Politics & Elections

Senate District 3 candidate Ray Rickman

“I’m the substantial person in this race. People who want to vote for dreamlike stuff, I was told this morning to tell them I’m a dreamer. I really am. I’m a Kingsian, I’m a Du Boisian and I’m all of these things and I have done it all my life. I’m my mother’s child. And I have as much esprit de corps as any candidate in this race, I have stood before thousands and inspired them.”
Photo for Senate District 3 candidate Ray Rickman

Published on September 21, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

UpriseRI conducted interviews with all five candidates in the special Democratic primary election to replace east side State Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) who has taken a job with the Biden Administration in Washington.

Candidate Ray Rickman is a former State Representative and Executive Director of Stages of Freedom, a non-profit that promotes black cultural events for the entire community. We conducted the interview by Zoom, and the conversation has been edited for clarity.


Links to all the interviews

Samuel Zurier Bret JacobGeena PhamRay RickmanHilary Levey Friedman


UpriseRI: What are your most important policy ideas and what are the most important issues you plan to deal with as state senator, were you to be elected?

Ray Rickman: At the general assembly we put up an issue and then we spend four or five years getting it passed or moderated or whatever. And we agree that civil rights can wait. Every year we talk about the issue and we get more votes and we jump up and down because we go from 10 votes to 40, finally to 50. It’s absurd that people have to wait on their rights. It’s absurd and it requires militancy. I want my rights and I want them now. So what I’m going to do is two things: I will put a bill in and go to court because about a third of these things are won in the court.

We never take them to court. I think it’s a crime to charge people, 29% or usury, on these payday loans. We have an obligation to protect citizens from payday loans. And people don’t call out why we have payday loans. It’s called Bill Murphy, so he can make some money. [Bill Murphy is the former Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives who now works as a lobbyist for pay day loan companies.] I don’t know what people are paying, but it is got to be millions. I’m going to involve the economics departments at Brown and Bryant. Bryant in particular claims to be thinkers and doers, that they’re going to stretch and change the world [but] I’ve never seen a single one of these economic departments do a thing on economics for Rhode Island.

Don’t misunderstand me, everybody is not obligated to do the same thing and be a crusader. But in an economics department with 25 professors there ought to be change actors. And I don’t think there are any in any of these schools. So I would like to embarrass them. First thing I’d like to do is invite them all to a round table and say, “What are you doing for the people of Rhode Island? Show and tell.” And they’re going to say nothing. So I’ll say to them, “Let’s start by you getting a grad student to work on payday loan.” It’s probably the easiest thing to work on. And by work on, I don’t mean ask the legislature to pass a bill, I mean, embarrass the legislature and Bill Murphy.

UpriseRI: I am right there with you on payday loans.

Rickman: Payday loans are something that’s bothered me for 10 years and they’re only like three entities getting rich on them, and they’re not Rhode Islanders by the way.

UpriseRI: Oh, I know. I’ve seen them fly in, walk directly into Speaker Mattiello’s office, then walk right into the committee room where the hearing’s are going to be. It’s pretty ugly.

Rickman: And it needs to stop. But to my point, I think we’re too civil. We need to say, “Now!” on all of these things I love. The Democrats have a $15 minimum wage, which is three years out. And the wage is now $15.15 on its own because all the people at McDonald’s kept quitting.

UpriseRI: I see what you mean. But the minimum wage under the state law is still $11.50.

Rickman: And only a fourth of people who were paying that a year ago pay it now. A woman who works at Marshalls, a friend of mine, is up to $16.50 because all the new workers get 15 bucks. All boats rise.

UpriseRI: Upward pressure on wages.

Rickman: But are you ready? You sitting down? The head of Marshalls gets a six or seven million dollar bonus every year when the workers get a raise .

UpriseRI: That doesn’t surprise me. Let me get back to the questions. What do you consider to be your biggest areas of policy concern?

Rickman: I was asked to run for this Senate seat eight years ago by Michael van Leeston. He took me to dinner and he wanted me to run for it, be a voice in the Senate, with Harold Metts. I refused and said, “Michael, my days are over for that stuff. You know, going out in the street, begging people for votes, begging people for money I’m done.” But two years ago, I went to lunch with [Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director] Steven Brown and got Casby Harrison as a lawyer. We were going to sue the school district over violence at Classical High School. Parents had come to me the year before telling me how their sons were being bullied and the principal wouldn’t do anything because there was no physical contact. You had to have a level of violence before they help you. One of the kids said to me, “Why don’t they hit me and be done with it versus threatening me all the time? It’s just nerve wracking.” So I promised him I’d do something about it, and I went in the federal court and got a court order forcing the administration to deal with the violence.

There’s no violence in charter schools, no violence in parochial schools, no violence in private schools. None, seriously, there’s an incident every 10 years. It ain’t much. My brother went to Quaker school and they gave him a little piece of printed paper that says, “Frowning is a prelude to violence. Don’t frown at people.” And for an extended frown, you have to come into the office because people think you’re going to take the next step. Everybody sees you doing it, by the way. So you’ve create this environment.

We can do that. You get in trouble for threatening people, not just hitting them. You get in trouble for hitting them. If you hit them in a serious way, you get removed from the school and sent to another one. Polls show 90% of people like their high school, no matter how bad it is. So there are all these reasons that kids will behave. That’s why they behave in charter schools. The parents want them in that charter school. So we can create that environment on violence. We can create that environment on almost everything.

Now I tell people, Ray Rickman is not a genius. I just look closely at Ann Arbor. I look closely at Moses Brown and I see how they do it. But I also live in a neighborhood with millionaires. I’m the poorest person around. When their child gets in a little academic trouble, they send them to Sylvan [Sylvan Learning of Cumberland] and Sylvan puts them in the side room, 90 minutes, three days a week, bored to death, improving their grammar or math scores. Providence sends them to the after-school program where there’s music and dancing. And I don’t mean classical music. I don’t even mean Motown. And they party up and down the halls. They play games, they bring their phones and their videos. And every once in a while, we’ll even have a pregnancy come out of it.

We don’t have a real after school program. Sylvan is an after school program and we need to mimic it. Either pay for people to go to things like Sylvan or create one. An after school program is a place to study, not to be entertained. Someone ask me, “Can we afford Sylvan?” and the answer is yes. The administrative costs of these afterschool programs I’ll bet you would be the same as putting these kids in Sylvan. And again, I’m not a genius. Sylvan works. All 12 kids I know who went there got better grades. And, by the way, they teach you study skills.

You can teach a kid coding, you can teach a kid anything. You just have to teach them – and you have to have a quiet environment to do it with. I’m going to the general assembly to help the 23,000 Providence kids who are stepchildren of the state. One of the things I’m going to push for, I want a Special Master. I want to take it from the commissioner and give it to a Master.

UpriseRI: That’s what they did in Lowell Massachusetts.

Rickman: Yes. You hire somebody. It’s their own job. You give them five assistants and it’s someone who’s done it before – a 65-year old retiree from Somerville or Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’re not going to play the race game, the gender game, any game in our hiring. Who has done this in the last 10 years? We’ll pay them top dollar, which will be less than what we’re doing now, and give them a big office on the top floor with a view of all of Providence. They have to report to the school board every 10 days. And that person being paid good money, with nothing else to do, who’s done it before, will improve the system.

UpriseRI: Speaking of school violence, there’s a push from the Providence Student Union to remove school resource officers from schools because they see it as a a part of the school to prison pipeline. They object to being policed in their schools. What are your thoughts on that?

Rickman: I never had any cops in my school. You have police in school because there’s violence. We’ll get rid of them in a year. Let’s get rid of the violence. What’s wrong with Providence Student Union is they’re almost always in a hurry. There’s a reason police are in school. We need to eliminate the reason and then eliminate the police. And that can be done right now.

Let me go to the extreme. We know that the killing outside of the three high schools? Three or four kids told me about it after the killing. And I chastised them and told them they should have told me beforehand. For six months everyone knew about that beef going on and there was no intervention from the police, no intervention from the school administration, nothing. And then those two people got out and they did what a lot of gang kids do. They shot at each other with the intention of not hitting each other. They really don’t want to kill each other and they don’t want to go to jail and they didn’t do anything big enough to be killed anyway, but it is street cred. The bullet goes astray and kills the nicest kid in the whole complex, right? That’s not uncommon. Bullets go astray. I’m going to work on this legislatively. Anytime you hear about two school kids having a beef, you must intervene. You let them know you know. You see if you can put a stop to it. Kids shouldn’t get killed doing nothing but waiting for a bus. Unbelievable.

UpriseRI: That was heartbreaking.

Rickman: Heartbreaking. Tears in the eyes. And then of course it sent shock waves through the public schools. You know, everybody’s worried about where candidate’s kids go to school, whether they go to private schools or charter schools or public schools. These candidates are judged. But only 2% of people are going to vote for or against anybody because of where their kids go to school. But I have 2,500 kids in our swim program and 1100 of them are Providencians, so I tell people all the time I have 2,500 kids. The killing shattered them. There’s no defense against standing at a bus stop and being killed.

UpriseRI: It’s like lightning strike or something.

Rickman: Back to the Providence Student Union. I’ve tried to work with them off and on – not successfully. I’m not criticizing them. I praise everybody who was in the streets rallying for social justice. So I’m in total praise of them, but they want to get rid of the cops without the reason for the cops being there. People didn’t make up why cops need to be there.

UpriseRI: Their point is they want counselors. They want mental health counselors, guidance counselors, nurses and social workers. Not cops.

Rickman: Patrick Kennedy and I are best of friends. I’ve been on this mental health kick for 30 years. My sister is head of mental health counseling for a school system in St. Clair Shores, outside of Detroit. We talk regularly and they have wealthy white kids committing suicide. That’s their number one problem. There are answers to all of this. There are answers to every single thing. I watch rich people, wealthy people, find the answers nine out of ten times, but they don’t find them a hundred percent of the time because their kids commit suicide too.

These 23,000 Providence students need an advocate. That’s why I’m running for the Senate. It is the only reason I’m running for the Senate. I have a House license plate, number three, in my bedroom. I don’t need a Senate three plate. I don’t need the salary. It’s not a stepping stone for a higher office. I am going to the legislature, four hours a day, starting on the 6th of October to work on this. I met with the Providence Teacher’s Union the other day. I can’t disclose what we talked about, but it’s wonderful. And I’m going to meet with them every two weeks. You know, they’re the “villains” because we come up with short answers to big problems.

It’s the administrators. It’s the superintendents. It’s the state board. It’s the former governor, it might be this one. They are not doing their job. And sometimes it’s hard to get people do a job because they have 12 jobs. I have some sympathy for people who have all these problems and you’re the superintendent of schools and you have 23,000 people to care for.

UpriseRI: Maybe the answer to this is obvious that I don’t need to ask it, but has the state takeover of Providence Schools been a failure?

Rickman: A total and bombastic failure. I want to start on the right foot. This new Commissioner of Education was as in-your-face as I’ve ever seen a public person. Bruce Sundlun wouldn’t have talked like that. That’s not how you start.

UpriseRI: Switching subjects, Rhode Island is getting $1.1 billion in ARPA funds. The general assembly and the governor can’t agree on what to do with it. What are your thoughts about all that money? What should we be doing with it?

Rickman: I wrote the governor a note, nothing fancy, and I said, half of it should go to fixing existing problems. The behavioral health community – this is a moment to help people. That’s the preference. I think every single school district should be given a little innovation money and I don’t want to say what innovation is. They should get $750,000 bucks for innovation. Innovation could be something to make life better or it could be a new science lab. I don’t know what it is. Then the other half of the money should go to change, to innovate. Here’s a moment we’ll never get again.

For example, have a nuclear reactor down at the University of Rhode Island on the water. $16 million a year for nothing, no original research, nothing, just an ugly blue box. 70 years ago Eisenhower gave away 50 of them. 49 of them are closed. I asked the former speaker and he was dialoguing with me and the finance people about closing it. Take that $16 million a year and put it in an education fund for everybody who’s at poverty level. You can come and get some money to go to x-ray technician school, or daycare for your kid, whatever you want. Start an educational fund and a hundred years from now, we’ll have a Brown University type endowment for education. I’m serious – a billion dollars – if you spend 90% of it and put 10% back in it, I did the economics.

That’s the kind of thing I’d like to see us do. When this money is gone, it’s all gone. And we have given too much to people’s friends who don’t produce anything lasting, or even interesting.

My next big thing is to plant 10,000 trees in Providence a year from now. It’s a ten-year program. I’ve got a deal with God – Let me live to be 85 or more so I can get my trees planted. We’ll see what God thinks about that, you know, I’m a practical person. I’m going to put a system in place where it gets done, whether I’m here or not.

But next on my list, I’m going to build an Olympic swimming pool for Providence. Olympic plus. Bigger than Brown University’s. If the 7,000 people at Brown have Olympic swimming pool, why can’t the 180,000 in Providence have one? AndI know how to finance it. Brown won’t rent their swimming pool anymore. We can rent our swimming pool one day a week and pay for the maintenance.

I’m giving you examples of things that they could do that would make a difference in the lives of 50,000 people. And I said that very clearly to the governor in writing. Four years from now, we need to say, “Look what happened out of this federal money – Not anything we cannot see or feel.”

UpriseRI: Moving on, what are your thoughts on policing in general, given what happened in 2019, with all the marches and rallies in the wake of George Floyd…

Rickman: Stop your moderation. Cops have been killing black people since the 1840s, okay? Sheriff would go on the plantation and the owner would say, kill what’s his name for talking back to me. Then they kill him in front of 50 people – a reign of terror. Frederick Douglas said the slaves could kill the owner and mistress of the plantation just by setting on them. You got 200 slaves and three folks and one of them was a 10 year old kid. They can’t defend themselves, so they create a reign of terror. Police were created for this purpose. Providence got police because we had race riots – the sailors were terrorizing the black community. And we got a police department out of it.

The purpose for police departments was never pure and clean, ever. Most of it was to keep Black people in their place. And remember, we were an apartheid society until 1965 and 65, the passags of the civil rights bills. So Black people have no rights before 1965. I get so tired of people acting like this great nation has been this way for a hundred years. It’s been this way on some accords for a hundred days, 10 years, 20 years.

You know, we have Black millionaires. When I was a kid, AG Gaston in Alabama was the only Black millionaire in America. Then there’s me, a solid middle upper class person. I live in a nice house and got some money at Fidelity. Cops have cracked my skull, beaten me in the face. Junior high school, high school, Mississippi, Providence. The late Carl Levin had to get the FBI to come and protect me. This is not ancient, this is society. Then, two years ago, everybody not paying attention realized that Black lives matter. Do they matter?

I haven’t seen anything. The Rhode Island Foundation set aside $8 million, which it has not spent.

Police were constructed to oppress Black people. And they are no different than Citizens Bank, which wouldn’t make a loan to anybody Black. All these institutions are created to elevate white people and denigrate and hurt Black people and keep us in our lowly place.

UpriseRI: Given that, should we be cutting police budgets?

Rickman: No. Why would you cut the police budget in the middle of crime wave?

I’m a diversity trainer on police conflict and violence avoidance and all that stuff. I am able to do it cause I’m a Kingsian. It’s difficult for me because I say, “I just spent three hours here and how much change did I create?” Sometimes I go away and I say, “There were 200 officers in the room and I got five who plan to be better.” It’s not a good use of my time that God has given me. Exactly two and a half years ago. I decided not to do them anymore no more because life is limited. I’m going to tell St. Peter that after I spent thousands of hours talking to police officers, I’ve come to the awful belief that that system is stronger than I am.

We come up with this symbolic, really cute stuff, “Defund the Police.” And I’m told that the youngest people in the Black Lives Matter room came up with that 80% silliness. Of course, all the women, all the minorities on the force, the BIPOC people, would go first because it’s a seniority system. The force would get whiter and older. So they haven’t thought that through. But secondly, we need new services. We need wrap around mental health, emotional health responders.

The last police ride along that I did the police got the stun gun out against a man who weighed 550 pounds and he was nude. I stood there kind of shocked and I was ashamed of myself later beause I didn’t tell them to stop. They were proud of themselves for not shooting him. This man has done nothing except they have mental illness. The stun gun didn’t work. They hit him three times. A Catholic nun came along and brought a sheet and ordered him to wrap up in it. This is the need for more training because they’ve gotten to the point where they think it’s lenient and they’re proud for using the stun gun versus a real one.

Everything is complex. I tell the Black Lives Matter people – Most of you are new to this game and you need to think before you speak. The police force is probably the right size, but is it the right police force? No.

UpriseRI: Rhode codified Roe v Wade at the state level, but given what’s happening in Texas and nationally, where do abortion rights go from here?

Rickman: These persons, including the ones running for this Senate seat, calling the president of the Senate names are misguided. The Senate passed what we just talked about. Leadership has agreed to leave this alone in spite of what they believe. You saw Congressmen James Langevin move in our direction after 20 plus years. So we’re in the ascendancy in Rhode Island, and we’re okay. What we need to do is be part of the national campaign because of the United States Supreme Court – if we don’t either expand it or get Congress to enact legislation – we are going to be in trouble. When it’s not the law of the land it can’t be the law of Rhode Island. And that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to create a movement here. I’m going to create funding mechanism to see that Rhode Island helps nationally.

I don’t believe in the sacredness of the Supreme Court. Three fourths of the time they’ve dogged Black people They refuse to help gay people. They haven’t done feminist things. I think we’re misguided screaming about local stuff. I think my opponents are doing that because they haven’t thought this out. You have to think out every problem and not come up with the easy first solution or the old solution

UpriseRI: Given that you’ve touched on this, I’ll go there now. There’s a culture in the Senate that is very top down. The Senate President makes the decision, the committees checkbox those decisions and then the Senate passes it. What are your thoughts?

Rickman: So when I was in the House, the first two years Matthew Smith was the Speaker and I was a get things done person. I had 13 bills and I got 12 passed. That’s who I am. And that’s who I was in the legislature.

The last four years, I was a reformer because Joseph de Angeles was Speaker and he didn’t like me or let me do anything. When I came to the legislature, Rodney Driver and I sat there on day one and they told us at one o’clock that we were voting on the budget at two. We couldn’t read this budget between now and tomorrow at two. Mattie Smith was the Speaker and he asked, “What are you demanding, the right to be able to read the budget? For a hundred years the budget has been presented and if you want to read the budget, you should get on the finance committee.” There are only 11 people on the finance committee. How do you get on it? We said we would not vote on the budget. We said we would hold a news conference. We were looking for other avenues to stop that. Mattie caved and we got the budget overnight. We took it home and Common Cause followed me, and the AFL CIO, all those people came to my house. So I was a reformer.

Now I’m not going to the Senate to be a reformer. I’m just candid. I’m not, I’m not much of a politician. I’m not much of a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer at all. You have to gain the legislators to change what the leadership does? They are who they are. They believe what they believe. All these people running for this office denouncing the president. He’s tough. And he doesn’t like to be called names. Ask Gayle Goldin.

UpriseRI: She challenged him directly.

Rickman: That’s correct. And she left because she knew her future was dim. And I’m not going to do that. I’m there for the 23,000 kids.

Finally on the big issues that I care about – the progressive issues, lesbians, gay and transgender rights, Black rights and abortion rights – the leadership has for 20 years done nothing wrong.

And when they tell me how to vote, I’m going to do the same thing I did in the House. I made a deal with God when I went to the legislature. “When I come to see you, I’m not going to have to apologize for having done something wrong legislatively.” Am I going to go up there and call the President of the Senate names? Absolutely not. When I show up the first day, I’m going to take a sunflower. I’m a sunflower person. I’m going take all three leaders, the Republican, the two Democrats, a half dozen sunflowers. I do this every fall. I go to four or five people I’m having a dispute with and I give them a sunflower and it almost always works. I’m going to make peace before I start.

UpriseRI: We did not pass an assault weapon ban, or limit magazine clip capacity. Your thoughts on guns?

Rickman: We talked about robbing people with this payday loan stuff. We need to do the same thing with guns. We have to fight this problem and we have not done that. I want to talk to the feds. 75% of all violence is one gang member against another and once in a while they kill an innocent person. But one death is too many. I believe in the second amendment – it’s there. If we don’t like it we’ve got to repeal it and I don’t know how we get that done. It’s the worst amendment in the constitution. People should be able to bear arms, but not Gatling guns or assault weapons.

We’re almost definitely going to be taking that up marijuana next session. What are your thoughts?

Rickman: You know, Patrick Kennedy is one of my best friends in life. He thinks we shouldn’t do this. He and I have a little problem because I think everybody who wants to do it is doing it. And the illegality of it has created serious problems, racial disparities and jail time for certain people but not for others. We need to regulate it because it’s going to happen anyway. So I’m in favor of it, not much, but I’m going to vote, yes. Am I going to crusade for it? Absolutely not, but I’m going to vote yes.

UpriseRI: Right now there’s a push in some circles to open up the businesses to Black and brown communities that have been most seriously affected by the war against drugs. They want 50% of all licenses to go to people. What are your thoughts on that?

Rickman: I got that from the Black Lives Matter people, and I went further than them. I want it to be mandatory. All these businesses have a way of getting out of meeting legislative goals. I want it to be that after two years of not meeting your employment goals – your license is suspended. We’re very slow in enforcing the laws. When a big construction company wants something, they get it. When we want that same construction company to hire women or people of color…

UpriseRI: A report came out this year, that shows that we haven’t hit the MBE/WBE goal since that bill was enacted, basically.

Should we raise taxes on the richest one percent of Rhode Islanders, tax the rich?

Rickman: Tax the rich? That’s not a good way to ask. Last year almost every person with money at Fidelity, which is almost every rich person, made 18 to 21% interest. Astonishing. So every single one of them can afford 8% or whatever tax rate. Every single one – and half of them won’t notice. The rich have tax attorneys and accountants whose job it is to see that they pay as low as taxes as possible. The rich can pay more taxes and it will not hurt them. In a capitalist society taxes should be fair and the poor should pay less or nothing. The middle should pay a fair amount and the top should pay a fair amount and eight point anything is a fair amount for someone making $400,000 or $6 million a year. I don’t buy any of this Republican garbage that they’re going to move with their feet. They’ve got the kids at Moses Brown and who wants to go to Florida anyway?

I have to be careful with religion, but that said, you’re not supposed to do for yourself when you have plenty. And my constituents, two thirds of them have plenty.

UpriseRI: Any last thoughts?

Rickman: I’m the substantial person in this race. I was told this morning to tell people I’m a dreamer. I really am. I’m a Kingsian, I’m a Du Boisian and I’m all of these things and I have done it all my life. I’m my mother’s child and I have as much esprit de corps as any candidate in this race, I have stood before thousands and inspired them. They think somebody 27 or whatever has more of that than I do? They don’t. They certainly don’t have the foundational base. They don’t know how the State House works. This is a 14 month term and I am job ready. I am not doing it for any reason other than to try to elevate, protect, and help the 23,000 schoolchildren of Providence. So I’m asking people to stand back. You can vote for one of these inspirational people later. I don’t want to tell you I’m not going to run for reelection. If I got enough done, I might not.

I’m real and it’s a tough time. You’re raising tough questions because we’re in a tough time and we need to have change. We really do.

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