The primary in Ward 1 to replace Councilman Seth Yurdin, who resigned last month midway through his term, will be held on March 3. But since only three candidates, all Democrats, have declared, for all intents and purposes, it is The Election. Despite just a few weeks to campaign and a low voter turnout expected, given the myriad of issues facing both the Ward and the City as a whole, the stakes are high.
Complicating matters, population shifts and new boundaries now divide the Ward into three distinctly different parts with uniquely different residents, issues, concerns, and constituencies. A third of the Ward is the Fox Point area – South of Angell to the Bay, the Jewelry District, and most of Downtown.
For generations, Ward 1 was made up of mostly hardworking immigrants, and the Councilman and Ward Committee played a significant role in the leadership of City government. Streets were always plowed first, curb-to-curb, as many of the workers’ mothers and families lived in the Ward! Then in 2003, a young Brown Graduate David Segal, representing the Green Party, used Brown undergraduates’ votes to snatch the seat, but in so doing, ending the Ward’s influence.
The good news is all of the candidates are active in the local neighborhood or business associations and have also been working together to form the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations and so know the Ward. While they are in agreement in their opposition to the proposed Fane Tower and the attempt of the current City Council to change the calculation of property taxes to the detriment of the East Side, there are several other major issues, both city and state, that will impact the Ward significantly: proposals to restructure I-195 ramps and the Henderson Bridge, the critical need for better zoning enforcement, improving downtown safety, and, of course, education.
Here are the profiles of the three candidates, and we urge voters in the Ward to make every effort to get to know them.
Nick Cicchitelli, 34, lives on Wickenden Street and is in his second year as President of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association. He has lived in Fox Point for nine years and is a Wheeler School graduate. He works at Northeast Ventures, a real estate and property management company, and has master’s degrees in both political science and public administration.
As President of the FPNA, Cicchitelli has been a leader in a series of battles with both the City administration and the state. “I fought against the tiered property tax bombshell that was dropped on us at the last minute. We won. I think that it’s wrong to pit neighborhoods against each other and that changing the tax formula should not be made that hurts many long-time residents who are on a fixed income. I think that reforms should be based on independent, comparative analysis of other cities.”
“Another key issue is keeping the 195 Gano Street off-ramp open. This impacts both Fox Point and the Jewelry District, and I think that the City has not recognized its importance. When it was closed, businesses in Wayland Square and Fox Point took a big economic hit and I will lead that fight.”
He believes that the shortage in the City’s housing supply needs to be addressed with standardized public incentives while also investing in more affordable housing developments.
On jobs, Cicchitelli wants to see Providence become a leader in green technology and the knowledge economy. He also wants to see Providence continue to support green transportation, including expanding bike lanes and encouraging a bicycle culture as to lessen our dependence on cars, reduce emissions, and mitigate parking shortages.
As the Ward 1 Councilperson, Cicchitelli’s main priority would be the residents of Ward 1, protecting the neighborhood interests and addressing all of the quality of life issues to make sure they are heard. He’s very well-known in the Ward, and as we talk in the Coffee Exchange, a steady stream of well-wishers extend their support and good wishes on the campaign.
John Goncalves is 28 and lives on Ives Street and has spent most of his life in Fox Point. He is a fourth-grade teacher and the Lower School Unity and Diversity Coordinator at Wheeler School, where he graduated, and has authored a children’s book. He attended Vartan Gregorian Elementary School and frequented the Fox Point Boys & Girls Club before Wheeler and Brown University where he earned a BA and master’s degree. He was a teacher and worked for several politicians in Minnesota before moving back to RI. His mother, a long-time Fox Point resident, still lives here and his base is strong.
Goncalves’s extensive political, organizing, and activism résumé belies his youth by many years, and his list of citations from local politicians makes it clear that he is in a hurry to move into the elected office. He is a board member of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, the Brown Alumni Association Board of Governors, the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, and belongs to the Wayland Square, College Hill, and Mile of History Neighborhood Associations. He has worked on crime watch and neighborhood clean-ups, a climate justice plan, school improvement advocacy, and the Gano Street exit issue, and helped spearhead the formation of the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations to tackle common overlapping issues.
Goncalves was also one of the key leaders in the property tax fight last year and was appointed to the City Council’s advisory committee where he is presenting a 40-page study on new ideas and options. He is confident that many of the reforms and methodologies will resonate with the committee. However, the City Council President and the majority of the Council have made it quite clear, both publicly and privately, that the issue will not go away, so some mitigation may be his best outcome.
Goncalves knows the Ward issues firsthand, having had a ringside seat for most of his life. He knows where improvements need to be made and he’s shown that he’s a hard worker in coming up with solutions. Working with an often contentious city council will be his biggest challenge.
Anthony Santurri is 60 and lives at The Regency Plaza. He owns both the Colosseum, a multilevel facility with three themed clubs, DJs, live music, and Free Play Bar Arcade for the 21+ adults on Pine Street. He is a founding member of the Providence Nightlife Organization and has been a leader working with neighbors, law enforcement, and elected officials to ensure public safety while promoting continued small business economic growth in the City.
Santurri is a co-founder of the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, a board member of the Jewelry District Association, a founding board member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, and member of Rhode Island Pride (awarded the PrideFest MVP in 2018 for his work championing the rights of the LGBTQ community). He is a member of the Traffic Safety Coalition, and for his work in the nightlife organization, he received the Providence Police Community Award.
“My major asset, and what I will bring to the First Ward and the City as a Councilman, is my ability to build relationships through unity to achieve solutions and common goals,” he explains. “I want to see the City expand and prosper, and a key part of that is taking care of the current residents who deserve a Councilman that will quickly respond to their concerns and work to preserve and improve their quality of life. Addressing basic services like potholes, snow removal, and police presence must be a top priority.”
Santurri is open to bike lanes, but wants to make sure that they are safe and don’t create more congestion that increases safety issues for both riders and drivers. He points to the bike lane next to the new 1,200-car garage next to the Courthouse as not well thought through. He wants to see bike and scooter rental operations enforced for safety and that the companies are responsible for keeping vehicles stored and not littered around.
“I have a well-established and respected track record in the business community, the public safety community, and in the neighborhoods,” he exclaims, just as six police officers walk into the Dunkin Donuts where we are talking. They all greet him warmly – not a set-up, he swears, but maybe a good cliché moment.