It was by far the biggest meeting I had ever seen at Rochambeau Library, and bigger than any crowd I have seen at any of the PawSox listening tours. The crowd filled the room and overflowed into the halls. About 125 people attended the Providence Campaign Against the Stadium organizational meeting in Providence Monday night. Organizers Sam Bell, Sharon Steele, Tim Empke and Suzanne Mark conducted a meeting to recruit help in defeating the building of a new PawSox stadium in Providence.
Those in attendance were unhappy with elected officials who have decided to reserve judgement and not come out against giving the PawSox owners taxpayer monies and/or tax breaks. They also came out because they are strongly in favor of keeping the land in question true to its original intention as a public park open to all. The consensus seems to be that the vast majority of Rhode Islanders are opposed to any kind of stadium deal, and that elected officials such as Governor Gina Raimondo, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed are not listening to their constituents even as they negotiate in secret with PawSox management.
Part of the campaign’s strategy has been collecting signatures to pressure the Providence City Council into rejecting any kind of tax deal for the Stadium. Enough signatures have been collected to force the City Council to take up the issue and the campaign is actively collecting the signatures needed to put the stadium initiative on the ballot. If Providence rejects the stadium, then the stadium cannot be built.
However, Mayor Jorge Elorza has joined state elected officials in not taking any kind of stand against the stadium, adopting the same wait-and-see attitude. This annoyed many of those who were at the Rochambeau meeting, who feel that the East Side helped to elect the Mayor, and that he should be more receptive to the opinions of voters than to the interests of out of state millionaires.
If eight members of the Providence City Council come out strongly against the deal, the stadium is a dead issue, but there is a catch. The General Assembly has the power to rewrite local laws and over ride the Providence City Council or the voters of Providence. They have done so in the past when referendums threaten corporate interests. Last year the General Assembly passed legislation (as a budget amendment to avoid public commentary) taking away the rights of cities and towns to set their own minimum wages as a gift to The Procaccianti Group, which runs several hotels downtown and around the world.
The Campaign organizers thought this scenario unlikely.
After the main meeting the group separated into several working groups, concentrating on different aspects of the campaign.
By way of contrast, two hours earlier the PawSox sales team was in the Barrington Town Hall as part of their ongoing “listening tour” to be held in every city and town in Rhode island. Charles Steinberg, who usually conducts these meetings since the death of Jim Skeffington, was not on hand because he was helping with the celebrations around the induction of Pedro Martinez into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
This left the sales duties to organizer Sydney McKenna, special assistant to Larry Lucchino Dan Rea III and Red Sox accountant Jeff White.
Things did not go great.
The crowd of about 40 people were forced to submit all questions in writing before hand under the watchful eyes of two hired police officers. No one spoke up in favor of the stadium, many people spoke out against it. Former Attorney General Arlene Violet was in attendance, and she pounded the speakers with tough questions, often speaking up out of turn to make her points. It was the only way to express an opinion to the room given the format of the meeting.
Violet pushed back hard against the contention that nearly 50 percent of those attending PawSox games come from out of state. She asked where the numbers Jeff White was putting out were coming from. White said that the PawSox have been polling those coming to the game for the past five weeks.
When Violet countered that the poll lacked any kind of validity, White scowled. Sydney McKenna, former campaign manager for talk show host Buddy Cianci’s bid for Mayor of Providence commented that she missed having Violet on the radio.
After the meeting a Barrington native told me he felt insulted by the sales team. He was disgusted by their disregard of the public’s opinion and by what he considered to be the combative nature of Jeff White.