Alexis Schuette ran for Pawtucket City Council in 2020 as part of a slate of women candidates sponsored by the It’s Her Time PAC. On Election Day, Schuette trailed her opponent, 30-year incumbent John Barry III, but after mail-in ballots were counted, she took the Ward 4 seat. Of the six women who ran under the It’s Her Time banner, only Schuette and Melissa DaRosa won their elections, but some of the other races were nail-bitingly close.
You can watch the full interview here:
The other It’s Her Time candidates haven’t disappeared, noted Schuette. As social activists heavily involved in the communities, “We’re all still here. We’re all still working hard and nothing’s really changing about that.”
Schuette, 34-years old, is not a native Rhode Islander. She grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. but when she settled in Pawtucket for a job, she said, “Oh my gosh, this feels like home. And I don’t quite know why, but especially moving to Pawtucket, there are a lot of similarities between how I feel living in Patucket and how I felt living in Winston-Salem.”
Shortly after being sworn in, at the first meeting of the new Pawtucket City Council, Councilmember Schuette, working with Council President David Moran and fellow city councilmember Terry Mercer passed a motion to eliminate “rule 24” and replace gendered pronouns with “either gender neutral ones such as ‘them’ and ‘their’ or ones specific to positions.”
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“I try to look at the dockets that we’re given in a very neutral sense and say, you know, if I’m looking at this with fresh eyes and if I could change anything that would benefit either myself or the community, I’m gonna try to take the opportunity to do that,” said Schuette. “And I also felt it was my responsibility, running as an out, queer, progressive person. I use she/her pronouns, but because I kind of give off vibes that aren’t traditionally feminine, I do get asked a lot, you know, what are my pronouns? And I appreciate those types of questions. It led me to realize, when I was looking at the rules sheet, that it would potentially help folks who maybe don’t fall into a gender binary spectrum.
“If they were running in the future, or, like me, they found themselves actually winning an election and sitting on the council – to be able to look at a rule sheet in the future and say, ‘Oh, this already reflects me because it doesn’t actually split into that kind of binary sense.’ Things written in older language just tend to have that type of lexicon. So I thought, I’m just going to give the council pro tem, Councilor Mercer, a call and ask his thoughts on this because it’s kind of an untraditional ask.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to like tell people ahead of time what we were doing, but again, Pawtucket is an amazing place,” continued Schuette. “It is progressive. And especially when it comes to issues that have a level of sensitivity to them, like pronouns or gender and presentation, I had a good feeling that it wouldn’t be a controversial ask to strip that language, make it more inclusive overall. And it was a quick, simple change that I hope will benefit someone down the line.”
Moving onto policy questions, we spoke briefly about the Pawtucket Schools, which remain mostly closed due to COVID-19. Since the government of Pawtucket clearly separates the responsibilities of the City Council from the responsibilities of the School Board, the council has little say in the way that the schools are managed. Still, Councilmember Schuette defended to the decision to keep schools closed, for now.
“It is an incredibly complex issue, when you talk about the needs of every student that is in these districts and the decision to remain closed,” said Schuette. “Knowing the schools in my district and also knowing how the rates of COVID-19 have stayed high and increased in Pawtucket and Central Falls in particular, I couldn’t see making another decision than what they have made, just to keep the community safe. Personally, I would not sacrifice anyone’s health for what I think is sort of an invisible threat of this learning loss concept. I don’t think there’s such a thing as learning loss because I think every day is a new opportunity to learn… So I would rather have our kids, parents – everyone involved in education – stay safe until bigger roll-outs of the vaccine occur and we have more ability to get safe as a community.”
Other issues include the addition of a new soccer stadium as part of the Tidewater Landing project, and what to do with the now empty but iconic McCoy Stadium.
“I think everyone in the Pawtucket community just wants to make sure that McCoy does not become unattended,” said Councilmember Schuette. “I want it to be used in some capacity. It is a great area. I’d love to see Patucket baseball played there at least one more time. Honestly, my personal delight would be to see the Pawtucket Slaterettes play there or having community baseball leagues from all over the state come and say goodbye at some point, once COVID is gone, just to give McCoy a proper sendoff if it’s no longer going to be a stadium.”
One of the issues Councilmember Schuette ran on was green municipal waste management solutions.
“I’ve been personally using a private composting service for almost the whole time that I’ve lived here,” said Councilmember Schuette. “It’s as simple as, I have a little bucket, I fill it up every week, I put it on my porch, just like I would for a trash can, and then they give me a new bucket and we swap it out, keeping organic waste out of the trash system.
“We can get that compost back and use it to rebuild areas of Pawtucket, but it also helps with a lot of the nuisances that have come into the city because you know, if there’s trash around, you have rats, you have pestilence, you have other types of things that come and then eat that organic waste.
Councilmember Schuette hopes change the conversation in Pawtucket away from landfills and transfer stations and to encourage composting “either through private industry or through the city starting some kind of composting movement. I hope we can get that done. I think it would help on a lot of fronts, but it would most certainly help with the the issues that we’ve had where rats are coming into residential districts in droves.”
In the full interview, Councilmember Schuette and I discuss drivers licenses for undocumented Rhode Islanders as an economic issue for Pawtucket, issues of policing and building better ways to protect residents, and more. You can watch it all in the video above or listen to it here.