Thoughts from the SNA Debate: District 4 Dems

Tuesday night I went to Summit Commons to take in my first ever candidates’ forum put on by the Summit Neighborhood Association (SNA). SNA has a long tradition of hosting these forums every year, and they’re well-attended by people from the neighborhood and by media as well. I grew up and currently live in the neighborhood, my father was president of SNA’s board for a period of time, but this was still the first forum I’d ever attended.

The forum was divided into two parts: the Democratic candidates for State Representative for District 4 and the Democratic candidates for Mayor of Providence, roughly an hour long for each part. The forum was moderated by Rhode Island College professor Thomas Schmeling.

District 4 contenders

Let me start by saying right off the bat I was an early part of Aaron Regunberg’s campaign, I’ve been a friend of his for a bit now, and though I’m no longer attached to the campaign, I fully intend to vote for him come September 9th, and if you live in District 4, I think you should as well. That’s my bias here.

Despite that, I don’t think the three candidates, Regunberg, Miriam Ross, and Heather Tow-Yick, actually distinguished themselves well here. The introductions by Schmeling sort of summed it up. Regunberg is the community organizer, Ross the lawyer/professor, Tow-Yick the education reformer. It was a very cordial discussion of the issues. On all the issues two out of the three were in agreement, and on most of the issues all three were in agreement. Ross and Tow-Yick want to slash regulations a bit, Regunberg wants to tax RI’s wealthiest and use the capital for property tax relief.

The income tax increase may have set Regunberg apart, but I don’t think it particularly harmed him with the voters in the room. That question was raised from the same audience for Gordon Fox in 2012, and he knew his audience well enough to suggest the idea could be reviewed. Tying it to property tax relief was also a good strategy, using a progressive tax to reduce the effects of a regressive one.

What about who can win? Well, many have suggested this as the “education primary” with Regunberg as the bottom-up education advocate and Tow-Yick as the top-down education advocate. That didn’t really come across here, as most of the education jargon used by the two camps is pretty similar. But we’ve already witnessed how a similar-type primary played out in 2012 between Gayle Goldin and Maryellen Butke for Senate District 3. The three precincts that SD-3 and HD-4 share went for Goldin at an average of 55.6%. The Summit precinct was the strongest pro-Goldin, and contributed roughly a 5th of all Goldin votes across all of SD-3.

What about Ross? Well, it’s a bit more difficult. Ross ran in SD-3 as an independent against Democratic incumbent Rhoda Perry in 2010 before redistricting had shifted the districts. The biggest portions of her vote came from the wealthier communities around Blackstone Boulevard. Many of the Democratic primary voters who live in both SD-3 and HD-4 will have voted against her previously.

Complicating matters will be voters from the Mt. Hope neighborhood, who have been overwhelming votes for Gordon Fox in the past. The race really should belong to whoever can rebuild Fox’s Mt. Hope-Summit coalition. Thought it’s just a guess in the end, I think it’ll be a sizable plurality win for Regunberg over Tow-Yick over Ross; the winner should be a lock to triumph over independent Ethan Gyles in November.

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