PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Coming off a stint as Rhode Island’s director of administration — overseeing an entire state’s budget and purchasing during a pandemic — Brett Smiley says his experience sets him apart from his two rivals in the race for Providence mayor.
“To actually run the city of Providence, a city with over 4,000 employees, a half a billion dollar budget, it’s a big job,” Smiley said in an interview for WPRI.com’s Pulse of Providence. “And I think we need someone who’s ready to get to work on day one.”
Smiley worked as former Gov. Gina Raimondo’s chief of staff before becoming director of the R.I. Department of Administration. He’d previously worked in Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office after dropping out of the 2014 mayoral race to endorse Elorza.
His top priorities, Smiley says, are improving city services, education and public safety.
“Everyone’s concerned about these basic quality-of-life issues in the neighborhoods,” Smiley said. “Everything from how we fill a pothole to the quality of the snow removal in the winter.”
Asked what he’d forgo in the city’s budget to spend more money on those city services, Smiley said Providence could hold third-party vendors accountable without spending more money.
“I do think we can do a better job for the same price,” Smiley said. “Residents, myself included, have seen snow plow trucks driving down the middle of the road, plow blade up. Or not doing an adequate job, running down the same street two, three, four times.”
He said the city’s tax-exempt nonprofit institutions, which utilize those services, should also “pay their fair share” to Providence.
Smiley said he would would not seek to end the state takeover of Providence schools before the five-year term is over, and said he hasn’t decided how he’d vote on a proposed charter change that would create a half-elected, half-appointed School Board.
He did vote in favor of the $515 million pension bond last month, and says he would seek to move Providence into the state’s pension system if elected.
“Previous mayors skipped payments, and that’s how we got this unfunded liability,” Smiley said. “Were we in the state system, we would never be able to skip a payment again.” (He said the move may require borrowing the $515 million bond in order “buy in” to the state system.)
Asked if he would keep Col. Hugh Clements as the city’s police chief, Smiley said he wasn’t making any promises to any potential department heads.
But he did say he wants to hire more police officers, and cited public safety as a policy area where he differs from his competitors.
“I’ve been outspoken about the need for more and better policing in our city,” Smiley said, emphasizing the need to quell the proliferation of illegal guns and violent crime.
He was also the only candidate who threw his support behind the new license plate cameras set to be activated soon in the city.
Smiley said he’s asked Mayor Elorza for his support. The mayor, who is term-limited, has not yet endorsed a candidate.
Smiley opted not to weigh in on the governor’s race.
“I’m not going to publicly endorse any candidate for governor,” Smiley said. “I want very much to have a productive working relationship with whoever the next governor might be.”
In the above video, Brett Smiley talks one-on-one with 12 News reporter Steph Machado on Pulse of Providence about his campaign, the city schools, the proposed pension bond and more. Below is an excerpt from the full interview.