By DANIEL KITTREDGE After weeks of planning and dozens of interviews with candidates for key leadership posts in his administration, Mayor-elect Ken Hopkins says he is prepared to take the reins at City Hall on Jan. 4. "e;We're ready to go,"e; he told the
After weeks of planning and dozens of interviews with candidates for key leadership posts in his administration, Mayor-elect Ken Hopkins says he is prepared to take the reins at City Hall on Jan. 4.
“We’re ready to go,” he told the Herald during a pre-Christmas interview in Council Chambers, where next week’s largely virtual inaugural event will take place.
The second-term citywide councilman – who received Mayor Allan Fung’s backing in his successful bid for the city’s top job – discussed a range of issues, including the transition process, his view of city operations and the top priorities for the first weeks of his administration.
Anthony Moretti, who served as Hopkins’s campaign manager and will be the new mayor’s director of administration, also took part in the interview.
Hopkins said the transition effort began almost immediately following his victory in November’s election. Multiple teams, made up of roughly 40 people in all, were tasked with reviewing various aspects of municipal operations and preparing reports.
“We tried to get people who were in their field of expertise to go over and evaluate every department in the city,” the mayor-elect said. “So we basically did a forensic audit of the city … People were great, very professional.”
The next step involved interviews of department head positions and jobs in the mayor’s office. Hopkins said he conducted the interviews along with Moretti and other members of the transition’s steering committee, including veterans of the administration of former mayor Michael Traficante.
All of the current department heads were invited to reapply, Hopkins said, and each of them did. Others were also considered, he said, through a “combination of us talking to them or asking them to apply, and outsiders that felt that they wanted to apply for a job.”
“It was extensive … We did everything by the book. Everything was vetted properly,” he added.
Based on the results of that process, the Hopkins administration will consist of a number of familiar faces and a few newcomers.
Christopher Millea, the outgoing Democratic District 16 representative in the House of Representatives, will join the new Republican administration as city solicitor.
Fung’s current director of administration, Daniel Parrillo, will return to the position of personnel director, which he held after retiring as deputy chief of the Johnston Police Department in 2017. The current personnel director, Susan Nahabedian Aryassian, has been chosen as chief of staff to Warwick Mayor-elect Frank Picozzi.
“Frank Picozzi and I have developed a really good relationship,” Hopkins said.
Raymond Tessaglia, a 26-year veteran of the Providence Recreation Department, will served as Hopkins’s director of parks and recreation, succeeding Tony Liberatore in the role.
“Tony Liberatore has been a complete gentleman, a complete professional and a total class act,” Moretti said.
Franklin Paulino, a small business owner, will succeed Larry DiBoni as director of economic development. Stephen Craddock, who has worked in senior management roles with Staples, will take the reins at the Department of Senior Services, where David Quiroa has served as interim director since the retirement of Jeff Barone earlier this year.
Timothy Sanzi, a retired Rhode Island State Police major, will served as Hopkins’s director of community development. Paula Smith, who has served as Fung’s executive assistant, will take on the role of director of constituent affairs.
Several other department heads – Finance Director Robert Strom, Public Works Director Ken Mason, Police Chief Michael Winquist, Fire Chief Stephen MacIntosh, Inspections Director David Rodio and Planning Director Jason Pezzullo – will stay on under the Hopkins administration.
“After meeting with these department directors individually, I am delighted they have agreed to stay on as part of my administration,” Hopkins said in a statement regarding the administrative selections, a full version of which appears in this week’s edition. “Each one understands my priorities for constituent services, proper management of their areas of responsibilities and my vision for Cranston.”
Several of Hopkins’s picks are subject to an advice and consent process through the City Council. In the statement, Hopkins said the nominations will be submitted to the council once he takes office.
“I would ask the Finance Committee and council members to schedule a review and hearing of my new leadership team as soon as possible,” he said in the statement.
During the pre-Christmas interview, Hopkins said a review of municipal operations will continue based on the work of the various transition teams. Based on what he has seen to this point, he indicated he does not envision wholesale changes.
“It really gave us a chance to see what’s going on out there,” he said, adding: “I just have a better vision of what I can do to make it better. Allan set the foundation … Now, we have to take my vision and put that in place, try to continue what we’ve been doing, that seems to be what people want.”
In terms of initial priorities, Hopkins said work on the revitalization of Rolfe Square – which he frequently cited during the campaign – will be an immediate area of focus. He said discussions have been held with Mason and local business owners regarding the plan.
“It’s a vision that I had that’s now on paper,” he said. “I want to start day one, that was my campaign promise, that I’d start to renovate it, with the goal of attracting new businesses to come in.”
Hopkins said the Rolfe Square plan involves an initial short-term phase focused on trees, lighting, signage and cleaning, followed by a longer-term phase that will begin as the weather warms.
The mayor-elect also said he hopes to pursue an “anti-graffiti program” as part of his focus on aesthetic improvements to Cranston. He suggested increasing fines for violators as a potential course of action.
“It makes our city look bad, and we need to stop it at the borders,” he said. “If Providence is OK with it, that’s their business … I just think it’s the beginning stages of blight in the city. I want to eradicate it right away.”
Other areas of focus, Hopkins said, will be improved security at Cranston High School West’s new athletic complex and talks with the state over the possible city acquisition of Meshanticut Park.
Moretti added: “I refer to Ken as the ‘neighborhood mayor’ … His style will be a bit different, very homey and very neighborhood oriented. And I think you’re going to see that play out.”
One immediate order of business will be continuing the declaration of emergency, and numerous supplementary orders, that have been in place under Fung during the pandemic. Hopkins said after being sworn in on Jan. 4, he will immediately act to continue the emergency declaration. As Fung did in the spring, he will then seek City Council authorization to continue to declaration past seven days.
“I’m going to continue with what Allan has done, on the advice of the solicitors,” he said.
Hopkins drew criticism in November after a handful of campaign supporters and volunteers involved in Election Day activities, including a nighttime gathering at the St. Mary’s Feast Society, tested positive for COVID-19. While he plans to continue to existing emergency orders, he expressed an eagerness to reach a point where commerce and social activity is less restricted. Restaurants in particular, he said, “are in dire need.”
Citing his experience during the recent cross-city fire truck procession featuring Santa Claus, Hopkins said: “You could just see the smile on people’s faces, especially the kids. And that’s kind of the direction we want to take the city. We know we’re going to have to respond to COVID. People are going to want to get back out. So our focus is going to be a lot of community activity to get people out and get them to know their neighbors again.”
Hopkins also defended his approach to the crisis both during the campaign and in the weeks since.
“We followed all protocols. We’ve done everything we’re supposed to do,” he said.
Additionally, Hopkins said while the current circumstances will require the coming inaugural ceremony to be held almost entirely virtually, he hopes that once the weather warms there will be an opportunity for additional festivities – an inaugural parade and ball, perhaps in June.
“It’s nice to have a celebration where everyone can come together,” he said.
Preparations for the coming fiscal year’s budget also loom in the early weeks of Hopkins’s administration. The mayor-elect said he is pleased with the outcome of the state’s long-delayed budget process for the current fiscal year, which preserved key local aid.
“We’re grateful to the General Assembly for finally getting back to work,” he said.
Hopkins said he had yet to meet with incoming House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, but added: “Just have a sit-down with him, I’d like to do that.”
The mayor-elect said he has spoken with a number of other mayors in the weeks since being elected, and has also heard from Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.
Hopkins said he has been surprised, however, by the lack of outreach from the Rhode Island GOP.
“Ironically, the only one that hasn’t called me is the Republican Party for the state. I don’t know what their thinking is, but they haven’t reached out to me,” he said, adding: “If they’re going to consider me one of the leaders of the Republican Party in the state, I thought that they should have done a better job reaching out to me.”
Locally, Hopkins said he has asked Traficante to oversee a reorganization of the Cranston Republican City Committee.
After the completion of transition work and ahead of the inaugural, Hopkins said he planned to depart for Orlando, Florida, the day after Christmas for a brief vacation spent golfing with friends.
“It’ll be 70s and nice and quiet and peaceful,” he said. “And then I come back and go to work.