On a rainy Thursday evening, most of downtown Providence was a ghost town, with shop doors locked up and lights dimmed. But, one door remained open at the Campaign Headquarters for Anthony Santurri’s bid for Ward 1 City Council.
Anthony Santurri is the owner of Freeplay Bar and Arcade and the Colosseum Night Club, both located within Ward 1, which includes the Jewelry District, Downtown and Fox Point. He is also the Chair of Nightlife for the Board of Directors for the Jewelry District Association and a member of Rhode Island Pride. Santurri says he is used to being “on the other side of the aisle, as the person in the audience asking the questions to city officials.”
As a candidate, Santurri is focused on prioritizing small business over large-scale development, being available to constituents and addressing the management of neighborhood services.
Santurri emphasized the importance of building partnerships and communication within communities. As a part of the board for Rhode Island Pride, Santurri found that the transgender community and communities of color felt underrepresented. In response, he started holding listening sessions, even when others told him it was a lost cause. “I said, it doesn’t matter. I’m so sick of no one doing anything … and it was a monumental success with 35 people the first (and second) time,” Santurri said.
As a small business owner himself, Santurri is attuned to the issue of large-scale developments in Ward 1, such as Fane Tower. “This one kind of blew the top off with it. There were some unanswered questions with how much it was going to cost to live there (and) who was going to live there,” Santurri said. He believes that instead, the city should tap into small businesses, which can be equally effective compared to some of the large-scale development projects.
“If you have 20 small businesses out there and they all employ 10 employees, which is not a lot, that’s 200 jobs, right? Nobody gets any help for that … but if (a large-scale development) opens and is expecting 200 jobs, we’d be all over them trying to succeed,” Santurri said. “So I want to make sure we understand that we already have business owners here … big development has a place here, but we are under-utilizing the job creators, the people who are already here and the businesses we have,” Santurri added.
Sharon Steele, president of the JDA, pointed to rapid development in Ward 1 as an issue for residents. “Many of the neighborhoods right now are sort of feeling like we are under siege,” Steele said, “because the city is forcing … aggressive developments on many of the neighborhoods because they see it as a way to literally raise revenue.”
Lewis Dana, secretary of the JDA and Jewelry District resident, said that “Our core concern … is reasonable development. Let’s not get out of control and (let’s) also watch out for the large-scale buildings going up on narrow streets where traffic is already a problem.” Dana said residents want a council member who pays attention. “Ward 1 is a real mixed bag. … Most council members have blinders on what goes on here,” he said.
Santurri hopes to change that. For him, one of previous councilman Seth Yurdin’s strengths was that he “was available to me whenever I needed to speak to him. … what I admire most about an elected official is when they make themselves accessible and available to you,” Santurri added. As his own boss, Santurri said he takes pride in his ability to set his own hours and meet with constituents at any time. Due to his experience on the JDA and the Downtown District Association, Santurri says he is also well acquainted with the different neighborhoods in the ward.
According to Santurri, another concern facing residents of Ward 1 is the efficient and timely management of constituent services: snow plows, road repairs, sidewalks and noise issues. “The solution is not me charging in and saying I am going to fix everything … but understanding it, finding out where and which (services) are not being addressed and finding ways that we can work with the city together but also having community meetings that discuss it,” Santurri said.
Polls will open for the seat of Ward 1 City Council March 3.