Ferri wants to take Cranston back to basics

Posted 3/6/24

With no primary fight on the horizon for the Democratic nominee for mayor of Cranston, councilman Robert Ferri can rest relatively easy compared to his two prospective Republican competitors. He had …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Ferri wants to take Cranston back to basics


With no primary fight on the horizon for the Democratic nominee for mayor of Cranston, councilman Robert Ferri can rest relatively easy compared to his two prospective Republican competitors. He had time last week to sit down with the Cranston Herald and go in depth for the first time on his platform, which would see the city focusing on its fundamentals.

“The reason I want to run for mayor was the same reason I ran for council,” he said in an interview with the Herald. “I felt that I could make a difference. Help the city grow, help the people in the city.”

Ferri, who has been on the Cranston City Council since 2020, feels his work on the council chamber makes him particularly attuned to just what the people need help with.

“You get contacted by constituents all the time,” Ferri said. “And usually the questions they ask you or the problems they want solved, they're all the same. Potholes, street paving, sidewalks, trees being trimmed, rodent problems. All things I consider part of the infrastructure of the city. So any given week I can get up to ten of those complaints.”

That steady flow of feedback has informed his approach to this race. Listening to the people of the city, learning what there is to learn, and working from there.

“My long term plan to improve the city is to just fully understand what needs to be resolved, and be transparent about it,” he said. “Look into things that we're not really paying a lot of attention to right now, and take full advantage of solving those problems.”


Ferri began his conversation speaking with what is surely to be one of the dominant subjects of the upcoming campaigns: Cranston’s public schools.

“For years, I feel that the schools were underfunded, and that's one of the reasons why we just had to borrow $180 million,” Ferri said, referring to the aggregate total of several bond issues the city has put out over the last few years. “Because if you underfunded the schools over a 15 to 20 year period, sooner or later you have to sit down and write a check to fix the problems. So I think that realizing what the schools need on a yearly basis, and keeping that commitment to the schools is mandatory. So if you feel that the schools need X amount of money per year, you have to figure out how to get the schools that money.”

He continued. “You can't just say, ‘You're not gonna get any money this year,’ and then the next year, and you do that for ten years in a row, and you end up where we were two years ago, where we had to borrow that kind of money,” Ferri said. “And we just, as a matter of fact, to finish some of the projects we couldn't finish because of inflation, had to float another bond to finish some of the projects because we had actually had projects that were not fully finished.”

Ferri is referencing a $40 million bond proposal set to be voted on by Cranstonians in a special election later this year.


But all that funding for our schools must come from somewhere. Ferri hopes to find unexplored means of bringing money into the city without substantially raising taxes.

“As soon as I get elected, I think we need to form a revenue generating commission,” he said. “Get business people, get constituents sitting at a table. Make sure we are taking advantage of all the federal money that's available, or the state money that's available. We don't know right now. I have no idea if we are in fact capitalizing on all the money that's available because of the lack of transparency that we get from the administration to the council.”

When asked who would be recruited to help this commission find that hidden funding, he replied “I think we could go right across the board. Work with the state reps, work with the state senators, work with the congressional senate, Use the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. Utilize them. Are we utilizing them now? We'll be finding out exactly what it is that they can help us with.”

Echoing a desire shared by his prospective competitor Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, he spoke about returning an old institution to the city.

“I met with Franklin Paulino and a friend of mine, because the Chamber of Commerce is constantly trying to get back into Cranston,” Ferri said. Paulino is the Director of Economic Development, as well as the Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the city of Cranston.

“And I thought that, maybe at the beginning, I could be a part of that,” Ferri continued. “But it's just something that this administration has not taken seriously and it's something I still feel is needed within this city.”


Central to Ferri’s platform as well is shoring up Cranston’s ecological longevity. He envisions a multitude of projects to mitigate the disastrous impact of climate change which the city has already been seeing just in the last few months.

“First of all flooding,” Ferri said. “We need to really figure out what we're gonna do over the next 10 or 20 years, because the situation used to be we'd have a flood and it'd be a once in 100 year flood. Now it seems to be once in every year. So we need to capitalize on money that was available from the state to start resolving some of those problems.”

Ferri also hopes recovering and protecting Cranston’s green spaces will have an impact as well.

He said “We had to pass a law last year that every time the city cut a tree down, we had to plant one. It's a shame that we had to actually pass a law to do that, but we're losing our green cover.”

He continued “I think we've cut down too many trees and we're killing too many forests, so we need to make sure that we're not extending ourselves too deeply where we're losing so much green cover, we're never going to be able to recover it.”

He continued, “We do a lot of developing and Western Cranston and in some areas and I'll show up to areas where they've just wiped out 300 trees. Is it necessary?

He gave an example of a decades old flooding problem which has still gone unaddressed: Wilbur Ave.

“I've lived in the city for 42 years, and it's been a problem for 42 years,” he said. “And then about two years ago in front of the public works department I made a question. I put it out in one of the agendas: what is the long term plan to solve the flooding problem on Wilbur Ave? And two years later, we still don't have a long term plan to solve that problem, because we haven't looked deep enough into the cause of it.”


In many ways, Ferri’s priorities as mayor would be the same as his priority as a city councilman. This was abundantly clear when asked what he felt his largest accomplishments were in the council.

“The thing I'm most proud of is that in the three years that I've been on the council I have answered and solved over 250 constituent complaints,” Ferri said. “And that's the thing that I concentrate on the most, the day-to-day workings of the city. I went back a little while ago and I looked into all the ordinances and resolutions that I've been involved in and I've been involved in over 30 ordinances and 15 resolutions that vary from traffic to flooding to payday lending.”


Before his election to the council, Ferri owned and operated his own business. For  twenty years, Ferri co-owned the bowling alley Town Hall Lanes with his brother. Ferri, like many Americans, sees the running of a government much like running a business.

“I think it's really important for somebody that's in a position to handle a $330 million budget. You’ve got to know how to make a payroll. You have to understand what it takes to write a check in you can't write a check for money you don't have.”

“You have to be able to surround yourself with the right people,” he continued. “So they make you look better and make your business better. So put that in respect to the city. I plan on surrounding myself with the right people. We're gonna hire the best talent I can find. I don't think we utilize the talent that's available in this city. You know, there are many people out there that'll come to work with a die hard mission to help make things better.”

Of course, running a city is not exactly like running a business. Ferri pointed out an especially crucial difference.

“You want to be more compassionate as a politician,” he said. “We have to worry about other things besides just making a profit. We have to worry about people that are in need.”

People across Rhode Island are in need, especially, of housing.

“We have not built any affordable housing in Cranston in many, many years. That's going to be one of my priorities.”


No matter who is in the mayor’s office next year, they will be at the head of Cranston’s first entirely post-pandemic administration. That means no more American Rescue Plan Act Funds. Ferri is of the opinion that for most Cranstoners, it won’t be much of a change. 

“We really haven't gotten anything for it,” Ferri said. “We paid a lot of bills, and we did a few pet projects, but we really have nothing except, maybe, a pool next year to show for it. We have not gotten one huge benefit.”

He continued “We did not improve technology in City Hall, which should have been the most vital thing we should have done with that money. The whole purpose of the ARPA money was to make sure that next time we got a pandemic, we were ready for it. We have done nothing to be, it could happen again in three months… We didn't improve technology. We didn't do anything to benefit the average person”

For Ferri, losing access to ARPA funds just means focusing more on what was already his plan: improving the most basic operations of the city.

“We're just gonna have to sit down, tighten our belts, make sure we've got enough revenue coming in and make sure we're taking advantage of federal funds, state funds, we're not overspending money in areas where we shouldn't be. We won’t be able to do any pet projects. We're just gonna have to stick to the basics to make sure that the city is in a financial situation where we can afford to continue doing what we're doing.”


Ferri is perhaps best known in the Rhode Island political sphere for his 2022 decision to switch parties from Republican to Democrat, giving the city council a Democrat majority.

Ferri said the decision was a simple one.

“I took office, had a vision for how I could be successful,” he said. “And I realized within six months, or even less than six months, that the party that I was a member of in this city was more interested in looking good than doing good. And I couldn't get anything accomplished that I felt was going to be helpful to the residents of this city, like improving housing numbers or making sure that things were better for the average person.”

He continued: “Every time I didn't vote with them, with the Republicans, they belittled me, ridiculed me to the point where I said, I just want to be successful here. And I felt adamantly that I would be more successful working with the Democrats.”

“I truly felt that the Democrats were more fiscally responsible and more interested in helping the average person, not just a select few,” he said of his new partymates. “So I changed parties. I don't regret it one bit. And you know, I've realized that a lot of my moral values were more democratic than they were Republican.”

He continued: “I grew up, you know, my father was a Republican. He voted for Reagan and Nixon and you know, you grow up with that, you think that that's what you are. But I realized that my moral character was more democratic than it was Republican, and I have no regrets.”

Ferri says the change of atmosphere has been helpful for his work, especially the civil discussions he’s able to have. “If I'm looking at something that I don't understand, or I want to change, or I want to improve upon, I can call up Jessica Marino who is the council president and we can have a conversation about it. Whether we agree or not, we can always have a conversation about it.”

Ferri’s party change extends beyond just Cranston. He says he will be supporting the democratic candidate for president.


Ferri’s experience on both sides of the aisle translates to a multi-faceted campaign team, and he likes it that way. He says his campaign is a place for political minds of all stripes to make their voices heard.”

He said of his team: “People that would normally not even be in the same room together [are] now sitting at meetings, agreeing with each other on things because I convinced everybody that you know, it can't be all one way or all the other way. There's got to be a compromise. And if you're 100% against something, at least you're going to be heard.”

He hopes that is a reflection of his larger identity as a person and public figure. “I am going to tell the truth all the time. Whether people want to hear it or not. That's who I am.”

He continued: “I want to be able to get in office, form the right team, identify the major problems and ask people their advice on how to solve them, not just be the person that's gonna say, ‘Well, we're gonna do this, we’re gonna do that.’ You need to have input because, I’ll be the first admit, I don't know everything. I think that's one of my biggest attributes is that I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong. I'm not afraid to admit that I don't know something. I know what I don't know. So I’m putting a good team together, especially a transition team, to make sure that we're going to get the best people involved.”


On the subject of his competition, Ferri had relatively little to say.

“I think Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung is a nice person,” he said. “Our beliefs are a lot different. When it comes to things I don't I think that I don't think she has the experience that I have to be able to come in and run the city. She was married to the ex-mayor, but she's not the ex-mayor.”

In regards to her tenure as a state representative, he said “She's actually my state rep. I know she's tried to do some things with Meshanticut Lake. I think that's been one of her major points, but I don't really see a lot of what she's done because maybe I haven't paid attention to her, I don’t know. I concentrate on what I’m doing.”

Ferri’s rocky relationship with Mayor Kenneth Hopkins is well documented, but during his talk with the Herald, he simply said: “I just feel strongly that I’m going to do a better job than he’s doing, because I’m going to surround myself with the right people.”


Before election season ramps up in the fall, there’s still two seasons left of city counciling. Ferri plans simply to stay the course, and keep governing as he has for four years.

“I'm not going to try and do anything for attention or for votes or just to make myself look good, because that's not who I am,” he said. “If things come up, I spend a lot of time preparing for my meetings. And I've been retired, so maybe I have a little more time than everybody else. But I never go into a meeting not knowing what we're voting on and what my thoughts are. I always have questions and listen, but pretty much I'm very well prepared.”


Ferri was one of many Cranstonians present at February’s public workshop to update the  Comprehensive Plan. He said very little of what he heard at the meeting were things he hadn’t heard before.

“People are aware of where we're lacking right now, and where we need improvement,” he said. “And I think that the comprehensive plan is supposed to be the bible to solve those problems. And hopefully, we're gonna get it right.’

Among the many things discussed, Ferri recalled hearing about the challenges of affordability, especially when it comes to housing. He sees stagnating wages as one of the things holding the city back from achieving its potential.

“If you're getting a 2% raise, and inflation is 5%, at the end of five years you're making 10% less money,” Ferri said. “That's something we have to address across the board, even with our city employees. We have to make sure we're paying them the right amount of money to attract the best possible people. And that's across the board. Teachers, janitors, police. Right across the board, we have to make sure that we're attracting the best possible people to run this city the best possible way.”

“I think personnel have to basically come first,” he continued. “You can't run a city without people. So I think we would have to concentrate more on making sure that we're competitive. You know, we have to be competitive with other cities and towns. I want the best for the city. And sometimes it's going to take the best people. In my administration, I want the best people. I want the best workers and we want workers to be protected and we want the city to be protected to make sure we're getting the best for our money.”

“I want people to know that they're welcome to come to Cranston. We have to make it affordable for them to come here. And we have to give them a reason to want to be here. So we can't just put a gate up and say we don't want anybody else to move here. We would never be able to progress into being a great city.”


Ultimately, Ferri hopes to leave Cranston a smoothly running, efficient, prosperous city. He spoke of his mother, who taught him to be neat, and taught him how to save. Creating a city where the basics are covered is his road to success.

“I want my successor to be begging for that job,” Ferri concluded. “I want things to be running so smoothly. I want the schools to be in great condition. I want people's salaries to be good. I want the infrastructure of the city to be good. It's going to take time to get to that point. But I want things to be improved so much that people are just going I want to be the mayor of that city because it's a great city.”

Ferri, councilman, elections


1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • jgoody2003

    All I have to say is NOPE. This candidate does not have the temperament or skillset to be the leader of Cranston. I’m an independent but lean liberal. This interview proves that Mr. Ferri does not have the skills needed for the job. I have spoken with Mr. Ferri over the phone and he was combative, dismissive and rude. This was my first and last interaction with the candidate. Myself and the rest of Cranston, not just his district, deserve better.


    Saturday, March 9 Report this