Profile: Mike Fink on His Race for City Council

The retired RISD professor makes his move in Ward 3 as an independent candidate

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One of the hottest and most contested city council races of the recent September Democratic primary centered on Providence’s Ward 3. The race came down to a two-person showdown between Sue AnderBois (who was endorsed by Councilwoman Helen Anthony of Ward 2) and Corey Jones (endorsed by Councilman John Goncalves of Ward 1). AnderBois’ winning margin was less than 15 votes out of some 2,600 that were cast. But in contrast to the chaotic politicization rampant in so many other areas around the country, as the recount was being held to verify the results, both candidates said they were satisfied with however the final vote came out.

As it turns out, the winner will have an opponent in the upcoming November election. Mike Fink, running as an independent, is a lifelong resident of the Summit Avenue area of the East Side with a story to tell about each and every one of its streets. “I actually still live with my family in the very house I grew up in,” he notes with pride. 

Fink is well known throughout the community as a raconteur, inveterate lover of coffee houses, and a well-respected recently retired professor of English at RISD, where he taught for over 60 years. He can be best described as intellectual, soft spoken, creative, gentle, and energetic. 

But the obvious question is: “Why in heaven’s name is he running for office at his age?” “Part of it is because Susan dissed me after she won and told a mutual friend that her only opponent left is this 90-year-old guy. That upset me. It’s fake news! I’m only 88,” he jokes.

“The truth is some people approached me about running,” Fink explains. “I always like to try new things, and I was elected president of my class when I was in the seventh grade at Nathan Bishop many many years ago, so I thought ‘why not?’ My wife wasn’t quite as sure. But now everyone’s bought in and the whole family is pitching in. My campaign signs were in fact made by my granddaughter.”

So what issues are most important to him? “Climate change for sure, although we called it something different back then. My nickname in school was ‘nature boy.’ After graduating from Yale, I made the decision that arts and education would be my avocation, and RISD would be a perfect landing spot.” He has been a popular cornerstone at RISD for over six decades for his out-of-the-box thinking in English and film. 

He feels the Hope Street bike path is not a great idea. He loves the third ward because of its wide variety of small but attractive housing and believes there needs to be more of it throughout the community, but his biggest goal is to see if he can use his communication skills to get people with divergent ideas to work better together. “In my view, if you can’t change an adversary’s mind, then you need to learn from them and elevate their thinking to create what I call a better generosity of spirit,” says Fink.

His campaign signs illustrate a potential generational communication gap, however. The well-crafted signs show an old campaign slogan from the ‘50s, “I Like Ike,” but with a hand-drawn “M” added before the word Ike. Clever. The only question is how many of his constituents even know who Ike is – but does that even matter?

Interviewing Fink, I recalled a classic commercial from the ‘60s for Life, a new Quaker Oats cereal of all things. Three young brothers are eating breakfast. In front of them are three heaping bowls of a new cereal that is supposed to be good for them. Neither of the two older brothers has any desire to taste it first (“I’m not going to try it – you try it!”). So they try to get their little brother Mikey to do it (“Let’s get Mikey, he hates everything!”). Little Mikey briefly contemplates the bowl and then begins to eat it enthusiastically as the brothers exclaim, “He likes it. Mikey likes it!”

I admire Mike(y) Fink, who at age 88, after prodding from others, decided to try something new. We should all be so lucky.

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