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Providence City Workers Pour Thousands into Solomon Campaign

Monday, May 12, 2014

 

Providence city workers have poured thousands of dollars into the mayoral campaign of Council President Michael Solomon—the only one of five major candidates who accepts such contributions.

In all, Solomon has received at least $30,360 from city employees since 2006. But the bulk of the money—a little over $18,000—has flowed in since 2013, when he emerged as a likely serious contender for Mayor, amid expectations that the current office-holder, Angel Taveras, would be running for Governor.

The other four major candidates say they refuse to accept donations from those who they hope will become their employees. Democrat Lorne Adrian and the sole GOP candidate, Dan Harrop, have received none. Brett Smiley received a $250 contribution in February which was returned. State records show that Jorge Elorza also had received a $250 city worker donation, which a campaign official said was reimbursed as soon as a reporter brought it to the campaign’s attention.

Solomon is also the candidate with the most cash on hand, totaling $701,183, far outweighing the war chests of any other contender, state campaign finance records show. Elorza and Smiley are nearly tied at $243,500 and $241,623, respectively. Adrain has $191,868 cash on hand, followed by Harrop at $126,198.

Solomon defends donations

In a statement provided by his campaign, Solomon said city employees have a right to make their voice heard in the political process.

“Teachers, firefighters, police officers and all city employees have the same right to participate in the political process as everyone else. I’m proud to have their support. Just as I am proud to have the support of all those who share my vision for rebuilding Providence’s middle class,” Solomon said.

Solomon touted his work as reform on the city council, citing the state’s first municipal lobbyist ordinance registration ordinance, the honorable service ordinance on pensions, and the establishment of the Open Providence Commission for Transparency and Accountability. He also pointed to his work on pension reform as evidence of his reform-minded leadership.

“In my first 18 months as City Council President, we passed pension reform legislation—legislation that was needed to save Providence from bankruptcy because of the irresponsible decisions of past city leaders. Many said this could never be done, but we proved them wrong. I have done what I believed was right for the city—without regard to campaign contributions. And that is what I will continue to do as Mayor,” Solomon said.

Donors include department leaders

State campaign finance records show that about 70 city employees have contributed to Solomon’s campaign account since 2006, representing roughly one percent of the workforce.

Donors include several top department officials. Lawrence J. Mancini, the finance director and newly appointed acting administration director, has contributed a total of $1,175 since 2006, including $500 this year alone. State Rep. Scott Slater, a budget analyst in the Finance Department has donated $575. James Bennett, the director of economic development, contributed $500 in 2012, a year after he was hired by the city.

The former head of the Board of Canvassers, Laurence Flynn, is also a contributor. He donated $475 between 2006 and his retirement at the end of 2010.

Two relatives who are also city employees are contributors: Cheryl Solomon and Donald Solomon. Both are cousins, according to the campaign. Together, they account for nearly $5,000 that the campaign received.

Other candidates refuse city donations

In 2010, when he was running for Mayor, Taveras said he would not accept donations from city workers, saying his campaign hoped to turn a page on Providence’s “terrible legacy of pay to play and corruption” by refusing to “play the insiders’ game.”

The campaign said it was continuing a policy instituted by his immediate predecessor, David Cicilline, who inherited a City Hall reeling from the Plunder Dome scandal during the administration of Buddy Cianci. Now Cianci is at the center of building speculation that he will mount a comeback campaign for Mayor.

In 2010, Taveras was the only candidate who wouldn't take money from city workers. The two other major Democratic candidates, John Lombardi and Steven Costantino, did

Four years later, the situation is the reverse: most candidates frown upon the practice.

“I will not accept donations from city employees,” said Lorne Adrain. “This is consistent with my belief that our city must maintain the highest ethical standards and a high level of respect for our employees. City employees must be able to focus on doing a great job, not on worrying if their job depends on supporting a candidate who would be their boss.”

Smiley and Elorza said they have the same policy, both alluding to the city’s “history of corruption.”

“Providence unfortunately has a history of corruption, and in the past, city employees were pressured to donate to political campaigns to secure their jobs,” Smiley said. “When I am Mayor, those serving the city will be there because of their qualifications—not because of who they are related to or how much they donated. That’s why I’ve made a pledge not to take a single dollar from anyone employed by the City of Providence, and I urge all the candidates for mayor to join me in this pledge and to return any donations already received from city employees.”

Added Elorza: “No one should have to pay to keep their job in the City of Providence. I believe that the legacy of ‘pay-to-play’ politics is simply too ingrained in Providence’s history, and the specter of corruption lingers too near, for our campaign to accept, in good conscience, any contributions from city employees. Our campaign continues the established tradition of refusing these contributions, and any such contributions have been and will continue to be returned. I am proud to have been the first and only candidate to take a comprehensive and stringent ethics pledge, and I will bring that same level of trust and accountability to City Hall as Mayor.”

GOP candidate says he’s OK with unionized worker donations

Harrop, on the other hand, struck a nuanced note.

In principle, he said he did not object municipal candidates from taking such donations. “I do realize that other politicians in other places will accept donations from city workers whose jobs do not depend on their permission or approval to hold a position—like unionized policemen or firemen—and I do not see donations from such employees as necessarily corrupting,” Harrop said.

However, he said Providence is a different matter: “I will not be accepting donations from any city workers. Given Providence's history of ‘you gotta know a guy" to get something done, I think the Mayor and all politicians should set an example and not accept such donations,” Harrop said.

Two candidates themselves former city ‘employees’

Two of the candidates from the race approach the issue from two perspectives. Not only are Elorza and Smiley mayoral candidates, they themselves were, up until recently, listed on the city payroll.

Elorza served as a housing court judge from March 2010 until August 2013, when he stepped down from the $35,939-a-year position to run for Mayor.

Elorza donated $100 to David Cicilline’s campaign in September 2008, before he announced his run for Congress. (A campaign official suggested the donation was not contrary to Elorza’s avowed stance against city employee contributions to mayoral candidates, noting that he was not on the city payroll at the time of the donation.) Elorza also donated $1,000 to Taveras’ mayoral campaign in February 2010, but the Taveras campaign refunded it.

Smiley served as the powerful chairman of the Water Supply Board, which carried an annual compensation of $3,999 in 2013. Smiley, who has also worked as a lobbyist for the city, resigned his chairmanship in September 2013. He had served since 2011.

Smiley contributed $950 to Taveras in August 2010. A second donation of $50 was made in December 2013, after Taveras had announced his run for Governor and Smiley had stepped down from the board. State campaign finance records do not list any Smiley donations for Cicilline.

Paolino: City workers have ‘right’ to donate

One former Mayor defended Solomon, though he said he could see both sides of the issue.

Joe Paolino said that he had refused contributions from police because the Mayor had more discretion in the hiring process. However, because there was little mayoral input on firefighter positions, he said he did accept contributions from them. “I did not object to people contributing that worked for the city,” Paolino said.

Not only are city employees uniquely qualified to determine who may be best suited to be Mayor, Paolino said, but they have a right to participate in the political process.

“The transparency [is] what’s important,” Paolino said.

Correction: Due to an error in a news release, a previous version of this story erroneously stated that Jorge Elorza's term on the bench began in March 2009. It was March 2010.

Stephen Beale can be reached at bealenews@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @bealenews

 

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