“The more I watched what was happening with Rep McNamara and the rest of the leadership in the General Assembly, the more convinced I became that I could do a better job. I want to serve my community, and I believe many in my district are ready for a new voice.“
Stuart Wilson is challenging incumbent Joseph McNamara for his House District 19 seat in the Democratic primary on September 8. McNamara has represented the district for a quarter of a century and hasn’t had a primary challenger in well over a decade. McNamara is a close ally of Rhode Island Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, chairs the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee, and is the chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. McNamara is Rhode Island’s political status quo personified.
Wilson grew up in Rhode Island, and has worked in education throughout the state, teaching with organizations like ¡Providence CityArts!, The Gamm Theater in Pawtucket, Ella Risk Elementary School in Central Falls, and others. One of the drivers of his decision to run was seeing the challenges facing schools across the state and in Warwick specifically, and understanding that the work being done currently by the state’s legislature hasn’t been sufficient to meet and solve those challenges. Wilson married to Nicky Mariani and has two children.
UpriseRI conducted the following interview by email.
UpriseRI: What made you decide to run for State Representative in House District 19?
Stuart Wilson: I’ve had ideas for education in the state during my career as a teacher and artist. I’ve always been interested in what I can do to make life better for people. In 2018, I was very disappointed that my supposedly Democratic State Rep endorsed a Trump supporter over an incumbent Democrat in the Democratic primary. She’s a strong progressive woman and the kind of representative we need more than ever. The more I watched what was happening with Rep McNamara and the rest of the leadership in the General Assembly, the more convinced I became that I could do a better job. I want to serve my community, and I believe many in my district are ready for a new voice.
UpriseRI: Do you think the Rhode Island General Assembly has been serving the people of your District?
Wilson: No. When schools are failing in Warwick and Climate Change is directly threatening our coast? I don’t believe they’re being served. There are lots of working class families in the district; I talk to them every day. They don’t make a living wage and the General Assembly refuses to make a plan to get them there.
UpriseRI: Your opponent is an incumbent Democrat, a committee chair with close ties to Speaker Mattiello and House leadership, and he chairs the Rhode Island Democratic Party. How has he not been serving his constituents?
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Wilson: He takes money directly from both the Speaker and House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi. It’s almost impossible to separate McNamara from the leadership. He’s happy to talk about money he brought in for a local playground, but that’s not enough.
UpriseRI: What issues are motivating you? What are you hearing from people as you go door to door, or however outreach is done during this pandemic?
Wilson: Education remains as important to me as ever, and I hear about it far more than anything else as I talk to people. (I do go door-to-door with a mask, sanitizer, and three big steps back after I knock on a door.) People have no idea what school is going to be like when it reopens. There’s a lot of very valid concerns on all sides of the issue of reopening versus distance learning.
I’m disappointed that we haven’t been prioritizing schools more. It motivates me to work on education long term because I see the current crisis related to pre-existing issues. I want to do a better job of pooling resources and knowledge at the state level. I would like to see more funding from the state to eliminate disparities in education throughout the state. Schools need money to run safely and the state needs to ensure that schools in low-income areas are safe.
I’m also interested in workers’ rights and protections. The pandemic has revealed holes in the social safety net. We need to fill the holes.
UpriseRI: In addition to the crisis of COVID, Rhode Island is facing a reckoning with our history of racism and slavery, as well as an economic crisis, a housing crisis and an unemployment crisis. It’s a big job right now. What are your instincts as to what should be done in the short term and the medium term?
Wilson: It’s a big job and it needs big, new ideas. Right now we’re spending far too much money treating the symptoms instead of the causes. Long-standing racist institutions need to be rebuilt. We need to reinvest money on direct support for low-income communities and minority communities. Providing housing for the homeless isn’t just the right thing to do; it saves money. We should have cooling centers for anyone who needs them. We need more affordable housing throughout the state. We need to be asking, who will be building that housing? Who will be renovating an empty building into a cooling center? (That’s an idea from a neighbor by the way – thanks, Gary) Who will we send when a social worker would be more appropriate in a situation than a police officer? Rhode Islanders need jobs. Solving these problems aren’t mutually exclusive goals. Many of these ideas would help all Rhode Islanders, but we need to always be looking for ways to ensure minority voices are specifically being heard. In the medium term let’s definitely elect some more BIPOC!
UpriseRI: Let me ask about particular subject areas. Where do you stand, and what are your ideas on the Environment:
Wilson: We need a state-wide Green New Deal. Emphasizing jobs in sustainable energy. I happen to edit a chemistry magazine. Climate Change is very real and we need to be mobilizing immediately.
UpriseRI: Health Care
Wilson: All Rhode Islanders should have access to affordable healthcare. Expanded Medicaid has helped many people here, but the state needs to fill in the gaps.
UpriseRI: Reproductive Rights
Wilson: I firmly support a woman’s right to choose. I was incredibly proud and grateful for the work of the women that pushed to establish Roe v Wade protections as law in the state.
UpriseRI: LGBTQ rights
Wilson: Yes! Like with abortion rights, I think we should ensure that these are encoded into state law as a backstop against any homophobic or transphobic laws made in Washington.
Wilson: Let’s completely overhaul the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights to start. We need much more civilian oversight so we can actually get rid of bad cops. We should also be reallocating money spent on militarized police departments towards mental health service and other, more effective methods to actually serve our communities.
Wilson: I’ve been named a “Candidate of Distinction” by Moms Demand Action, which I’m very proud of. We need an assault weapons ban and strong background checks. Guns need to be taken away from domestic abusers.
We need more homeless shelters, but also publicly-funded long-term affordable housing.
Wilson: I’ve taught throughout the state. I’ve seen the disparities first hand, and I’ve also seen a lot of great ideas that aren’t being shared. The state should be addressing the funding disparity better. We need to do a better job of working between districts as well. For example, teachers should be able to take a job in another district without losing their tenure, seniority and other benefits.
UpriseRI: What other areas do you feel need attention?
Wilson: I have no idea why we can’t make sure every kid in this state has a healthy breakfast and lunch. Hungry kids can’t learn. It’s shameful.
UpriseRI: Is there anything I should have asked that I didn’t, or anything else you want to say?
Wilson: We have our own one percent in Rhode island. Let’s raise the income tax on those making a half million a year to 9%.