Figuring out what to do at the Park and Warwick Avenues intersection is one of the many tasks that both Lammis Vargas and Jeffrey Gale want to accomplish if they were elected in November as Cranston’s next Ward 1 city councilperson. The two will first have to battle it out in a Democratic primary in September before the winner faces Christopher Sparks on the November ballot.
Both Vargas and Gale have experience running for public office – Vargas ran for a citywide council seat two years ago and Gale currently serves as the Ward 1 school committee member.
Schools – both annual budgets and the capital improvements of the buildings – are major parts of both the candidate’s platforms. Vargas said she is so invested because she has two daughters in the city’s school system while Gale said that his biggest focus is to “get schools up to 21st century learning.”
“With Steve Stycos running citywide, I saw a chance to do more for the city and continue to be an advocate for the schools,” Gale said about choosing to run for Council. “I want more support for our schools and to make sure that we take advantage of the state money that will be coming for school construction as well.”
Vargas also said she decided to run in Ward 1 this time around because of Stycos’ decision to run citywide. During her run two years ago, Vargas was diagnosed with cancer and was in the hospital for a month, hurting her campaign significantly. She has now been in remission for over a year and said she’s “optimistic” about her recovery process. She’s returned to run for City Council and said she wants to focus on the Eastern side of Cranston in her campaign.
Her daughter will be starting high school this year at Cranston East, while her son attends Edgewood Highland.
“My focus is on young students and families,” Vargas said. “They deserve a state of the art school system, good quality of life. I also want my kids to see a strong woman in office.”
She added that she thought her diversity – both in gender and ethnicity – would help move the city’s council in a positive direction going forward.
“With Ward 1, there’s a lot of diversity in demographics,” she said.
She also said that communication is one of the ways Cranston’s government could be improved, specifically with the use of the city’s website. She said that having a city hall that is “online, digital, and responsive would be tremendous” and she thinks that every individual resident’s voice should at least be heard by city officials.
In terms of development in the city, she said one of her first projects she’d tackle would be the corner of Park Avenue and Warwick Avenue, where the Cumberland Farms proposal was shut down. She hasn’t decided what would work best there, but she thinks that “spot zoning” is not the answer and she’d like to support local small business development.
Gale also harkened on that site as an important piece of land in Ward 1, and said that the quality of life of residents should be of utmost concern when making decisions like that one, and through going to all the community meetings he didn’t think the Cumberland Farms would have been the right decision. He also said that he’d like to see the city work with the private owner of the land, but he doesn’t believe that the government should overstep its bounds and make the decision for the owner.
“I want to make sure that changes for the zoning, like at that intersection, are smartly made and don’t negatively affect the quality of life for residents in the area,” Gale said. “Bringing a Cumbies in would have affected the small businesses in the area, two convenience stores and a gas station down the street would have close. I’d like to see more studying on decisions like these and make sure things are done the right way.”
Vargas said that land development of vacant or unused places in the city is one of her foremost concerns, especially with a background as the director of the office of unclaimed property for the state’s treasurer. She has also served on the Cranston housing authority.
She said another goal of hers is to get a restaurant week in Cranston to support local businesses and get other businesses from around the state into the city.
“All of the professional development and experience I’ve had will help promote a healthy Cranston,” Vargas said. “I’ll be a strong new voice on the Eastern side of Cranston. It’s long overdue to have some gender diversity on the City Council. People are tired of the status quo. I’d be a voice for social change and be fiscally responsible.”
“I’m looking forward to a spirited campaign, getting out there and letting the people decide,” said Gale about the primary race. “I hope that when people are comparing the candidates they look at experience and accomplishments the candidates have and weigh them.”