OP-ED

The End of an Error

Reflecting on the outgoing mayor’s decisions in light of new leadership filling seats

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The Democratic primary, otherwise known as “the election” for mayor is over, and now it’s time to move the city forward. Outgoing Mayor Jorge Elorza pushed a very progressive agenda, often at the expense of taxpayers and businesses. Without the American Rescue Plan Act money, the city would have been even closer to bankruptcy, and rather than address long-term critical financial issues, the administration funded short-term programs and initiatives, which will have no money available to maintain them when the well runs dry.

The biggest problem as we see it is that despite his good intentions, the outgoing mayor often seemed to make his decisions by talking to a handful of people who shared his views, and then implementing a new initiative, oftentimes ignoring many of the residents and small businesses who would be most impacted. The Great Streets Initiative is certainly at the head of the list as lanes disappeared, signs went up, and we were often the last to know. Good concept. Woeful execution.

During their debates, the three candidates for mayor all seemed to agree on most critical needs going forward: public safety, education, and infrastructure need to be the absolute priorities – along with a serious look at the pension bond that was conveniently approved when few voters were around this summer. 

We’d throw in two more: the new mayor will have to develop a new PILOT (payment in liew of taxes) program with the colleges, universities, nonprofits, and perhaps a possible expansion to private schools. We deliberately emphasize the word “new” because this should not be a renegotiation of the last plan, which was not as favorable to the city as it should have been. The second issue is Rhode Island Energy, which acquired National Grid, and holding them to responsibly repair streets so we aren’t left with a pothole nightmare. 

A linchpin in rebuilding Providence, however, will be mending fences with the governor and the legislature. It will be difficult to get back everything that Providence lost over the last eight years, but the groveling needs to start immediately. A first step should be getting the city out of the penalty box over the 195 District.  

In fairness, we residents do bear some responsibility. We elected Elorza and the City Council, which behaved so poorly that the state felt compelled to step into “our sandbox” and take control over the most critical development of this century. We even lost the ability to have the final say in what the new construction in Providence might look like (referring to the Fane or Superman buildings). 

But the city has not been helped by a 195 Commission lacking consistent leadership, a limited understanding of the impacted area, and most recently displaying questionable sensitivity in kowtowing to outside agendas without fully engaging area businesses and residents. 

What we have gotten, many would argue, has not been in the city’s best interest, especially the lack of thought and oversight with regard to traffic and parking. Even the wonderful Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge – which may be the best recent addition to the city, its absurd cost notwithstanding – unfortunately dramatically increases additional expenses that the city has incurred for police, parks, and DPW. 

There are only a handful of development parcels left, but fortunately there’s still time to institute a thoughtful and competent design review committee, respect the fabric of the neighborhoods, try to figure out the traffic and parking nightmare, and maybe even create some linkage, enabling funds from new development be directed for affordable housing in other parts of the city.  

Moving forward, we now at least have a new mayor and council and we’re ready to take back our city. It’s about the best we can offer as an apology, since between running our public educational system and downtown planning, they have had pretty much everything they wanted.

Two new projects have been proposed that will help. The proposed multi-million-dollar plan to upgrade Burnside Park into something more resembling New York’s user-friendly Bryant Park certainly has potential but is short on details at present, especially acknowledging the need to humanely solve the current problems there. The new outdoor market set to open next spring sounds like a winner, too. But again, we’re assuming there will be proper civic engagement and transparent communication. 

More than 10 years ago, we were promised a slew of high-paying jobs in meds and ed. So far, it’s been mostly beds and more beds.

So, to the new governor and the legislative leadership, we offer our most humble apologies, and please give us our city back.

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