Brown’s Salomon Center was packed. The local TV news cameras were poised. And the combatants were primed and ready to mix it up. The result made for a lively and entertaining evening on the East Side as the three candidates vying to be the next Mayor of Providence tried to make their cases. Was there a winner before this mixed crowd of supporters, students and East Side residents? Based on our informal poll afterwards no one we spoke to changed their minds based on anything they had heard on stage. Then again, a good percentage of the people we spoke to were either unregistered students or lived out of the city.
The debate was moderated by Ross Cheit, a Brown professor of public policy and political science, who asked difficult, well-researched one-on-one questions to each of the candidates… Vincent "Buddy" Cianci on his checkered past, Jorge Elorza on his lack of managerial experience and Dan Harrop on charges of ethical misconduct over an apartment eviction flap some 22 years ago. It made for interesting theatre as the candidates sought higher ground to answer the pointed probes. Buddy appeared less combative and somewhat more remorseful than in the past as he responded to Cheit’s hardball questions, several of them gleaned from Mike Stanton’s book Prince of the City. Jorge was able to present himself, despite his lack of managerial background, as a fighter based on his housing court success in bringing the CEO’s of our local banks to task for foreclosure abuse. And Dr. Harrop provided much of the levity for the evening as he explained his eviction problems stemmed from his poor decision to go after a Harvard Law student who was his tenant. “Won’t make that mistake again,” he joked.
Unfortunately the format, which had been agreed to by all three candidates and whose rules were rigidly enforced by the moderator, meant that a candidate was not able to rebut charges made by the others. Since most of time this meant a lot of two on ones against the ex-Mayor, his supporters afterwards were claiming “foul.” Just more of the East Side going up against Buddy, they charged.
Three things I took away from the debate. One is how verbal and quick all three candidates have become after the last few weeks of head-to-heads. This suggests the final TV showdown, scheduled for Channel 10 on October 29 at 7 PM, should fall into the “must see” category.
A second was a question from Cheit that suggests their respective management styles. When asked about their positions on TSA’s (Tax Stabilization Agreements) with developers, the three had rather different responses. To Dr. Harrop, it was a non-starter: “I don’t believe in them, though in the case of the Superman Building he “might” be persuaded to take a piece of the equity in return for some tax concessions. Jorge Elorza took a sort of “off the shelf” approach. He’d go along with TSA’s as long as there were rules that applied equally to all developers. Buddy, on the other hand, saw the need for some flexibility. While agreeing to the need for parameters as to what the City could accept, he felt TSA’s were critical negotiating tools for the City given the reality of the increasing competition to attract outside developers. He also was the only candidate who questioned the legality of the Alice Building TSA currently before the City Council extending it from 15 years to 20.
And finally it was also interesting to watch the three candidates as they nervously awaited their impending moments on stage. Dr. Harrop quietly chatted with some well-dressed East Side acquaintances. Jorge was seen getting some last minute instructions from his team. And as for Buddy, he was busy chatting up the African-American Brown security officer, some folks in the audience and even the TV cameraman setting up by the stage. Don’t know if any of them were registered East Side voters, but it is this human touch that has made Buddy the indomitable presence he continues to be, win or lose.