Q&A: Newest democratic candidate discusses mayoral race

A Providence local, Lorne Adrain, will focus on economic and education policy if elected

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lorne Adrain, former chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education and managing director at the wealth management firm Ballentine Partners, recently registered to run as a Democratic candidate in Providence’s 2014 mayoral election.

Adrain filed official notice Nov. 1 with the Rhode Island Board of Elections, which allows him to raise money for his first campaign for elected office.

He will run against three other Democratic mayoral candidates, including City Council President Michael Solomon, as well as Republican Daniel Harrop in the election to replace current Mayor Angel Taveras, who announced Oct. 28 he is running for governor.

Adrain sat down with The Herald to discuss his upcoming campaign and priorities for the city, if elected mayor.

What motivated you to file as a candidate for mayor?

I’ve lived in Providence for 20 years. I think of this place as one of the most asset-rich cities in the world. In a small area, we’ve got the leading universities in the world, we’re on a beautiful bay, we’re a half-hour from Boston, we’re two and a half hours from New York and we’ve got people from over 100 countries in our city — incredible resources.

But we’re a little bit like a Maserati sitting on the starting line with a brand new track out in front of it with the steering wheel sitting over here, and the wheels sitting over there. We need to pull them together and pull people … around this thing to make it go down the track.

Would you tell us a bit about your background — specifically your education, work and family — anything you want us to know about you?

I went to Warwick public schools and (the University of Rhode Island), then I got a job in New York and worked around the country and then went back to Harvard Business School to get my MBA. I came back to Rhode Island in ’86, and I’ve been in Providence since ’92.

I’ve been around here and engaged in lots of stuff for many years. When we had our family meeting about doing this, my kids said, “Dad, you’ve been doing this all our lives.” This is just a logical extension of my service in the community.

Having previously served on the R.I. Board of Governors for Higher Education, what are your thoughts on higher education institutions and their role in the city?

I think that the people of Providence need to have many options for both higher education for degree purposes and higher education or extended education for development of technical skills.

What we can do as a city is encourage people to pursue those learning opportunities and do our best to make them aware of the evolving and growing number of opportunities to access education at an increasingly attractive cost.

Do you have any thoughts about Brown-Providence relations?

We are all in this together. Brown, Providence College, Johnson and Wales, Rhode Island College — we’re all partners in the success of the city. I believe that there are many ways in which we can work together to make advances in every part of what we do … and alter the social contract of what it means to be a member of the community of Providence.

I think the mayor of this city — of any city — doesn’t necessarily have control of everything. In fact, they don’t have control over a lot of things. But what they do have is a mantle of leadership through which they can inspire and encourage and motivate collaboration.

What issues do you think are most pressing for the Providence community?

First and foremost, it’s about jobs. Providence has a challenge with poverty (and) … with joblessness. Those two factors lead to all kinds of other challenges — in education, in health care, in community development, in the culture of our community. So we can and we must focus on creative ways of helping people either build their own jobs or find jobs.

Secondly we can, and we must, focus on providing high-quality education opportunities for our K-12 students.

Thirdly, we can, and we must, lead the formation of health care distribution options that metaphorically meet people where they live. If we can have access to health care in more and different ways, then more kids are going to be ready and able to learn when they walk in the classroom.

Fourth, we can, and we must, focus on a broad spectrum of economic development in a unified strategy — from micro enterprise low-tech to the other extreme of high-tech, complex bio-technology and other things coming out of Brown and RISD and so on.

Fifth, I think we have to think of City Hall and of the city as an organization that is here to serve the residents of our cities. And to do that, we have to think about the systems and have an attitude of continuous improvement in City Hall. I think we have to think of the city in the context of a group of cities and towns in a state and be mindful of the regulatory and legislative action that could help us as a city and as a state be more competitive.

And I think lastly, we can, and we must, ask everybody in Providence to step up in new and different ways to help each other and to help the community.

Providence has seen a lot of controversy about education reform in the past months — specifically high-stakes standardized testing and their role in the Providence public school system. What educational issues do you find most compelling, and how would you confront them?

I think testing is important, but I think of testing as a measurement tool. I don’t think it’s the solution to anything. If we think of it as a tool with which we hammer teachers, I think nobody wins. I think the teachers feel legitimately insulted, and the kids feel stressed. If we position it as something that we as a system — as parents, as students, as teachers — can learn from and make adjustments in how we do what we do, then it’s a valuable thing.

What can you do in terms of policy for the Providence economy — specifically reducing unemployment and encouraging small business growth?

The first step is a job. We have too many people in Providence who are unemployed or underemployed. And I believe that a significant portion of those people are talented, able, motivated and willing to work hard. I want to help those folks. It’s not rocket science, it starts with helping people either create a job or find a job. And creating an environment here — a tax environment, a regulatory environment, a systems environment — that makes it easier or attractive or hospitable to build a business here. I’ve heard horror stories from businesspeople about getting a business started.

It seems that we go out of our way to make it hard instead of going out of our way to make it easy.

What policies and strategies from the current administration of Mayor Taveras have you seen as effective? What would you change going forward?

I believe that Mayor (David Cicilline ’83) and Mayor Taveras have both done a good job making progress. I think the perspective that we all have to have is that this job doesn’t get finished, it just gets worked on. We’ve been fortunate to have a couple mayors of good will — hard-working, bright and creative — who have moved the ball down the field. Mayor Taveras did some of that work on the fiscal crisis, he did some of that work on education and he’s begun some of that work in thinking about systems in City Hall. But I think he and Mayor Cicilline have been most effective in putting things on the table that together we need to pay attention to and continue to improve.

Do you have initial thoughts on how your campaign might differ from your potential Democratic opponents ­— City Council President Michael Solomon, former Water Supply Board Chairman Brett Smiley and former Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza?

I think (what) you (would) see in my administration is a high level of entrepreneurship, because that’s where I come from. Entrepreneurship means not just doing things the way we’ve always done them. Let’s ask the people in the trenches doing the jobs throughout City Hall — what are their best ideas? Because chances are, there are a lot of ideas out there that are not being asked for or not being paid attention to. I think a lot of solutions lie right there.

I’m not a politician. I’ve never done this before, so I’m going to pursue this in a way that makes sense to me. I’ll be helping all the people of Providence see a pathway to a better future, see a pathway to economic security for their families, see a pathway to a sustainable budget and see a pathway to increasingly effective education for their kids. My job here on the campaign is to help people see that, imagine that and begin to talk about it. My job in the mayor’s office will be to get it done.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

Readers should know that if I’m elected mayor of Providence, there will be a high level of energy not only from my office but expected from everybody in Providence in some way, shape or form. We are in this together, and together, we can make it all happen.

  • not a politicians

    “I’m not a politician.” Actually, you are. You’re running for mayor.