…it takes a village.
You know the rap. It translates roughly as: I have no idea how to do this, so you people figure it out.
It was hard to find enough policy differences to differentiate sharply one candidate from another. What follows is a mix of the style and substance that one observer took away from the event.
Lorne Adrain – Some felt Mr. Adrain showed himself thoughtful and open, even admitting that he didn’t really have specifics on certain topics. While that is refreshing in its rarity, I took it as a lack of preparation. For Mr. Adrain to succeed in winning the confidence of voters, he will need to start nailing down exactly what makes him the one and only choice in this ever-growing field. Bottom line: leaders need to have answers, not more questions. Approachable and smart, but not ready for this warm-up event.
Jorge Elorza – I give Mr. Elorza the win, but it was marginal. Having grown up on Cranston Street, he spoke to his specific understanding of urban violence in a way that other candidates did not and probably could not. And he had some ideas that set him apart—public schools should be accessible to more residents for more hours, including evenings and weekends; in-school accountability, not out-of-school suspensions; a police academy as diverse as the city. Well-prepared, focused, street-smart.
Brett Smiley – Mr. Smiley came in 2nd on my scorecard. Of all the candidates, he had a specific “how”—a 10% supplemental tax on gun and ammo sales that goes specifically to fund nonviolence programs and training. And he spoke directly to difficult issues, like the uselessness of public programs where the rules are such that kids with two working parents can never participate. Advocated recruiting public safety people with connections in DC to access more federal money. Well-prepared, specific, government-savvy.
Michael Solomon – Mr. Solomon did not impress me as particularly modern. More than any other candidate, he talked about more police, more police, more police. When he talked about non-punishment discipline in schools or post-prison transitioning, he somehow didn’t connect. His accent puts him at a disadvantage. And he was perilously close to the line with his “some parents don’t know how to parent” line. True though it may be, he needs to craft that point more carefully. Aware of modern thinking, but sounds like a throw-back.
And Then There’s Chris Young…
Though cropped from the photo above, Mr. Young did attend. Yes, he was a full participant. Toward the end, he got himself worked up to the point that the moderator had to reiterate the rules against personal attacks. But no, he was not asked to leave. And that’s the good news.
At this strongly left-leaning event, even his rhetoric came off as violent. He brought up abortion in almost every one of his opportunities to speak, and he somehow managed to bring up the Frankfurt School, the Nazis and “negroes.” Everybody breathed a sigh of relief when he somehow managed to get through the entire event without one of his trademark meltdowns.
Self-delusion can be a powerful force, and Mr. Young has somehow convinced himself that he offers an attractive alternative to the other candidates. In reality, he is a horror show that alienates almost everybody who sees his shabby act. It’s unfortunate that, in the interest of open debate, we inflict this ugliness on ourselves each election season.
Thus it seems clear that if Mr. Young were allowed to participate, then any warm body that could string together a coherent sentence could have participated. So unless we find new information via comments, we can assume that Lombardi, Fung and Block took a pass on this early campaign event.