Cyd McKenna is an urban planner by training, but she’s better known for some recent high profile gigs: first as campaign manager for Buddy Cianci’s 2014 comeback tour, then community outreach work for the new PawSox ownership group. The Providence native lived in Boston, San Francisco, Washington, DC and Durham, NC before returning home for this job; she is bullish, yet realistic, about her hometown’s prospects. McKenna believes Providence should focus on its strengths, and stop pretending we’re going to recreate Cambridge in the Creative Capital. “We need to have more confidence in who we are and stop trying to figure out how to be somewhere else,” she says.
The chief of staff appointment tops a major staffing effort by the council, which also includes a new Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations division and adding a press secretary. Under Council President Aponte, the 15-member legislative body has demonstrated that it is not content to simply work in the shadow of the mayor, as it often has in the past, instead taking a more active hand on issues like tax stabilization agreements, and hiring its own lawyer to look into Mayor Elorza’s dispute with the firefighters. McKenna’s job is to help craft policies, shape messaging and improve processes to ensure the council’s success. She sees her biggest challenge as “getting past the perception that the council doesn’t want to work with the mayor,” noting, “It’s not going to work without collaboration.”
“Thoughtful urbanist,” are the words McKenna uses to describe her new boss, Aponte. She believes he will have a synergy with Mayor Elorza that will be an improvement over past mayor-council president tandems. “I don’t think there’s been that same-page excitement and energy before,” she says. Her initial priorities look more towards the nuts and bolts than the big picture: a revamp of the Council’s website, an emphasis on improving internal systems and a big push on communications. “What I hope to do is incorporate modern thought processes into delivering what the City Council members need,” she explains. The council’s recently released economic cluster analysis, which identifies potential growth industries for the city, is a huge priority for her as well. More than just growing the city’s tax base, she believes it’s important to also ask, “What’s a tax dollar that can stay in Providence and actually improve the lives of Providence residents?”