10 to Watch

Karina Holyoak Wood

Co-chair of the Ward 3 write-in campaign


• 46 years old
• Native of Birmingham, England; came to Providence 17 years ago
• Used to be a grassroots lobbyist in Washington, DC, and run public education campaigns on arms control, nuclear disarmament and cooperative foreign policy
• Is a board member for the Nathan Bishop Middle School Parent Teacher Organization, and a member of Rhode Island Zero Emission Vehicle Working Group

• Was a co-founder and coordinator for the 2010 Rhode Island is Ready campaign, which successfully advocated for a statewide education funding formula

What She Does By Day
Wood does double duty against smoking by working as the Director of Public Policy for the American Lung Association in Rhode Island and Director of Tobacco Free Rhode Island. In those roles, she advocates for policy like the 2013 ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products in Providence. She also engages in a lot of volunteer roles and activism, particularly around public education and open government. For example, she was Vice-Chair of the Open Providence Commission for Transparency and Accountability in 2012. “That has always been an interest of mine: transparent government, ethical government, government that serves the people, that involves people in public policy decisions,” she says.

But What Really Caught Our Attention...
Ward 3 Councilman Kevin Jackson had already raised the ire of some constituents by not filing campaign finance reports, but when he volunteered to co-chair Buddy Cianci’s mayoral campaign it incited a mini-revolt. By that time the filing deadline for candidates had passed, and Jackson was on the ballot unopposed. Undeterred, a group of incensed Ward 3 residents lined-up a write-in campaign behind Providence Community Library founding president Marcus Mitchell; Wood took the co-chair role. “It was like an uprising in the ward,” she recalls. “It revitalized interest in the potential of choice. When incumbents run unopposed, that doesn’t help our democratic process.” This wasn’t Wood’s first attempt at unseating an incumbent. In 2006, she was the Campaign Manager for former Councilman (and then husband) Cliff Wood’s successful run against the Council’s Deputy Majority Leader, Rita Williams.

Unseating an incumbent is always a formidable challenge, but doing so without the benefit of even having a candidate on the ballot seemed impossible. However, the challenge proved to energize both bases and the result was the highest voter turnout in the city in Ward 3. The election proved to be closer than anyone imagined, too. Jackson and Mitchell each won two of the four voting precincts. Mitchell ended election night with a slim lead at the polls, but once the mail ballots were counted, Jackson held on to his seat. While the final result wasn’t what Wood hoped for, she remains undaunted about the prospect for political change. “People really are concerned when they see elected officials violating campaign finance law and disregarding the rules. That doesn’t help the process. When people know what’s happening they do care and really want to hold their leaders accountable,” she says. She’s even positive about the prospects for Councilman Jackson, saying, “Hopefully he will be a better councilman as a result of being challenged.”

What About Her Own Prospects?

With an extensive background in citizen activism and grassroots organizing, might we expect to see Wood on the ballot someday? “I may be interested in running for office myself at some point,” she speculates. “I think more women need to run for office. I love politics. I’m very interested in just being engaged at whatever level I can be helpful.”


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