CAMPAIGN 2020

City Council hopefuls in wards 2, 6 make case

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 10/22/20

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Aside from the contests for mayor and three open citywide seats on the City Council, voters in two wards will soon decide contested races to represent their neighborhoods on the nine-member council in the coming term. In Ward 2,

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CAMPAIGN 2020

City Council hopefuls in wards 2, 6 make case

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Aside from the contests for mayor and three open citywide seats on the City Council, voters in two wards will soon decide contested races to represent their neighborhoods on the nine-member council in the coming term.

In Ward 2, Democratic Councilwoman Aniece Germain faces a challenge from Republican Zac Sailer as she seeks a full term in the seat to which she was appointed earlier this year following the resignation of Paul McAuley.

In Ward 6, Democrat Paul Bucci and Republican Matthew Reilly are vying to succeed Republican Councilman Michael Favicchio, who cannot seek reelection due to term limits.

In all, between the citywide race and the two ward contests, the council could have five new faces when the next term begins in January.

The ward seats may also prove pivotal in terms of which party controls the council for the next two years. As it stands, two ward council members from each party – Democrats Lammis Vargas of Ward 1 and John Donegan of Ward 3, and Republicans Ed Brady of Ward 4 and Chris Paplauskas of Ward 5 – are seeking new terms without opposition.

The following profiles of Germain, Sailer, Bucci and Reilly are based on interviews of the candidates conducted for the Herald’s Radio Beacon podcast, all of which can be found in full at anchor.fm/radio-beacon. Aniece Germain

Democratic Ward 2 Councilwoman Aniece Germain’s story began in Haiti, a place she calls a “beautiful country with a beautiful story” despite its challenges and struggles.

In 2009, Germain left her homeland to begin a new life in Cranston. In the years since, she has co-founded the organization Hope and Change for Haiti with her husband, Norly, and become involved in “supporting social justice and equality for all” through a number of organizations, including the Cranston Action Network and the Providence branch of the NAACP.

Now 44, Germain and her husband have three boys. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy from Boston College.

Last year, Germain was a candidate for appointment to the Ward 2 seat on the city’s School Committee, which was opened by the resignation of Stephanie Culhane. The appointment ultimately went to Kristen Haroian.

Earlier this year, she became the first Black woman to serve on the Cranston City Council following her appointment to the seat vacated by Paul McAuley’s resignation. At the time of her council appointment, she had already announced her plan to run for the seat after McAuley said he would not seek reelection.

Education is at the heart of Germain’s campaign for a full term in the Ward 2 seat. She spoke of the struggles she faced in completing her education in Haiti, and of her own children’s experiences in Cranston’s schools – including one of her sons receiving a SunButter sandwich, rather than a hot meal, one day over a mistakenly unpaid school lunch bill.

“I went hungry to school. I know what it’s like studying hungry. And I know you cannot study hungry,” she said. “And if you want to be successful, you have to have a good education. And a good education comes with all the resources to get a good education.”

She added: “We have a great school system, but we don’t have enough equitable resources for the schools, and that’s impacted the learning. And my mission is to see how we can have equitable funding … Education is the foundation of our society.”

The school district, like the city as a whole, faces continued financial uncertainty as November nears. State leaders have yet to adopt a budget plan for the fiscal year that began July 1, leaving a projected $4.1 million increase in education aid to Cranston’s schools in limbo. City leaders essentially removed that funding from the local budget approved earlier this year in hopes it could be restored once, and if, the state funding materializes.

Germain said she favors using city funding to bridge the $4.1 million gap. She is consponsoring a resolution introduced by Council President Michael Farina calling on Mayor Allan Fung to use the city’s “rainy day” fund to temporarily make the district whole.

“My vote will be for any money we can find to secure money for education,” she said.

Germain said she “100 percent” supports the district’s $147 million bond question to fund a five-year facilities improvement project. She added, however, that she wants to ensure the investments are spread “equitably” throughout the city.

“We don’t have the infrastructure for the 21st century,” she said.

Germain also addressed the school reopening process, which she said has been “really hard for some parents.” The pandemic, she said, has “opened eyes” in terms of inequity that exists in the community.

“Not all parents have the luxury to keep all the kids home … Parents have a really, really hard decision to make,” she said, adding: “I think policymakers have a lot on their plates right now to rethink how we do things.”

In terms of economic development, Germain said: “I am for having development. But at the same time, I am for people having a decent quality of life …Before I can say a yes or a no to a project, I have to really, really ask questions and know the consequences that will have on the quality of life of the people. That’s how I see it.”

She also said if elected, she would work to foster new activity in existing, vacant commercial spaces.

In terms of her August email to council colleagues regarding the role of police in public schools, which drew a swift response from several Republican candidates, Germain said she had “wanted to start a conversation” but had been “naïve” in her approach. She said she has since met with Chief of Police Col. Michael Winquist and the president of the local police union.

“It was dirty politics, really dirty, and I learned my lesson … Unfortunately, my word was taken really in a distorted way,” she said.

She added: “I know the value of police officers. I am not for defunding the police. At the same time, we cannot be blind of some systemic issues that we have.”

Germain supported Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos during the Democratic mayoral primary, calling him a “friend” whose 2018 reelection bid she had worked on. Now, she said, she is excited at the prospect the city could elect its first female mayor.

“I support Maria Bucci for mayor of Cranston 100 percent,” she said.

Germain also noted she did not initially plan on running for council this year, but entered the race at the urging of Stycos, Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan, Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and others once McAuley announced he would not seek a new term.

“I was already in the fight … I am always, since even I was in Haiti, always engaged, always involved,” she said. “But frankly, I think I have another perspective to bring, a new voice. Zac Sailer

Republican Zac Sailer, who turned 24 in August, traces his desire to become involved in city politics back to his time as a student in Cranston Public Schools.

Growing up “lower middle class” with parents who were out of work at various points during the last recession, he said, also shaped his view of civic involvement.

“I’ve been really motivated to get involved since I was a kid … I really want to be a good voice for my ward, the middle class,” he said.

After graduating from Cranston High School East, Sailer attended Rhode Island College and then the University of Rhode Island, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. Now, he is working toward a master’s in urban education at Providence College, with a focus on one day teaching students with disabilities in Title I schools.

Sailer also points to Republican mayoral candidate Ken Hopkins, in whose class he was a student at East, as a driving force behind his decision to become a candidate for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council this year.

“His positivity, his way of being a visionary for our city, was something that really attracted me to joining the team,” Sailer said.

In terms of the city’s financial outlook amid the economic fallout from the pandemic, Sailer cited public safety and education as specific areas in which he would work to maintain spending and services. The latter, he said, carries personal importance given his experience as a student when Cranston Public Schools last grappled with significant cuts, following the 2007-08 financial crisis.

“Where we start to divest in education, we’re going to start to see students divesting in their schools,” he said. “So that’s how I felt, I know that’s how a lot of my classmates felt, is that our city sort of failed us in those cuts. I personally have vowed to make sure we never put our kids in the middle of a budget war sort of like I felt I was.”

Sailer acknowledged the city faces an “unpredictable situation” due to the continued uncertainty surrounding a new round of federal stimulus funding and the state’s lack of an approved budget. Asked if he would consider supporting a supplemental tax increase as a council member, he said: “We can’t raise our taxes too much. Not to say that I can commit to no tax increases, but we want to make sure what we’re giving our taxpayers is what they’re paying for.”

In terms of the school reopening process, Sailer said he has been “disappointed” in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s approach to this point, which he views as having “put our school committees in a pretty tough spot.” He pointed to his endorsement from the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance and said if elected, he would advocate to ensure educators and students have access to the “reliable” technology needed to successfully conduct distance learning.

He also described himself as a “huge advocate” for Question 2 on the Nov. 3 ballot, which asks voters to approve a $147 million bond for an ambitious five-year school facilities improvement project. The bond, he said, is “fiscally responsible” and addresses a vital need for the city’s schools.

Sailer echoed many other elected officials and candidates when asked for his views on the Costco-anchored Cranston Crossing proposal for the current Mulligan’s Island property, calling it “just not a good fit for the city.” Elsewhere on the economic development front, he said he supports Hopkins’s “vision” for “reinvigorating” Rolfe Square.

“I’d love to see that place become a real walker’s destination … I think we could really take it to the next level,” he said.

Some controversy has arisen during the course of the Ward 2 race. In August, Sailer and other Republicans swiftly issued public statements after it emerged that Democratic Councilwoman Aniece Germain, in an email to her colleagues, sought to explore a ordinances related to the role of police in public schools.

“I personally just did not see it as a Cranston issue … Our school resource officers are trained to be in the schools,” Sailer said, adding: “If we wanted to start a conversation, we could have brought those people to the table and had that discussion.”

Sailer supported Hopkins throughout the councilman’s often-contentious Republican mayoral primary contest with Council President Michael Farina. Hopkins, he said, is “definitely the clear choice” to succeed Allan Fung as mayor – and party unity heading into November has not “ever been a question.”

“We’re working hard, we’re motivating each other, and we’re really driven on one thing, and that’s to make Cranston better,” he said.

Asked if he has encountered skepticism on the campaign trail due to his young age, Sailer said: “I think a lot of people are excited. I think they want somebody new, or a fresh face.” Paul Bucci

Democrat Paul Bucci, an educator at Cranston High School East, is no stranger to running for and holding public office.

A graduate of The Governor’s Academy – formerly Governor Dummer Academy – who played hockey under legendary coach Dick Ernst, he spent four years as a member of the city’s School Committee in the 1990s after earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and history at the University of Rhode Island.

In 1998, he made an unsuccessful bid for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council – a loss he now sees as a “blessing in disguise,” allowing him to focus more fully on family.

Bucci, 51, met his wife during the first phase in his career, when he worked in the banking industry. But around 2000, feeling unfulfilled professionally, he decided to pursue a new vocation – teaching.

“I fell in love with it,” he said.

In addition to his work in the classroom, Bucci also coaches cross country at Cranston High School West and track at Cranston East. Now, at a very different point in his life, he has returned to the civic arena with a run for the council’s Ward 6 seat.

“Now that my kids have gotten older, I’m just looking to serve my community on the City Council,” he said.

In terms of the city’s financial situation, Bucci acknowledged the “uncertainty” that continues to exist on the state and federal levels.

“I think as of right now, for the next couple of months, we just have to wait and see,” he said.

Asked how he would approach the situation if elected to the council, Bucci said: “You can’t solve a problem with a confrontational approach. You have to be willing to sit down, agree to disagree … Everyone has good intentions. We all want the same results. We may have different opinions on how to obtain those results, but we all want to do what’s right.”

Regarding the possibility of a tax increase, Bucci said he views that as a measure of last resort.

“The worst thing you could possibly to anyone during hard economic times is raise their property taxes … I think raising taxes is that last thing anybody should be looking at,” he said.

Bucci said he has a similar “wait and see” outlook when it comes to the Cranston Public Schools budget. With no state budget yet approved for the current fiscal year, a projected education aid increase of roughly $4.1 million remains in limbo.

“I don’t think the city … can back itself into a corner and approve $4.1 million when they don’t know they’re going to get it,” he said, adding: “I think right now we’ve just got to be patient.”

Bucci said he supports the district’s $147 million bond question for facilities improvements – “You have to invest in your schools, you have to invest in your buildings, because it’s all about the future” – and he spoke highly of the approach Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse and the School Committee have taken toward the reopening process.

“They’ve come out with a plan, and they’ve been following that plan … We’re not winging it in school. It’s a well-defined plan,” he said.

Economic development has been a hot button issue in Ward 6 this campaign season following the introduction of plans that commercial and residential development, dubbed Cranston Crossing, anchored by a Costco wholesale club.

Bucci said he is strongly opposed to the plans as proposed. In general terms, he said, economic development in the city must be done in a “responsible” way.

“I’m all for businesses coming to the city of Cranston, but they cannot come at the expense of a neighborhood or the community … Whatever goes in at Mulligan’s must fit in with that surrounding neighborhood,” he said. “It’s a quality of life for those people up there, and you simply cannot put a price tag on quality of life.”

Bucci said voters frequently ask if he is related to Democratic mayoral candidate Maria Bucci (which he is not). He said he remained neutral during the primary contest between the former Ward 5 councilwoman and Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos, but now strongly supports the party’s nominee.

“Although we are not related, she’s an outstanding candidate … I fully support her, I think she’d be a great mayor.”

Bucci touted his endorsement from IPBO Local 301, and said he believes his pitch to voters will have appeal in a ward that has been represented by Republican Michael Favicchio for the last decade.

“I’m a moderate Democrat,” he said. “I believe in strong public schools, strong public safety, responsible economic growth, accessibility, accountability.” Matthew Reilly

Republican Matthew Reilly attended George Washington University in the nation’s capital after graduating from Cranston High School West in 1999, and then returned to the Ocean State to pursue a career in real estate.

Then, around, the subprime mortgage crisis forced Reilly to reconsider his path.

“Times got tough,” he said, “and I had to find a new way.”

He decided to pursue a law degree at Roger Williams University, and during his studies he “fell in love with” family law as an area of focus. In the years since, he has helped people navigate some of the most challenging times in their lives – and he is often appointed as a guardian ad litem, someone a judge designates to make recommendations regarding the best interests of children in such circumstances.

After working under various different attorneys, including a Warwick-based firm, Reilly said he decided to open his own practice earlier this year.

Now, the 39-year-old has decided to make a run for the Ward 6 seat on the City Council. He said he hopes to “accept the torch” from leaders like Mayor Allan Fung and departing Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio, and “to protect the city’s funds” moving forward.

“I think mayor has worked tirelessly to put this city back together and to building us a strong foundation … there’s a very big risk that somebody could come in and spend all the money again,” he said.

Reilly also pointed to Ken Hopkins, a citywide councilman and the Republican candidate for mayor, as a driving force in his decision to run.

“It’s hard to say no to Ken … It was an honor to step into the ring with him,” he said.

Reilly said the economic fallout of the pandemic represents “one of the largest challenges that this city has ever faced or hopefully will ever face.” The next slate of city leaders, he said, will have to “fight for what we need at the state level,” and he believes Cranston should partner with neighboring communities in that effort.

“We’re going to sit down, we’re going to look at what we have, and we’re going to put together a plan … We really have to band together as neighbors and find the best approaches and put together the best practices to move forward,” he said.

Reilly said tapping the city’s “rainy day” fund would be “one of the last things” to consider when it comes to bridging budget gaps.

He added: “Everything’s on the table, though … Could there be tax increase? Of course there could be. We don’t know how much we’ve lost yet.”

In terms of funding for Cranston Public Schools in light of ongoing uncertainty surrounding state aid, Reilly said he is optimistic the situation will reach a favorable resolution. While he believes the schools ““do deserve to be funded appropriately,” he questioned whether “fully funded” truly means meeting the district’s requested budget figure each year.

Going forward, he said, “I think if anybody has to take a hit, everybody takes a little hit.”

Reilly said he was initially skeptical of the district’s $147 million bond question for a five-year facilities improvement project, but after learning more he is fully supportive of the proposal.

“We need to rebuild all these schools … I’m hoping that this school bond is just the beginning,” he said.

Reilly also praised Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse as “amazing” and said he is supportive of how the district has handled the reopening process.

In terms of economic development, Reilly said Ward 6 has become the “economic engine of the city over the past 10 years” thanks to the revitalization of Garden City Center and the growth of Chapel View.

“You’re always going to have your detractors who don’t want new development. And that’s OK, that’s natural,” he said. “But as long as you take everyone’s opinions and points of view into consideration, and develop it responsibly, I’m all for development. We need to expand our tax base.”

Reilly said he strongly opposes plans for a Costco-anchored commercial and residential development at the property that currently houses Mulligan’s Island. Like several other Republican officials and candidates, he said he favors the site instead being used as the home of a new indoor youth sports facility – and that there are prospective buyers of the property interested in that kind of project.

“All it is is a money grab for the developer, for the current owner, and it’s going to be done on the backs of the Cranston taxpayers and neighborhoods,” he said of the Cranston Crossing project. “And I’m not going to let that happen.”

He added: “I’d love to see a Costco nearby … but not at the expense of our city.”

Reilly also spoke of Hopkins’s plans for a revitalization of Rolfe Square as a model for improvements in other parts of the city. Investments in public infrastructure like sidewalks, he said, will help foster the growth of small businesses and the emergence of pedestrian-friendly commercial areas.

“We have to make it inviting,” he said.

Reilly served on the most recent iteration of the Charter Review Commission, which has recommended four charter amendments for voter approval on Nov. 3. Two of the measures, he said – a new cap on annual increases in the city’s property tax levy, and a minimum balance requirement for the city’s “rainy day” fund – are especially important. “They are more important than who’s going to be mayor. They are more important than who’s going to be on the City Council. Because they are going to outlast us all,” he said.

Reilly issued a statement late in the GOP mayoral primary between Hopkins and City Council President Michael Farina in which he made his endorsement of Hopkins public. That statement also used language that was clearly aimed at, and sharply critical of, Farina without naming him.

“Some people take this stuff way too seriously, and there’s a lot more to life than city politics … It is what it is at this point, and I think the voters saw everything for what it was and elected the right person,” Reilly said.

Reilly said he believes the next council will “be in good hands” despite the departure of many long-serving members. He views maintaining Republican control of the body as a top priority, however.

“The city should not be run on an ideology, whether it’s on the right or the left,” he said.

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