A voters’ guide to the City Council race in Ward 4

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Another veteran Providence councilman is facing a challenge from the left.

This time it’s Councilman Nick Narducci, who has a Democratic primary matchup with progressive Jason Roias in Ward 4, which includes the North End. There are no other candidates running in the general election, so the Sept. 12 primary will decide who holds the seat.

So where do the candidates stand on Providence’s key issues? Eyewitness News asked them to answer 10 questions. (Previous council surveys have included Ward 1, Ward 2, Ward 5, Ward 8, Ward 12, Ward 13 and Ward 15.)

1. Why should you be elected to the City Council?

Narducci: I should continue to be Ward 4 Councilman, based on my merits and my accomplishments. I have held this office with an open minded view. I have 12 years of City Council experience, and during this time, I have had the pleasure to serve on and chair numerous council committees.  During my tenure as Councilman, I have always put the needs of the people of Ward 4 and the City of Providence, first and foremost. When I was first elected in 2007, I have always said that we will have one neighborhood. There have been, annual neighborhood events, such as Food Drives for Thanksgiving, Toy Drives for Christmas, and an Easter Egg Hunts, just to name a few. Our neighborhood has seen the implementation of water parks to serve the children of the neighborhood on these hot summer days. We have also seen the addition of several Playgrounds to keep the children entertained, in after school and summer times, to give them an outlet and to bond with other neighbors and children. This creates a belonging and pride within a community. I was very instrumental in making several additions to Chad Brown and Admiral Terrace. This includes the resurfacing of the basketball court, added lighting and security cameras, creating a safer environment, again installing a familial and bonding neighborhood feel. I look forward to continuing the progress that we have seen.

Roias: Simply because I am sensitive to the needs of the working poor. I’m a proud product of this city, and was raised in a household and neighborhood that has seen its fair share of hard knocks. I believe my upbringing has given me an important perspective to bring to municipal policy-making. My goal is to change the dynamics of the north end neighborhood and city by prioritizing the needs of our struggling neighbors over the demands of luxury developers.

Though my years in age and experience may not compare to the long-sitting incumbent, my passion for community is unmatched. In my 22 years, I’ve received guidance from mentors who have spent their lives fighting to make Providence a just and equitable city. I have been active in the Providence community since a student at Hope High School.  In 2015, I helped co-found Hungry Fridays, a non-profit whose mission is to sow seeds of hope in our city by delivering lunches to those who are hungry. I believe I am ready to lead on behalf of Ward 4, and to prove that young people can be at the forefront of advocating for better resources, stronger representation, and ethical, transparent governance.

2. What is one City Council committee you’d like to sit on and why?

Roias: If elected, I’d like to sit on the Committee on Urban Redevelopment, Renewal and Planning (URRP). I believe URRP has played an important role in housing policy in Providence, and I would be interested in adding to the dialogue around our abandoned and blighted properties in Providence.

Narducci: I enjoy being a part of the Claims Committee. I feel the claims committee is very important to the financial structure of the city. As a member of the committee you get a look at all the claims and lawsuits that are being brought forth before the City. Working closely with the law department the council reviews each of these items that are brought to the committee and we make a determination as to what is the best course of action keeping the people of the City of Providence best interests in mind.

3. Do you think Providence should have at-large City Council seats?

Narducci: I would oppose the addition of at-large City Council seats. I am a firm believer, of equal Neighborhood Representation on the Council.

Roias: No. I believe at-large City Council seats would drown out the voice of marginalized groups in our city.

4. A developer has proposed building a 46-story tower along Dyer Street on the former I-195 land. Would you support a zoning change that would allow that project or a similar one to move forward?

Roias: I would not support a zoning change, nor would I support the development of any luxury housing on the I-95 land. At a time in which our city residents are being displaced due to escalating rising rents, any dialogue around providing affordable housing to residents seems to have taken a back seat to the warm embrace of major developers and large corporations, which drive up both the demand for and cost of housing.

Narducci: Before I make any decisions, on this particular project, I would need more facts and information on this project. With the City facing tough financial times I am not against any type of development that would create jobs and increase the tax base in the City. 

5. Providence’s unfunded pension liability is approaching $1 billion and the system was only 25% funded as of June 30, 2017. What steps would you support for stabilizing the pension system?

Narducci: I believe that we need to get the state involved by helping us revisit the Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT) program for colleges and hospitals located in the City. Under this program the City can negotiate with the Hospitals and Colleges to make a payment to the City in Lieu of taxes. This program is an agreement and there is no guarantee that the parties involved would pay. If we could force these institutions to pay a fair share of the tax, instead of, always putting burden on the business’s and home owners in the City, we can use these funds to help stabilize the pension system.

Roias: This is a complex issue, and I do not profess to have all the answers. However, I do not believe the solution lies in the sale or leasing of our water system. I am hesitant to support any reform that would hurt our retirees and the retirement of current city workers. I would support asking our largest and wealthiest tax-exempt anchor institutions to increase their PILOT contributions as a way to generate additional revenue for city services or to help pay down pension obligations. As part of Providence’s fiscal picture, we must stop the TSA madness. We can no longer afford to hand out generous tax breaks to for-profit developers, while our city struggles to fund essential city services.

6. Mayor Elorza has been advocating for the state to approve legislation that would allow Providence to generate more revenue from the city’s water supply. Would you support a sale or lease deal for the water system?

Roias: No. If elected, I will do everything in my power to stop the sale or lease of our city’s water supply. Privatization of our water system will compromise our water quality and subsequently lead to rate increases.

Narducci: At this time, I do not support any sale or lease of the water supply board. As this would only, put a temporary fix to a larger problem. I also have not seen as of yet, any agreement as to where, the funds of the sale or lease of the water supply board, will end up.

7. Providence’s teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31, 2017. Mayor Elorza has said he wants the next agreement to be “transformational.” What does a transformational contract mean to you?

Narducci: What the Mayor means, when he says transformational. I think the teachers deserve a fair contract that adequately supports them and the great work they do with our children. I think that we should work with them to achieve compromises that will allow us to be innovative in our delivery of educational services to our kids, especially those with special needs or who are learning English for the first time. We need to work together.

Roias: I have had so many teachers in PPSD who have inspired me and even changed the trajectory of my life. Teachers in Providence are achieving the impossible every day. I would hope that a transformational contract includes a wage increase and tangible support for our teachers, allowing our students to benefit from their guidance and nurturing presence.

8. The majority of major development projects in Providence in recent years have received a tax-stabilization agreement from the city. Mayor Elorza and Council President Salvatore are both advocating for a more standardized TSA process rather having one-off agreements that vary depending on the project. How should the city handle TSAs in the future?

Roias: If a more standardized process will not require a public hearing or city council votes, I will not support it. In general, I do not believe TSAs have benefited the overwhelming majority of residents in Providence. Although our city leaders continue to claim that TSAs are a powerful economic tool to spur jobs, there is no evidence of this. As echoed by our community and the internal auditor’s report released earlier this year, city leaders have failed to ensure that recipients of  TSAs comply with the First Source ordinance, which would require developers to look to Providence residents first before hiring people who do not live in Providence.  

Narducci: I am a supporter of tax stabilization in the city as they are sometimes needed to support development. I do however, agree with the Mayor and the Council President as we do need a more standardized TSA program that should be uniformed and created equality, instead of creating them as we go along.

9. What is one piece of legislation you would like to see the General Assembly approve to help Providence?

Narducci: I would like to see legislation put forward and passed by the General Assembly that would mandate, hospitals and colleges pay a percentage of the taxes, on the value of their property. We see on a daily basis more and more properties that are being purchased by these institutions and are being removed from our tax rolls.

Roias: The General Assembly must immediately pass legislation that raises the minimum wage to a living wage so our families in Providence, particularly our single-parent households, won’t fall deeper into poverty.  Additionally (I’m sorry Dan, but it’s hard to choose just one), I’d like to see the General Assembly join Vermont, Washington, DC, and Florida in expanding universal access to high-quality Pre K, and third, as well as include a permanent funding stream for affordable housing in the state budget every year.

10. Name one thing Mayor Elorza has gotten right and one thing he’s gotten wrong since he became mayor in 2015.

Roias: I believe the Mayor and his administration has done a great job at prioritizing and combating summer learning loss among our young people. It has been wonderful to watch our youth engaged in so many summer programs supported by our city. But as stated in prior answers, I do not agree with his approach to TSAs, and his push to sell or lease our water system.

Narducci: I personally feel that Mayor Elorza has been doing some great things in the City. The one thing that I believe he has gotten right, is his willingness to support the youth of our City. He has done this by making a commitment to the Parks and Recreation Department. His $5.00 a week summer camp program and also the midnight basketball program are just a few of the administrations accomplishments.

In his first term as Mayor he could have handled the Fire Fighters contract a little differently. But as we all know, wanting to make changes, takes a learning curve, and patience to get all parties on the same side to get things accomplished.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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