Brett Smiley officially kicks off his campaign for Mayor of Providence“Eight years ago, I made the hardest decision of my professional life and stepped aside to help prevent our city from taking a huge step backward and reelecting Buddy Cianci. But I never stopped pursuing my vision for what I know Providence can be. At a time when too many seem to just be running for “something,” this is the only job I have ever thought about running for because I love this city.”
Published on March 28, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist
Brett Smiley, candidate for Mayor of Providence, officially launched his campaign on Monday with a speech that hit the current administration of Mayor Jorge Elorza for being “distracted by new shiny initiatives that are better left to the state and federal governments” and not doing enough about basic quality of life issues, such as snow removal and city building maintenance. Smiley also hit on the issues of public safety and schools.
Notable for being in the room were City Council President John Igliozzi and City Councilmembers Michael Correia and James Taylor, Building Trades President Michael Sabatoni, State Representative Edie Ajello, Providence Republican Party co-director David Talan, and many past and present members of Governor Raimondo and Governor McKee’s leadership team.
Here’s the video, followed by his full speech:
“I am running for Mayor because I love Providence. Like more and more people, I chose Providence. I have lived and worked elsewhere and know that what we have here is special. We have all the ingredients to be a world-class city – vibrant, diverse neighborhoods, some of the best food, arts and culture in the country, top universities, and thousands of small businesses. We have assets that most cities can only dream of. We also have the potential to be the best-run city in the county by focusing on what matters – simple quality-of-life issues.”
“Why is it that year after year, our streets and sidewalks only get worse? It’s maddening to see newly paved roads ripped open only weeks later by a utility company due to a lack of coordination.
“Why is it that every time it snows, it’s as if it’s the first time we’ve ever plowed? Proper snow removal shouldn’t take days and includes clearing not just our streets, but also sidewalks and bike lanes.
“Why have we allowed our city to become dirty and in disrepair? Our recreation centers need maintenance. Our sewers regularly overflow. And graffiti isn’t removed for weeks or months.
“And why is it that anyone – whether a small business owner or a working parent still needs to physically come to city hall to fill out a form. It’s 2022, and well past time to finally digitize our city systems.
“Well, because of long-standing financial problems, and an unacceptably underfunded pension system, these quality-of-life issues keep getting kicked down the road. That stops now. That is why I’m running – to get back to basics in Providence. It’s time to improve city services and put your tax dollars to work for you.
“In order to be the best-run city in the nation, we need informed and responsible budgets which will require three drastic shifts. First, it requires refocusing the attention of city staff and city funding toward these top quality-of-life issues. We can’t get distracted by new shiny initiatives that are better left to the state and federal governments. Second, it will mean a culture shift. No one should ever hear ‘that’s not my job’ but rather always be greeted with ‘let me help you solve this problem’. And third, it means a real plan for economic development so we can grow our city’s resources and revenue. For too long, we’ve been without a comprehensive plan to grow our local economy and have relied too heavily on the State to do our work for us.
“We have an opportunity to rebuild Providence’s post-pandemic economy and to do it in a way that supports every single person in this city. We’ll start by investing in main street businesses and ensuring every neighborhood benefits from the funding. We’ll invest in transportation – both locally and regionally while strengthening our relationships with nearby cities. And we will ensure a full recovery for our hard-hit downtown, which remains the center of not just our city but of the entire state. And we cannot forget that our economy cannot grow in a sustainable way until every person has access to stable and affordable housing.
“Listen, I know that improving quality of life also means addressing the crime in our community. Violent crime has been at an all-time high. Homicides are up and people feel unsafe. This isn’t about crime in just one neighborhood, this is happening throughout our city and it is unacceptable.
“It is also complex – there is no one solution to this problem. But the solution starts with making sure our police force has the tools, staff, and perhaps most importantly, the support it needs to keep us safe. And it includes where and how we deploy our police. That means officers attending our community meetings, walking the beat, riding bikes when they can – out of their cruisers and in our neighborhoods.
“We are a national model and should build upon the decades of community policing in our city while we explore creative alternatives– like diversion programs and on-call behavioral health response teams. There is a good pilot program underway on this because we know that not every 911 call needs a response from an officer with a gun. This will free up officers to focus on violent crime and on removing illegal guns off our streets. Our goal is to prevent these crimes before they happen and that will take all of us, including continuing partnerships with organizations like the Institute for Nonviolence and Family Services. It also requires immediate and significant investments in opportunities for youth– employment, recreation, and education.
“Good schools are critical to public safety and economic development. People deserve to live in a city with good schools. Businesses want to move to cities with good schools. In order to be the best-run city in the country, we need to have the best-run schools. After letting down our students for decades, the State took a big step in taking over the Providence schools. Unfortunately, soon after, the pandemic hit, and the takeover never really took off.
“We can’t sit on our hands and wait for the State to fix this. I believe the Mayor should be the strongest advocate and champion for our students– and that’s even more true in light of the state takeover. As Mayor, I will hold the State accountable for the progress of this takeover. I’ll fight for high-quality schools in every neighborhood, we will recruit a diverse workforce and retain top teachers, and we will expand career and technical training to ensure our students graduate college OR career-ready.
“Our vision for the future will improve every neighborhood and support every resident in Providence. You may know that there are a couple of big challenges coming our way: Twenty years ago, Mayor Cicilline negotiated the first agreement with the colleges for payments in lieu of taxes. That agreement expires this year. Ten years ago, Mayor Taveras negotiated with the unions to suspend certain pension costs. That deal expires next year. And last year our city received a ton of federal money that makes it look like we don’t have any financial problems – but that money will soon be spent.
“These factors could cause a crisis, but I think it can be an opportunity. To be prepared for this moment, we need a leader that isn’t learning on the job. I was Providence’s first Chief Operating Officer. I was Governor Raimondo’s Chief of Staff. I was the Director of the state’s Department of Administration. I’m the only candidate who has managed a budget and personnel of this size, I’m the only candidate who has negotiated union contracts, and I’m the only candidate who has already managed city operations.
“Eight years ago, I made the hardest decision of my professional life and stepped aside to help prevent our city from taking a huge step backward and reelecting Buddy Cianci. But I never stopped pursuing my vision for what I know Providence can be. At a time when too many seem to just be running for “something,” this is the only job I have ever thought about running for because I love this city.
“I’m proud to have raised more support than every other candidate. We have the most organized campaign and because of folks like you, we have volunteers and endorsements from every corner of the city. I’m committed to finishing what I started. I know that together, we can make Providence the best-run city in this entire country and a truly world-class city.”
After his speech, candidate Smiley took questions from reporters, where at one point he clarified that one example of Mayor Elorza “distracted by new shiny initiatives” was his embrace of the universal basic income pilot program, a privately funded experiment supported by the Rhode Island Foundation and the United Way that brought thousands of dollars to Providence residents in need. See: First payments in PVD Guaranteed Income Program already effecting positive change
Smiley also clarified his thoughts on the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR) and School Resource Officers (SROs):
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