The race to replace Councilman Jackson as majority leader is on

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – By the time Providence City Council Majority Leader Kevin Jackson was out of handcuffs following his arrest Wednesday, his colleagues on the council were already working behind the scenes to address their new political reality.

In short, Jackson might be innocent until proven guilty, but council leaders agreed he can’t remain majority leader.

Council President Luis Aponte confirmed Thursday morning Jackson has resigned his leadership post as well as his seat on the Finance Committee, but said he doesn’t expect the East Side councilman to leave the council altogether. When asked if he would resign from the council following his court appearance Wednesday, Jackson said “not at this time.”

Jackson, a 57-year-old Democrat, was arrested outside Providence City Hall Wednesday for allegedly embezzling more than $127,000 from a taxpayer-subsidized nonprofit he founded as well as misusing $12,000 in campaign contributions. He said he intends to plead not guilty.

Councilman Seth Yurdin, who served as majority leader before Jackson got the job in 2015, is the only member of the 15-person legislative body so far who has called on Jackson to resign from the council entirely.

Jackson’s arrest immediately fueled speculation about which council member would replace him as majority leader. Among the names floated: Ward 13 Councilman Bryan Principe, Ward 5 Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan and Ward 6 Councilman Michael Correia.

While the mayor and council president have the most front-facing jobs in city politics, the majority leader’s post is considered where the action is. It pays $20,850 annually – compared to the $18,765 rank-and-file councilors earn – but requires the leader to handle everything from budget disputes to council infighting.

Providence’s council majority leader is all the more powerful because the body is currently comprised of all Democrats, meaning there is no minority leader. The last non-Democrat to serve on the council was Green Party member David Segal from 2002 until 2006.

Of the potential candidates for Jackson’s replacement, Principe is believed to have the strongest relationship with the Elorza administration. Representing Federal Hill and parts of the West End, he was elected in 2010 and was the first and only councilor to endorse Elorza’s bid for mayor prior to the 2014 Democratic primary. Most of the council backed then-Council President Michael Solomon, while a few – including Jackson – endorsed Buddy Cianci.

Principe is known as one of the calmest members of the council, often adding thoughtful context to heated debates over education or economic development. He currently chairs the council’s Special Committee on Education and City Property Committee and serves as vice-chair of the Ordinance Committee.

Ryan is widely considered to be a councilor with a bright future in city politics. Elected in 2014 to represent parts of Elmhurst and Mount Pleasant, she initially voted against the leadership team of Aponte and Jackson, but has quickly grown to support them. When some councilors objected to a plan to name an athletic complex after Jackson earlier this year, Ryan praised him as someone who had “devoted his life’s work” to young athletes.

Ryan currently chairs the special Committee on Municipal Operations and Oversight, where she has focused on reforming the Providence Board of Licenses. She also regularly attends Finance Committee meetings, offering input on the city budget and other financial matters even though she is not appointed to the panel.

Correia is among the hardest-working members of the council. His black Chevy can be seen on most days making its way through nearly every street in and around the poor Mount Pleasant and Manton neighborhoods he represents. On any given day, his Ward 6 office on Atwells Avenue is filled with locals seeking advice about everything from legal disputes to job searches.

Correia currently chairs the Public Works Committee and serves as vice-chair of the Committee on Urban Redevelopment, Renewal and Planning, two panels that largely focus on the neighborhood issues he is most passionate about.

Aponte told WPRI.com he intends to meet with his colleagues in the coming days and could call a caucus to select a new majority leader as soon as the weekend.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan 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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