Mayor Hopkins has unfinished business

Posted 3/20/24

Why is Mayor Kenneth Hopkins running for reelection? Simple. “Unfinished business.” He has a list of works-in-progress all throughout the city he’s determined to see through.

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Mayor Hopkins has unfinished business


Why is Mayor Kenneth Hopkins running for reelection? Simple. “Unfinished business.” He has a list of works-in-progress all throughout the city he’s determined to see through.

“I’ve made a commitment to revitalize Rolf Street,” he said in an interview with the Herald at Brewed Awakenings. “To build a pool. We’re on phase two of Knightsville. I want to finish that. I want to finish building the new school at Gladstone.”

Following that list is another, the list of his administration’s accomplishments, such as the revitalization of Pawtuxet Village, Itri Park, and the construction of Garden City Elementary, all of which was done with millions of dollars in federal funds, easing the financial burden on Cranston taxpayers.

“I think we’ve done a tremendous job in fixing the finances of the city. I would expect our bond rating to be as good as you can get.”

Hopkins tenure has been punctuated by millions of dollars in federal funds, ranging from American Rescue Plan grants to several bonds earmarked for the construction of new elementary schools. Obtaining those bonds is one of the mayor’s proudest wins.

“The support of the bond that gave us the money to build and complete Garden City, that's kind of a staple,” he said. “I just think that it was needed for the community. The idea of building new schools throughout the city, it's an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime. You know, the government's giving you up to 74 cents on the dollar to complete Garden City School, which is almost a $50 million project, costs the city taxpayers $12 million to get a school like that that's going to last for the next 50-100 years.”

Hopkins, a former educator himself, is hopeful that Cranstonians will accept the newest bond on the ballot as well, $40 million to revitalize existing school buildings.

The pandemic mayor

Despite all these accomplishments, Hopkins’ first term in office was not easy. His entrance coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“And Governor Raimondo at the time just said, you know, fix it!” Hopkins recalls. “We I think had 250 vaccinations, and we developed a program with our emergency management staff, which was lead by Chief Jim Mora, the fire chief, and we conducted a series of workshops that ended with getting people vaccinated.”

“People were very worried. People lost lives,” he continued. “My next door neighbor across the street from me, that I lived next to for 30 years, passed away because of COVID. And I had just gotten him a job working at the Senior Center. He was a gourmet chef, and he was hired at the senior center about eight months before and then he passed away because of COVID. So, to lead the city through that, and then to revitalize the city, it had a specific purpose.”

As pandemic restrictions eased, Hopkins had a new challenge to face: convincing the people of Cranston to leave their homes again.

“The biggest component was to get people back outside,” he said. “When you’re stuck inside for all those months during COVID, This was an opportunity to have festivals and have parades and get the walking traffic back on Wall Street and Pawtuxet Village. Get people back out to restaurants.”

“My goal was to bring everybody back together and get them outside and get the city back,” he continued. “So a revival was almost like a renaissance, reviving the city from from a very catastrophic disease.”

Keeping a balance


Working with and listening to the perspectives of others, even those of opposing opinions, is a hallmark of an executive position, and at the end of his first term, Hopkins finds himself adept in that position.

“Nothing in government happens overnight,” he said. “There’s funding, there’s neighborhood input, there’s political opposition. There are all things that have to be looked at before you can just say ‘Okay, I’ve listened to everybody. This is what I think is best for the taxpayers of this city. Let’s move in this direction.’”

“If you go up to the third floor of city hall, there's a scale,” he said. “On this scale, it says ‘The City of Cranston. And I think that's the job of leadership. You have to balance things. You just can't go all in on one thing and forget about the other side. And I think that's what I've been pretty good at. Working across the aisle, working with, especially, the governor. The state legislature, Senator Lombardi, Senator Gallo.”

“Working with people in Washington,” he continued. “I went down and sat in Jack Reed's office and talked to him about some of the plans that I'd like to get done for the city. I got a call from him this past week. $1.9 million for phase three of Itri Park.”

A safe city

Much of Hopkins first term was spent making Cranston’s streets a more desirable place to spend time. A vital part of aspect of a desirable street, of course, is a safe street.

“I can assure people that I always felt that government's number one responsibility is to make a safe city,” Hopkins said. “You want to be able to go outside and enjoy your neighborhood. You want to be able to walk down the street not looking over your shoulder.”

Hopkins has often been vocal in his support of Cranston’s police and fire departments, and has made their continued support a tentpole of his campaign. He points to recent federal funding received for Cranston Police as an example of that support, and of his bipartisan chops.

“Congressman Magaziner called me the other day,” he said. “We got a $400,000 federal grant to buy eight new police cars for the K-9 unit. Fifty grand a piece is eight brand new vehicles that aren’t being paid for by the Cranston taxpayers. This has come from our work behind the scenes in the federal government. That's all part of that balancing act that I talked about. It doesn't matter if they're Democrats and I'm a Republican.

“Everything that I've done,” he continued. “I asked myself the question, is this good for the city of Cranston? It’s not for me. I’m not running for governor. They’ve asked me to, but I’m not. They’ve asked me to run for congress, and I’m not. I want to finish what I started in the city of Cranston.”

“People know that I care about the city, that I care about their safety,” he said. “I'd like to see us get back to the days, back when I grew up, when you didn't have to lock your door. You could just walk out of your house and your neighbors all took care of each other. And we're heading in that direction.”

The housing problem

Of course, before you can choose to lock your door or not, you need to have a house to begin with. Like all of Rhode Island, Cranston is faced with a housing shortage, and Hopkins’ plan to address the issue is two tiered.

“First of all, you work with small business people,” he said.

Hopkins had at hand a number of examples of deals struck and homes built with local contractors and architectural firms. One such example was the abandoned schoo lbuilding near Elmwood Avenue, which he called “a blight on the city.”

“But what we did was, I said let’s sell the property,” Hopkins said. “Let’s get somebody to come in and take it down. Get all the asbestos and get rid of it. We’ll make a profit from the sale, and then we’ll get on the tax rolls by making four house lots over there. If you drive by there now, the building is gone, the house lots have been surveyed, and they’re getting ready to pour foundations. So we’re going to have four brand new houses in that area as opposed to a blighted community.”

Central to the housing conversation is the question of affordable housing, an issue for which Hopkins says Cranston is ahead of the curve.

“There’s a certain percentage that you have to have in the city,” he said. “10% of new housing has to be low to moderate income. We’re at like 16%.”

He continued, “Anytime I sit down with a new contractor or a new building, for example across the street here on Pontiac Ave there’s an old office building being renovated into apartments, straight across from Waterman School. I told the gentleman, if you want to build here, you need to put some single family apartments that meet the low to moderate income. So if not, your plan is not going to be approved. So they know that ahead of time as they come in. So of the I think twelve apartments going in there, at least three or four of them are low to moderate income and we’ve done that in every single development that we’ve worked on.”

The taxpayer

Hopkins has focused throughout his term on finding ways to fund all the city’s projects with minimal load on the taxpayer, not always an easy task. Hopkins says timing is crucial.

“Most of the projects are done in phases,” he said. “You work across the aisle with the federal delegation. For example, we did Itri Park, that was phase one. We’re not going to do phase two until we secure the grants. So we’ve generated, oh my goodness, millions of dollars in the past three and a half years by working with the federal delegation. And then when that money comes in, you use it to continue to work in the city.”

Speaking on necessary work on the city’s infrastructure, his tune was the same.

“We’ve been spending on average $4 million a year on infrastructure,” Hopkins said. “One of the things people don’t understand is, for example, Park Avenue. You drive it now, it’s bumpy. That’s a long range project to put in new waterlines, new gas lines, and you have to let that area settle. It takes three months to settle. Once it’s settled, we’re going to put a brand new asphalt road and pave from one end of Park Avenue to the other, and that takes money. That takes federal money, that takes capital money from the city.”

The Cranston Public School District makes up more than half of the city’s budget each year, and is a particular challenge to any mayor due to the mandates put on funding for public schools put on by the state.

Hopkins will unveil his budget plan in a presentation to the city council and school committee on April 1, but in the meantime, he was willing to speak on the necessary measures taken to balance the schools with the rest of the vital services the city budget must account for.

“All I can tell you is what we’ve done on our end,” Hopkins said. “Last year’s budget, I trimmed from $325 million to $320 million. We offered incentives for retirement and laid off people to trim that budget and still provide the city services. When the snow came this year, we plowed it, curb to curb. When the trash comes, we pick it up, and the infrastructure is being done. So city services, police and fire, recreation facilities, they’re still maintained a high level, even though we trimmed the fat, and to me, that’s good government.”

That good government, Hopkins says, has resulted in a $4 million surplus. That and a new finance director, Thomas Zidelis.

“He came in knowing there was a huge deficit,” Hopkins said. “His ability to help us fix it is one. The messaging to our directors, our finance directors, department directors, to tell them ‘hey listen, you have X number of dollars. Don’t go over that.’ If you can reduce that and still provide the service, that’s what we’re looking for. Every single department did that. Nobody overspent their budget, right? I would suggest that maybe the schools have to do that.”

That’s not to say Hopkins doesn’t understand the unique challenges the school system faces.

“Education is unfortunate because they get mandates from the state,” Hopkins said. “When the mandate comes in, the burden is upon the taxpayers.”

“You have to balance between what's good for the schools, what's good for the teachers. What's good for the students, and what's good for the town,” Hopkins continued. “Sometimes you have to slow the process down and say wait a minute, if the state's giving you that mandate, well maybe they have to pay you some more money.”

Hopkins hopes that despite the challenges, the city can keep its tax revenue at a zero increase for next year.

The floods

With the city facing more and more catastrophic flooding with each year, there will likely be more and more projects needed to fund the tide.

“Unfortunately, it’s not an overnight fix,” Hopkins said. “We’ve met with the federal delegation that sent in the premier emergency management team.”

The rain events that cause the flood, of course, can’t be prevented. But Hopkins says the city’s subterranean infrastructure must be addressed in order to minimize the damage those events cause.

“We’ve had storms, 40 year storms, 100 year storms in the last decade,” he said, “that the underbelly can’t handle. You’ve got an 18 inch pipe going into a 24 inch pipe, going into a 36 inch pipe, and then back to an 18 inch pipe. If we get more than I think the quote that I got was more than two inches of rain in one hour, we will get flooding… You have to divert the water so that it doesn’t flood these houses.”

“When I was in Washington, I met with Jack Reed looking for federal funding. We came up with a $2 million grant to dredge and buy property along the Pocasset River. And we’re working with the mayor of Johnston to determine what are the worst parts of that property. For example Fletcher Avenue, we’ll be buying some houses over there.”

The race itself

In the short time the mayoral race has been active, there have already been several barbs directed at Hopkins. Mayor Hopkins says he’s trying to stay above it, in regards to both his candidate in the primary, State Representative Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, and his potential candidate in the general election, City Councilman Robert Ferri.

“They’re desperate to find things,” Hopkins said. “They can’t find anything because there isn’t anything. I have no problem with either one of them. Other than I think I deserve another chance to continue the good work that we’re doing in the city. That we can’t afford the learning curves, because neither one of them have the experience.”

The mayoral race will be running concurrent with the Presidential race, and of those candidates, Hopkins had this to say:
“I’ll be supportive of whoever’s going to do the best for the country. Right now we don’t know who that’s going to be.”

He continued, “Listening to the President’s speech last night (this interview took place the night after the State of the Union Address on March 7). I’ve seen the rhetoric from former President Trump, I don’t know if either one of them are going to be there at the end. But my feeling is, the federal delegation reports to the state delegation, state delegation reports to the city, and what’s best for Cranston, that’s what I’m all about.”

Ultimately, Hopkins sees Mayor of Cranston as the final act of a diverse career, and he wants a chance to see things through to the end.

“I'm at the end of my career, so to speak,” he said. “I've had some great opportunities in my life, to be an educator, to be a college baseball coach, to be a college women's basketball coach. I've traveled all over the world because of the jobs that I've had. I feel very fortunate to have the life that I have. And I think the people of Cranston that I see when I go out in public, they're very happy with what we're doing right now.”

Mayor Hopkins will be giving a presentation on the Cranston city budget for 2024-2025 before city council and the school committee on April 1. A livestream of the presentation will be available through Cranston’s youtube channel,

Hopkins, re-election, business


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