By JOHN HOWELL The inner sanctum of the mayor's office could be a model living room at Cardi's, Jordan's or Raymore & Flanagan. The couches, sitting chairs and coffee table are color coordinated with the gray-flecked wall-to-wall carpeting, the cream
The inner sanctum of the mayor’s office could be a model living room at Cardi’s, Jordan’s or Raymore & Flanagan. The couches, sitting chairs and coffee table are color coordinated with the gray-flecked wall-to-wall carpeting, the cream walls and the white ceiling. The wall-mounted flat screen TV and the gas-fired stove give it a homey touch – a great place to watch a game with a bag of chips and a few beers.
There may be bottles of water and doggie treats for Hopkins’ companion Izzy, a cocker spaniel that if allowed will dominate a meeting, but no beers or chips.
The room is far removed from its austere past with dark paneling, conference table, straight chairs and dim lighting. Changes at City Hall aren’t limited to the mayor’s office. The place is bright, the floors polished, a receptionist welcomes visitors from an enclosure at the main entrance to the building.
Mayor Ken Hopkins is proud of the ongoing transition from the former worn setting of municipal offices to what he calls the “people’s house.” It’s what he looks to make a trademark of his administration.
A year ago after being sworn in as the city’s 21st mayor in a ceremony that got off to a shaky start – minutes before he was scheduled to administer the oath of office out-going Mayor Allan Fung learned he tested positive for Covid-19 and ducked out – Hopkins set about building his team. (Former Mayor Michael Traficante
who was planning to attend the ceremony administered the oath.)
Hopkins started with an inventory by department and by posting director positions whether those in the job wanted to stay or not. There wasn’t a lot of change in personnel with the exception of recreation.
“I wanted to go in a new direction. I wanted a new style of leadership,” Hopkins said. His choice was Ray Tessaglia, who Hopkins points out is “more of a professional” who he looks to improve relationships and build collaboration with the School Department. Hopkins is happy with what he’s seen. He points to the first time use of the Cranston Stadium for a boxing match and sees the stadium as a venue for not only city events but as a draw that can bring people into Cranston and as he would like to see development of a hotel in the city. Also in terms of recreational developments, Hopkins cites the erection of an 8-foot fence at the Cranston West recreational complex as a means of protecting the $2 million investment made into the facility from groups and individuals that without approvals have used the amenities.
“We don’t want outsiders coming in,” he said.
Hopkins envisions a new skating rink and a recreational center large enough for an indoor track.
As a former coach, Hopkins’ emphasis is understandable, but it’s not what he sees as his top commitment to Cranston residents and businesses.
“Number one is public safety, police and fire, to make sure we have a safe city and people aren’t afraid of anything,” he said. Hopkins opposed defunding of the police department. He made it clear the city would not tolerate ATVs on city streets or gangs of them crossing into the city from Providence. He said ATVs taken by police would be shipped to the Dominican Republic where police there could use them.
The incident that stands out for Hopkins was when ATVs and bikers surrounded a woman on Broad Street, taunting her and one of the riders brandished a gun.
“This was not going to be the Wild West, not in our city,” he said.
Police have also introduced the Flock license plate camera program that gives police a real time location of a vehicle they are looking for that has resulted in multiple arrests and recovery of stolen property.
Since Hopkins took office, the city has hired four new police officers and 15 new firefighters and appointed James Warren as fire chief.
Public safety is one of three tenants Hopkins cites as cornerstones to his administration. Protecting tax dollars and the city’s quality of life are the others.
On finances, Hopkins notes that the administration drafted a $312 million not tax increase budget that expanded school funding by $1.5 million. As reported last month, the city completed that fiscal year ending June 30, 2021 with a $3 million surplus of which $2.7 million was generated by schools and the balance by the city. Looking ahead, Hopkins aims to lead the city in a discussion of the use of $42.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. He intends to start with a poll to gain community input conducted by an outside firm to identify specific projects. His emphasis will be on infrastructure as opposed to programs. Programs, he points out, would out live the federal funding thereby placing the burden on the city property tax from them to continue.
High on Hopkins’ list are neighborhoods and schools.
He’s excited for the upcoming 250th anniversary of the burning of the Gaspee and how that incident is the first of incidents leading up to the Revolution and celebration of the 250th celebration of the nation’s independence. Last year, the city completed a repaving of Pawtuxet Village streets that will continue with the installation of period lighting to replicate what has been done on the Warwick side of the bridge.
Hopkins is moving ahead with an ambitious program to shine the spotlight on Knightsville and its connections to Itri, Italy, to make it “the new Federal Hill.” The plan is to draw upon that ethic heritage with conversion of the existing park and gazebo to mirror a park in Itri. He is also thinking of closing portions of Cranston Street to enhance pedestrian traffic and allow for the expansion of outdoor dining.
Rolfe Square revitalization is on his list with infrastructure improvements.
On the matter of schools, Hopkins points to the ongoing replacement of Garden City Elementary to be followed by a similar program to replace and expand Gladstone.
Hopkins talks with his predecessor, Fung, who has provided financial guidance. He called Traficante, “my mentor.”
“He’s also out there and knows what can make the city a better place.”
It hasn’t been all been clear sailing. On the political side, Hopkins said he wished he had a better relationship with the City Council.
“I’m probably as moderate as they get,” he said emphasizing he’ll listen and regardless of political label will act in the interests of the city.
Does make him a candidate for higher office, maybe even in 2022? Hopkins smiles. He’s already been contacted by state Republicans suggesting he consider running for a statewide office. He’s not interested. He says his interest in running for mayor wasn’t based on seeking higher office and, in fact, had his wife Mary not died he wouldn’t have run. A wife for 41 years and mother of their three children, Mary passed on Dec. 10, 2019.
She remains with him on this journey.
The mayor’s stationary is embossed with a tiny red rose bud. There’s a small arrangement of artificial rose buds on a corner of his desk a “shrine” to his wife and to Saint Therese who died at an early age in Lisieux, France, who described her life as a “little way of spiritual childhood.” She wrote in an autobiography, “I will spend my heaven doing good on Earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.”
Hopkins said the rose is a symbol of his wife’s good deeds and those of the saint.
“It keeps her (Mary’s) memory alive,” he said.
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