New Providence City Council President David Salvatore faces issues of race, class, policing and water

David Salvatore

The Providence City Council “elected” a new City Council President, David Salvatore (Ward 14), Thursday night. WLVI/Channel 12’s Dan McGowan is the go to reporter for Providence politics, and he has terrific coverage here, here and here.

Though McGowan adroitly covers the city council politics there’s a dimension of race and class he only briefly touches upon. Only one of the city councilors who supported Salvatore’s presidency is a person of color, Wilbur Jennings (Ward 8). Only one of the five women city councilors, Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5), supported Salvatore. Ryan is the only white woman on the Providence City Council.

“The City of Providence is not only for white, rich people,” said Providence City Councilor Carmen Castillo (Ward 9) to the council and to Salvatore, ahead of the vote. “I want to know if you plan to represent minorities, people of color and women.”

Salvatore declined to answer, but Councilor Jennings did. “I’m not white. I’m a person of color. I’m black, Afro-American, and that’s what I have to say to her [Castillo].”

Wilbur Jennings

“I know you’re black,” Castillo snapped back, to applause (see below), “but you don’t represent your people.”

“This whole thing is disappointing,” said newly elected City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) in a call for unity. “This reflects the division that currently exists in our community… It’s unfortunate that we can’t collaborate… [and] talk about all the issues that impact the city… Issues of homelessness affects all of Providence. Issues of racism affects all of Providence. Issues of education impacts all of Providence.”

City Councilor Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) said, “I appreciate what Councilor LaFortune said but I want you to know Sister that some Wards are harder hit than others. Some Wards, Sister, are overburdened with all kinds of crises…

“I can’t figure out how I’m going to vote tonight, because I don’t think this was done appropriately, it wasn’t done right. It was done in a way that it is a Scrooge Christmas for Councilwoman Harris.”

There being no other nominations besides Salvatore, Acting City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) directed to City Clerk to cast one ballot for David Salvatore. That means there was no vote among the councilors to see who did or did not support Salvatore, but the lines are clear. They break along lines of race and class.

After being sworn in, Salvatore gave a speech about working together. “My door is always open,” he said to his fellow City Councilors.


I noted above that Councilor Carmen Castillo received applause for her comments. This applause came from the members of the STEP UP Coalition who were in the audience holding signs in support of the Community Safety Act (CSA) and Providence External Review Authority (PERA). PERA is an important component of the CSA, and delays in implementation of PERA means the CSA is being similarly delayed.

Asked by Dan McGowan if changes are on the table to the CSA, newly elected City Council President David Salvatore said, “A single issue has been brought to my attention regarding parallel investigations. I have reached out to the public safety commissioner’s office. I think we have an opportunity to have this conversation with folks in the community and public safety and get this right. Because the last thing I would want to see is we empower a board that doesn’t have the resources necessary to carry this forward. They should have the ability to be smart, thoughtful and quite frankly, if we’re going to ask the board to carry out an investigation that the police department is already investigating, they should have the ability to make sure that protocol was followed during the police department’s investigation.”

Recent changes in the leadership of the Providence Police Union have led to concerns that the CSA may be delayed or have portions of the law altered or repealed.

Salvatore didn’t commit to a January 4, 2018 date for PERA implementation, saying, I think the implementation needs to be immediate, but it also needs to be transparent. I would like to see the community as a whole have the opportunity to weigh in and have an opportunity to express interest if they are.”


See also: Community groups say CSA implementation is being delayed, PVD Mayor and City Council say it’s on track


One part of the McGowan interview that immediately caught the eye of environmentalists was about the sale or lease of Providence’s water supply.

“Do you support the concept of selling or leasing the water supply to improve the pension fund?” asked McGowan.

“If structured properly, I do,” replied Salvatore.


Sabina Matos
Did I mention that City Councilor John Iggliozzi (Ward 7) is the new majority leader?

Carmen Castillo
Nirva LaFortune

Mary Kay Harris

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About Steve Ahlquist 578 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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