The five Democratic candidates competing for the District 3 State Senate vacancy met and outlined their agendas in a virtual forum hosted by the four neighborhood associations that comprise the district Thursday evening.
In anticipation of the Oct. 5 primary, roughly 250 constituents had the chance to hear from the candidates, who addressed issues such as public schools, American Rescue Plan funding allocation and Providence’s housing crisis. Dan McGowan, columnist for the Boston Globe, moderated the event.
Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, resigned from her seat representing most of Providence’s East Side last August to join the Biden administration as a senior adviser for the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Five Democrats and one Republican have been campaigning to represent District 3, and the winning candidate will serve out the remaining 14 months of Goldin’s term.
Hilary Levey Friedman, visiting assistant professor of education for the University and former president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women, spoke extensively about climate, women’s rights and considering families in policy changes. As someone with young kids and aging parents, she said, “just having that perspective is extremely important and we don’t always have (it) represented in our legislature.”
Candidate Bret Jacob described his experiences with homelessness, attending public school and his career as director of research and development for Mayor Jorge Elorza. “I know what it’s like to know what happens when a system fails, and I also know what it’s like to live through a system that works,” Jacob said.
Public school teacher Geena Pham is running on a progressive agenda that emphasizes climate justice, public education improvements and taxes for the wealthy, The Herald previously reported. “I was inspired to run for office by my students,” Pham said, who were fearful about how climate change would impact their futures. If elected, Pham would be the first Asian American to serve in the Rhode Island General Assembly.
Former State Representative Ray Rickman is running on his legislative and civil rights experience which he gained through his organizing and time in the State General Assembly, The Herald previously reported. “I know where the bathrooms are” in the state assembly building, Rickman said, emphasizing his familiarity with state and local government. He said that while he is progressive, he was not in support of defunding the police because “I’m not one of those progressives who latches onto slogans and then throws them around.”
Sam Zurier, former City Council member, described himself as a “pragmatic progressive,” supporting market-based climate solutions, improving schools and investing federal funding from emergency COVID-19 relief back into the city.
Each of the five candidates supported a vaccine mandate for the state but discussed different visions for what they would do with funding from the American Rescue Plan. Zurier said that as state senator, he would funnel that money towards affordable housing, a sentiment echoed by Pham, who added emphasis on green housing and fixing lead pipes in Providence. Levey Friedman agreed: “Housing is a true crisis.”
Jacob emphasized investing in low-income communities of color, where COVID-19 hit the hardest, as well as combating systemic issues facing the state. “We have the opportunity to end homelessness in Rhode Island with these ARP funds,” Jacobs said.
Rickman said he would build an Olympic swimming pool in the city, so lower-income residents could have an accessible means of exercise, as well as direct funding toward working class needs.
All of the candidates underscored the importance of protecting reproductive healthcare and women’s right to choose, and all were receptive to the idea of potentially using a portion of the long-contested and currently vacant Superman Building for affordable housing and community use.
Unopposed Republican candidate Alex Cannon, a senior robotics process automation engineer at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, also spoke for a few minutes to constituents at the start of the forum, saying that the five Democratic candidates would describe agendas “with not very much variability.” He briefly explained that he was against defunding the police and supported small government.
Following the Democratic primary for the third district state senate seat, the winner will face off against Cannon in the special election on Nov. 2.
Katy Pickens is the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.