Candidates for the at-large seat on the East Providence City Council dueled with each other Wednesday night, Oct. 24, in a Rumford neighborhood church.
The candidates, Steven Santos and Tracy Ann Capobianco, traded jabs, not barbs, in front of about 150 voters who showed up for a “Candidates’ Night” at Newman Congregational Church.
The event was sponsored by the East Providence Coalition, an independent citizens group with a focus on the environment.
The night followed, for the most part, a debate format used by the League of Women Voters RI. The candidates answered questions from the floor written on index cards and one question from their opponent. A moderator, former state legislator Anthony Pires, asked the questions. A timer controlled response times.
The meeting room had basketball backboards hanging from the ceiling. Pastries, coffee and juice were served on a table at the back of the all-purpose room.
By the luck of a coin flip, Santos got to make his opening statement first.
“I pledge to work for all wards in the city” with the same dedication and commitment, he said.
Because the state Budget Commission controls city spending, Santos said, he would expect to devote most of his time on the city council to helping residents solve individual problems.
Capobianco opened by stating her business experience as the owner of a hair salon and day-care center in Riverside. She also talked about her volunteer commitments to the East Bay Community Action Program and TAP-IN, where she serves on the board.
“I have a civic commitment to the community,” she said. “I want to make a difference, and my time is now.”
The first question they answered concerned middle school sports, eliminated by the Budget Commission.
Santos, a former School Committee member, said the middle schools need sports to help instill leadership qualities and to help build morale.
“I know we can find money in the budget to fund sports,” he said.
Capobiancio agreed with Santos.
“I think kids work harder” when sports are an incentive, she said. But the lack of sports is not just a problem for people with kids, she said. The lack of sports can have impact on real estate values because prospective buyers may look at towns with sports in the middle schools.
What about business fees?
As a business owner, Capobiancio said, she would not support the $25 fee that was to be levied on owners at one time. Santos said fees are not an alternative in East Providence.
How would they address property values going down?
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Santos, “the reduction in the Homestead Exemption is a tax increase. We can’t keep going back to homeowners. We need to fund a budget, but we need to prioritize and plan.”
Capobianco asked: “Is there a better idea?” to the Homestead Exemption.
How would they change the political climate in East Providence?
“We need to work together as a team,” said Capobianco.
“I would make an effort to work with everyone on the council,” said Santos. “We may not always agree. But I think we all want this place to succeed.”
Do they favor all-day kindergarten or half-day kindergarten.
“There are rewards down the line for all-day K,” said Santos. “We need to find a way to make it work if we want it.”
Capobianco agreed. “It would be a disservice to children if we cut it to half-day. It could also have an effect on real estate sales.”
What would they do to fix the financial issues in East Providence so the often maligned Budget Commission leaves?
“They’re making the hard choices, and I understand whey they’re here,” Capobianco said. “I don’t agree with all their actions, though. And at what cost to us?”
Going forward, she added, the city needs a financial plan that is attractive to new businesses.
“There is no easy answer,” said Santos. “They’re here for a reason. The prior councils and school committee did not get the job done. But are they right all the time? No! We need to work within their framework to come up with better alternatives. It’s up to us to do it.’
Santos asked Capobianco how she would describe the leadership of the City Council right now.
“I don’t think they have a voice,” she said. “But anybody who puts himself out there must be commended for that.”
Capobianco asked Santos if he favored Question 11 on the election ballot in East Providence – 2-year or 4-year terms for city officials?
“No elected official should have a 4-year term,” said Santos. “Voters would be abdicating their rights” to get rid of an ineffective elected official.
Capobianco closed by describing her business experience and team-building skill. “I think I would be a great asset to the city,” she said.
Santos closed by stressing the need for budget priorities.
“They define the community,” he said. “Where do we put the money? Education? The elderly? Young people? These things define us as a community."