By DANIEL KITTREDGE Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles of the candidates for mayor, based on recent interviews conducted for our Radio Beacon podcast. Maria Bucci's first stint in local government began with her 2004 election to the Ward
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles of the candidates for mayor, based on recent interviews conducted for our Radio Beacon podcast.
Maria Bucci’s first stint in local government began with her 2004 election to the Ward 4 seat on the Cranston City Council.
She won reelection in 2006, and then in 2012 was briefly appointed to fill a mid-term vacancy in the Ward 4 seat.
The time in elected office, she said, proved instructive – as have the years since.
“When I was on the council, I was very young, and I had all these great ideas. And sometimes I was told, ‘Oh you can’t do that,’ or ‘You have to do it this way’ or ‘That won’t work,’” she said. “And the older I became and learned more about government, I realized things can be done. I do believe we can have good government, honest government.”
Bucci said a return to politics wasn’t on her radar until relatively recently. But with the encouragement of others and the support of her family, she is now making a bid for the city’s highest elected office.
“If you asked me three years ago if I’d be running for mayor in 2020, I’d say ‘No way,’” she said during an appearance on the Herald’s “Radio Beacon” podcast. “I was approached by quite a few people to run, and I talked about it with my family. We wanted to make sure it was the right decision for the family first, and if it was the right decision for me and my work, because I’d have to step away from it. And we believe it is. I definitely think it’s the right time.”
Bucci, 46, is one of three Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for mayor in the Sept. 8 primary. The other hopefuls are Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos and Adam Carbone.
Bucci works as director of patient services at the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center in Providence, an operation “which I’m very proud of.” In the role, she said, she works to ensure patients have access to affordable medicine and that “nobody leaves without medicine, whether they can afford it or not.” According to a biography on her campaign’s website, the center has “created jobs for over 130 people.”
Bucci also highlighted her work with various community groups, including the DaVinci Center, the Center for Southeast Asians and the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.
According to the biography, Bucci found inspiration to pursue public service through the 1998 mayoral campaign of her grandfather, Joseph Maraia. She and her husband, Gus, have two children.
The COVID-19 crisis, which has already done enormous damage to the local business community, continues to strain the coffers of both the city and the state, and the next mayor appears likely to inherent a significant fiscal challenge.
Bucci said her experience in helping to build a business at the Slater Compassion Center will inform her approach if she is elected.
“Now, we’re going through really tough times. So no matter who the next mayor is, they have a big responsibility … We have to make sure we get ahead of it. And the business I’m in, I’m always looking to the future,” she said.
She added: “I grew my business from one patient to thousands of patients, and it’s changing all the time. And it’s the same with the city. You have to be prepared for what’s coming.”
Bucci said her primary focus will be on helping businesses in the city get fully back on their feet.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and our businesses are struggling,” she said. “And that will be my main focus, is what we can do to get them to operate to full capacity again. Right now, we know they’re not.”
Bucci noted that many restaurants are relying on outdoor dining, which will become far less feasible as temperatures cool – and that, in turn, will continue to impact the city’s tax revenue.
Much of the current uncertainty stems from a deadlock at the federal level over another round of stimulus funding. The state has yet to approve a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, with officials waiting to see what additional aid – if any – might be on the way.
While saying she “would have liked to see some more resolutions done with the City Council requesting these funds,” Bucci acknowledged that the city is largely dependent on its leadership at the state and federal levels to lobby for more assistance.
“We need to really rely on our governor and our congressional leaders to bring in federal funds to the state. We need it. And we really need to push hard,” she said.
She added: “The budget is my biggest concern. We’ve just got to make sure we’re fighting hard to receive those federal funds.”
In terms of the school budget picture – which is perhaps the largest source of uncertainty, with a projected $4.1 million increase in state aid still in limbo – Bucci struck a similar note, recognizing that “all cities and towns right now are facing the same issue.” She said as mayor, she would lobby the state’s leadership to continue the kind of financial support for education that has been seen in recent years, a timeframe during which state aid to Cranston has grown significantly.
“We have been fortunate over the years that [Speaker Nicholas Mattiello] has been in that we have received those funds … We want to make sure that now, during COVID, it doesn’t stop,” she said.
Vision for development
Citing the Citizens Bank offices on Sockanosset Cross Road and the headquarters of Alex and Ani as “two major resources of revenue to the city that we lost” in recent years, Bucci said her approach to economic development would involve finding a balance between welcoming businesses and protecting Cranston’s neighborhoods.
She also sees the office of mayor as playing a key role in a more intangible way.
“I do get the feeling sometimes that we’re not business friendly, and I don’t want to give that vibe … I do believe in responsible development,” she said.
She added: “Some things look amazing, when you look at Garden City and Chapel View. But a lot of the storefronts now … they’re empty. And we can’t have that. We have to have the energy and the vibe that shows, ‘We want you here, we want new business.’ And that is created from the mayor. The mayor has to bring positive, good energy that people want to be a part of.”
Bucci recently provided a glimpse of how that approach might play out if she were elected mayor. She has proposed that the city acquire the Mulligan’s Island property for used as open and recreational space – and for an alternative site to be found for the Cranston Crossing development, which as proposed would be anchored by a Costco.
“We do need to preserve open space,” she said. “Thirty years from now, if we continue to build and build, we’ll have nothing left … Let’s not do that. Let’s plan for the future now. It comes quick.”
Bucci called Costco a “great company” and she is “happy that they chose our city” for a location.
“It will bring good revenue to the city, which we’re going to need more than ever with the financial issues we were just talking about,” she said, adding: ““I think they’re going to be a real big asset to the city if they come here.”
‘2021’ policy vision
Bucci recently released a policy plan dubbed “Cranston 2021,” outlining some specific proposals under five subject areas – inclusion, education, the economy, the environment, and COVID-19.
It calls for a “Complete Streets” action plan to improve Cranston’s ailing infrastructure, an issue she focused on during her interview.
“Cranston residents don’t ask for much, right? They want nice streets … nice sidewalks, their garbage picked up, nice schools, good buildings, but overall we do not ask for much as taxpayers,” she said, adding: “When you look around the city, our infrastructure is not that great. We really have to get it together. As soon as I’m elected, I will have that plan in place.”
Bucci’s inclusion plan includes calls for empower the city’s Diversity Commission, institute new diversity policies and hire a Spanish interpreter for City Hall.
During her interview, she said: “We hear about it all the time. This is not a new topic we’ve talked about in the city, but nothing’s been done, and it’s time to make that real change. And that will happen on day one with me … We want to make sure everybody has a seat at the table.”
She added: “I think we all know how city government works, and sometimes it is the small few that get in because of, you know, who they know, or it’s the same circle of people all the time. And the city’s changing, and we need to change with it, for the better.”
Bucci’s environmental plan includes support for the $5 million climate bond set to go before voters in November and a commitment to have the city “run on 100% renewable energy by 2020.”
Asked about what distinction she would draw with Stycos given that many of their policy positions are similar, Bucci pointed to her business experience.
“I think that would be my business background,” she said. “Steve has been in government for a long time. And I don’t think my time on the City Council is what’s going to give me the experience in City Hall. I know it’s not. You do need business sense.”
She added: “I’ve been a part of one of the biggest [compassion] centers in the country, you know, and I’m very proud of that, and I worked really hard … It’s the way I treat people. It’s the energy that I bring to the business. It’s the energy we’re going to need at City Hall. We’re have to know exactly what we’re going to do on day one. We can’t say, ‘I don’t know.’ We have to have a plan in place before we get there, and I will have that plan in place.”
Elsewhere during the interview:
* Bucci said Gov. Gina Raimondo’s decision to delay the start of the school year by two weeks was a “good idea.”
“When I am out there, talking to parents, talking to teachers, students, they’re concerned, you know? And some people are ready to get back, and other people are not comfortable going back,” she said.
Bucci said she felt the initial approach to reopening planning was “a little unorganized” and “unfair” to teachers, parents and students in terms of the uncertainty that has existed. * Bucci called Mayor Allan Fung a “great guy,” but said she believes Cranston voters are ready for a new voice in City Hall.
“People are definitely ready for a change. The response has been incredible on my campaign, it’s been amazing. I think they want a fresh face, new face, new ideas. It’s time,” she said. * Bucci spoke highly of how Fung and Raimondo have handled the COVID-19 crisis, saying: “I think the governor has done a great job. This is a pandemic. No one was prepared for this … I think they did a good job.” * Asked if she will support the Democratic nominee for mayor if she does not win the primary, she said: “I believe I would.”
“I always say a great mayor is not one person in City Hall. It takes a whole team, it takes the whole community coming together … If I don’t win, we’ll see how it goes,” she said. * Asked if she has started building her administrative team, she said: “Right now I’m just focused on the primary.” * Bucci said she will work well with a council that will see a number of new faces in the new term – “I’ve always been a team player” – and offered particular praise for Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas, who has since endorsed her mayoral bid.
“Councilwoman Vargas is amazing … I think she’ll be a leader for the freshmen councilmen coming in,” she said. * Asked about the presidential race, Bucci said she is supporting Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“There’s a lot of divide right now in the country … I think right now, with all the divide, we really need to focus on the city and make the changes here,” she said.