CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Democrats are hoping to elect a mayor in Rhode Island’s second largest city for the first time in 12 years, but the party’s two leading candidates must first face off in a primary election Tuesday.
Maria Bucci and Steve Stycos, both Democrats, are vying to become the next mayor of Cranston, a position currently held by the outgoing Republican Mayor Allan Fung, who first took office in 2009 and is term limited.
A former city councilwoman and director of patient services at a medical marijuana facility, Bucci is pitching herself to voters as a fresh face who can lead Cranston out of the coronavirus crisis “stronger than ever.”
“We need new ideas and new vision that brings us into the 21st century,” she told 12 News during a recent interview.
Bucci, who if elected would become the city’s first female mayor, said she was part of a team that helped grow the Thomas Slater Compassion Center, a Providence-based medical marijuana facility, from a fledgling startup into a business that services thousands of patients.
The experience in the private sector, combined with her two consecutive terms serving on the City Council beginning in 2004, give her the credentials needed to run the city, she said.
“The two together make a perfect fit for the mayor’s position,” Bucci said.
Stycos, a city councilman and top vote-getter during the last election cycle, spent a decade as a School Committee member before serving the last 10 years on the City Council. He’s running on his record as a public servant, saying people don’t always agree with him, but he’s ready to work with anyone.
“The city needs a mayor who will sit down with people even if those people want to call him a ‘jerk,’” he said. “I’ve done that as a city councilor.”
Stycos, who runs a farm in Warwick, has long advocated in favor of environmental protections and has repeatedly pushed for greater funding for schools. When asked what he hoped to accomplish as mayor that he couldn’t in other roles of city leadership, Stycos said in part he would like to create a public workforce that better represents the racial makeup of Cranston residents.
“Right now, we have a population in Cranston that is 28% people of color, but only 3% of the full-time workers are people of color,” Stycos said. “I’ve spoken out for diversity, but I have not made any progress because the mayor makes the decision on hiring.”
A third Democrat, comedian and actor Adam Carbone, is also running, but he admitted during a recent forum hosted by the Cranston Herald and Cranston Public Library that he joined largely to bring some levity and attention to the race. Carbone attended the forum dressed up as a hot dog and worked condiment-related puns into many of his answers.
The Democratic nominee will go on to face either City Council President Michael Farina or Councilman Kenneth Hopkins, both Republicans, who are running against each other in the GOP primary, also scheduled for Tuesday.
If either of the leading Democrats are successful in garnering the support necessary to lead Cranston after the general election on Nov. 3, it’s possible they will immediately be faced with complicated financial problems caused by the pandemic.
The city is currently operating with a budget that assumes millions of dollars in state aid, even though the R.I. General Assembly continues to wait for Congress to decide whether an extra infusion of federal relief money will be made available.
Without the money, Cranston – like other municipalities, along with the state – could face steep budget deficits in the current and future fiscal years. When asked whether she would cut or find new ways to generate revenue if facing such a situation, Bucci didn’t provide specifics, saying instead she would put together a team to make sure the budget is balanced.
Cranston “needs a leader who is going to be creative about bringing in new revenue, someone who will fight hard every day to work with our congressional leaders and our governor to make sure we receive the federal funds our city deserves, which is something I’m going to do from day one,” she said.
Stycos, who voted against the city’s current budget, claiming the revenue projections were too rosy, said such a financial crisis would require bringing together all the city’s department heads, asking where they could cut 10% and then “start making decisions that way.”
The councilman also criticized anyone who claimed they wouldn’t consider raising taxes.
“It’s going to have to be looked at,” he said. “We have labor contracts in place with pay raises, and costs go up, so to say blanketed that you’re not going to raise taxes over your two four-year terms – it has to be part of the equation to be considered.”
Campaign finance records show Bucci has easily outspent Stycos over the summer months. From July 1 to Aug. 31, Bucci spent nearly $100,000 mostly on advertising, mailers and consulting. As of Monday, her campaign had $2,021 cash on hand.
Stycos, meanwhile, spent $18,311 during that same time period, which mostly went toward advertising. As of Monday, he had $64,131 cash on hand.
With mail ballots and emergency voting, Cranston residents have already started to cast their votes, but Bucci and Stycos said they will continue to reach out and talk with voters who might still be undecided.
Looking forward, Bucci said she feels confident – if nominated – she would go on to win the general election scheduled for Nov. 3, saying Cranston voters are ready to elect a Democrat over a Republican for mayor.
“If we have a successful primary, I will be successful in November,” she said.
Stycos said he’s bullish the Cranston electorate is increasingly fed up with Republican President Donald Trump, who will also be on the November ballot, which could be beneficial to the Democratic candidate in the general election.
“I’m very hopeful that this will be a heavy turnout election because of Donald Trump’s outrageous behavior and handling of the presidency,” he said.