Providence mayoral candidate Kobi Dennis unveils campaign platform

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Vowing to create safer neighborhoods and promote transparency in city government, Providence mayoral candidate Kobi Dennis on Friday laid out his vision for Rhode Island’s capital city if he’s elected later this year.

In a joint fundraiser-platform release event held at the Hilton Garden Inn, the first-time candidate also said any attempt to monetize Providence’s water supply should be put to voters while calling for developers to require the construction companies they use to hire city residents.

“When a candidate for mayor approaches you and starts saying anything that sounds like reasons why you should vote for them, ask them one simple question: where have you been?” Dennis said in his prepared remarks. “Because Kobi Dennis has been here, is here now and is not going anywhere.”

Dennis, 46, was the first candidate to announce a primary challenge to incumbent Democrat Mayor Jorge Elorza, but has since been joined by longtime educator Robert DeRobbio and frequent candidate Chris Young. The city’s Republican Party has said it is still searching for a candidate to run in the November general election.

Dennis warned his supporters to prepare for a contentious campaign, suggesting his opponents will “distract, deflect and discredit” rather than discussing the city’s most pressing issues in the coming months. He said his experience in the military and running several nonprofit organizations has prepared him to lead the city.

The 18-page platform Dennis published to his campaign website includes proposals to create “block captains” in every police district in the city that would function similar to a neighborhood association and would meet with his administration regularly. He pledged to bring law enforcement and the community closer together by hosting citizens academies and encouraging police officers to interact with the residents they serve.

Although he initially proposed reinstating residency requirements for city workers, Dennis’s plan has evolved to focus on offering incentives to employees for living in the city. He said he’d like to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to offer public safety workers affordable homes to buy if they agree to live in the city for at least three years. In an interview Thursday, Dennis said he still intends to require high-ranking non-union workers – including the police chief – to live in Providence.

During his speech, he reiterated his frequent calls to partner with the city’s nonprofit colleges and hospitals rather than constantly seeking payments in lieu of taxes. He said “resources other than money can oftentimes go further than cash itself.”

When it comes to Elorza’s proposal to enter into a sale or lease agreement for Providence’s water supply in an effort to shore up the city’s pension system, Dennis said he thinks any decision should go to the city’s voters. Like Elorza, he said he opposes the privatization of the water system.

Dennis also said he’d like to see developers pay into a city fund earmarked for affordable housing. He also he’d like to implement a policy requiring that “any large-scale construction and development happening in Providence must have a mandatory percentage of its workforce be residents of the city.”

Although his prepared speech did not include his views on Elorza’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Dennis said earlier in the week the city should be looking into “401K or IRA options” for new employees, including the 80 firefighters and 50 police officers that are expected to be hired next year. He also called for more transparent negotiations with the city’s public employee unions.

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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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