Metro, News

Goncalves ’13 MA ’15 runs for Ward 1 City Council

University alum, teacher emphasizes educational reforms, environmental concerns

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Goncalves’ ’13 MA ’15 platform focuses on issues such as improving the Providence Public Schools, achieving environmental justice and practicing “smart development” of the city. He also wants to create a new tax policy that shifts the financial burden off of average taxpayers and examines “the whole system in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”

John Goncalves’ ’13 MA’15 favorite lessons to teach to his fourth grade class at the Wheeler School are about civics and figures who have tried to make the world a better place — figures like Greta Thunberg, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

In the interest of serving his community of 25 years, Goncalves is running for the Ward 1 City Council seat with a list of progressive policies focused on fixing public schools, environmental justice and equitable development. Ward 1 includes College Hill and parts of Fox Point, the Jewelry District and downtown Providence.

A special election will be held on April 7 to fill the seat recently vacated by Seth Yurdin, representative of Ward 1 since 2006.

Goncalves is one of three Democrats who are running for the seat, along with Anthony Santurri and Nick Cicchitelli. No Republicans registered with the Providence Board of Canvassers by the Jan. 24 deadline, meaning the winner of the Democratic primary on March 3 will be the only candidate on the ballot in April.

Aside from teaching at the Wheeler School, Goncalves sits on the city council’s Special Committee for the Study of a Progressive Tiered Property Tax, tasked with researching property taxation in Providence. Along with Santurri, Goncalves also co-founded the Providence Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, a union of over 20 neighborhood groups around the city that focuses on solving common issues, like problems with snow removal and negligent landlords.

As a candidate, he emphasized addressing educational and environmental concerns.

Goncalves hopes to help the city’s most vulnerable residents by repairing Providence Public Schools. The state of Rhode Island took over PPS last year following a Johns Hopkins University report on poor conditions, The Herald previously reported.

But Goncalves believes that these issues are nothing new.

“We needed to fix this problem a long time ago,” he said. Goncalves says that it is most important to fix infrastructure so students feel “safe and secure,” and institute a “culturally competent” curriculum in schools, which would include greater representation of minorities.

In addition to elevating Providence Public Schools, Goncalves has made environmental justice one of his top priorities. He committed to the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal pledge, a promise by public officials and candidates to support a federal Green New Deal.

Goncalves has emphasized the importance of environmental justice for residents of predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Providence. He pointed out that Providence has the ninth highest rate of childhood asthma in the country, and that low-income residents and people of color are significantly more affected than their high-income and white counterparts.

While holding progressive educational and environmental views, Goncalves fought against a policy in June of last year that would have restructured the property tax system to shift more financial burden from the lower to the upper classes. Goncalves said the restructuring was too close to the release of Providence tax bills, which is also in June.

“Our fight was about process,” Goncalves said. “We knew that this was something that was well-intentioned, but when you try to change tax policy literally a month before tax bills go out, you can have really dire consequences on the local economy.”

Goncalves also said that the policy placed a disproportionate tax burden on the East Side. He described the policy as “pitting neighborhoods against neighborhoods.”

“There are ways of helping the most vulnerable among us without further shifting the tax burden onto average taxpayers,” he said.

Instead, he said that new tax policy must examine “the whole system in a deliberate and thoughtful way.” Goncalves pointed out that the University and other colleges in Providence own huge amounts of property — over $1.1 billion in land, property and equipment, according to the University’s financial report for fiscal year 2018 — but are tax exempt. Although Goncalves does not propose a change to universities’ tax exemptions, he does believe that economists should examine all options for raising more tax revenue.

When considering policy, Goncalves says that it’s crucial to take into account “systemic inequity” against people of color, and to be empathetic toward the city’s most vulnerable.

Development has been booming on the East Side in recent years, but development is not going to solve all of the city’s issues, Goncalves said. Instead, he said, it can create gentrification and hamper affordable housing.

Alternatively, Goncalves is in favor of what he calls “smart development,” which he defines as development that serves the entire community.

Goncalves says that his involvement in the community comes from his history in it. Along with attending Vartan Gregorian Elementary in Fox Point and the Wheeler School, he graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University.

“It’s a community that means the world to me,” Goncalves said.  “We’re the campaign that really knows people in this community.”

People in Ward 1 know him, too. Billy Rose has lived in Providence his entire life, and his wife Cindy moved here 38 years ago. They have known Goncalves all his life.

“He has always been an extraordinary child, and turned into an extraordinary adult,” Cindy Rose said.

“We always knew he was going somewhere,” Billy Rose said.

Shawn Andrews, a Fox Point resident, has known Goncalves since he was a child, and he believes Goncalves is the right person to represent the ward.

Some of Goncalves’ past causes have been popular with residents. After the Gano Street exit off I-195 closed for construction in August 2018, Goncalves motivated a group of small businesses on the East Side to protest, arguing that the exit closure was hurting the local economy.

After the exit temporarily reopened in October of last year, his success garnered praise from residents.

Andrews, who thinks the exit should remain open indefinitely, likes that Goncalves fought for the East Side. So does Lauren Kelley, a nearly 20-year resident of Ward 1.

Kelley is happy to see new candidates vying for seats. “It’s so important that people run,” she said.

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