Providence City Council bids adieu to 4 colleagues

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – One is considered the smartest member of the Providence City Council. Another is viewed as the kindest.

One worked harder – and for longer – than any of his colleagues to win elected office. Another has forgotten more about city government than most politicians will ever learn.

Outgoing Councilors Sam Zurier (Ward 2), Bryan Principe (Ward 13), Wilbur Jennings (Ward 8) and Terrence Hassett (Ward 12) were showered with adulation from their colleagues Thursday night during one of the final meetings of their respective political careers.

And for a legislative body that is known for holding quick meetings, this was a moment for members to set aside political differences and take their time to laugh and cry and swap stories about the four councilors who will not be returning to City Hall in January.

Zurier stunned his colleagues in the spring when he announced he would seek a final term representing part of the East Side. A Democrat who previously served on the Providence School Board, Zurier was widely credited during his first term in 2012 with helping the city close a loophole that allowed city residents to register their cars outside of Providence in order to pay less in taxes.

Throughout his tenure, Zurier published a weekly letter on his website explaining many of the key issues unfolding in City Hall, often offering candid assessments of how government was working as well as his reasoning behind votes.

“You’re just a tremendous guy,” Jennings told Zurier. The two men forged an unlikely friendship during their two terms together on the council. Zurier is a Jewish attorney who went to Yale and won a Rhode’s scholarship, while Jennings is an African-American former DPW employee from the other side of the city.

Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), who was elected last year and represents another part of the East Side, praised Zurier’s for his tenacity, intellect and passion.

“Thank you for setting a precedent for all of us,” she said.

Even one of his chief rivals, Councilman John Igliozzi (Ward 7), said he enjoyed sparring with Zurier over the last eight years.

“If I lived in your ward, you’re the kind of councilperson I’d love fighting for my neighborhood,” he said.

Principe, a fierce advocate for public schools, also surprised many of his constituents on Federal Hill and in the West End, when he announced he would not seek re-election earlier this year. His colleagues said they admired his calm nature, even during tense times.

Principe served as Democratic majority leader for parts of 2016 and 2017, but was known for mostly avoiding the political fights then often come with holding the powerful position. Igliozzi joked that if the City Council voted on superlatives, Principe would be considered the “most likeable.”

Councilwoman Sabina Matos (Ward 15), has sat next two Principe in the council chambers for most of the last eight years. She said he has always been respectful, even when they disagreed on policy.

“You have been a gentleman through these eight years,” she said.

Jennings, who ran in 12 elections before finally getting elected to the council in 2010, was hailed as someone who dedicated his life to public service, first as a public works employee and later as a councilperson. He was defeated in the Democratic primary by James Taylor in September.

Councilman Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4), choked up as he commended Jennings, his closest ally on the council. He said Jennings is a man of his word, a vote he could always count on. He joked that the two were often inseparable.

“I guess he would have to be Batman and I’ll settle for Robin,” Narducci said, noting that Jennings, a weightlifter, is much larger than he is.

Hassett, who served 21 years before he didn’t qualify to run for re-election this year, is from a storied Providence family. His father, Joseph P. Hassett, Sr., served as the city’s recreation director for 10 years and now has a park named after him. One of his brothers, Joe Hassett Jr., was a lights-out shooter who starred at Providence College and won an NBA championship with the Seattle SuperSonics.

Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), called Hassett a “true warrior for the people of the city of Providence.” Councilman Luis Aponte (Ward 10), said Hassett “shaped many of the decisions we have made,” especially in and around Smith Hill.

Igliozzi, one of Hassett’s closest allies, choked up as he recalled tough votes the two had taken in their lengthy political careers.

“Terry Hassett is actually the example of what good government is,” Igliozzi said.

Council President David Salvatore (Ward 14), said public service can be a thankless job, especially when you hold for as long as Hassett did.

“You put in 21 years of dedicated service and volunteerism,” Salvatore said.

The four councilors aren’t finished yet. Although Thursday was the final regularly-scheduled meeting of the term, a special meeting is planned for next week. It is likely at least one other meeting will take place this month to vote on a union contract for Providence’s teachers.

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

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