Providence business owner and former City Council president Michael Solomon is running for mayor of Providence on a platform of enhancing public safety and education. Solomon, who also ran for mayor in 2014, will face off against Democratic opponents Nirva LaFortune, Brett Smiley and Gonzalo Cuervo in a Sept. 13 primary before the general election on Nov. 8.
Solomon, who also served as director of business and development in Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration from 2018 to 2021, told The Herald that his lifelong residency in Providence drove him to run for mayor. “I was born here, I was raised here, went to school here, raised my family here and my businesses are in Providence,” he said. “I have a passion for Providence.”
If elected, Solomon said he plans to improve the city’s schools and take a “tough-on-crime” stance with regards to policing. Crime in Providence “may be down,” he said, “but people just don’t feel safe.”
“When we have the perception of violent crimes in our city, it takes away from the businesses and those businesses employ Providence residents,” he said. “So I think we all get hurt by this crime because it keeps people away from the businesses and keeps people away from visiting our city.”
His proposed solution: opening a full-time police academy in the city to train new officers and to expand the force from its current staff of 423 to 500. “When you have cops out there and their presence is seen, that’s a big deterrent to crime in the city,” he said. Solomon also proposes the institution of mandatory minimum sentences for possession of illegal firearms.
“Now whether that’s one year or two years, I’m not sure, but we need to send a message: If you get caught in Providence with an illegal handgun, you’re going to jail,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to ensure that we mean business.”
On the issue of police brutality, Solomon said that he supports changing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights “to come down a little harder on bad cops.” But, he added, “we need to deal with the bad ones one-on-one. … I don’t think you have to rearrange the whole system because of one bad apple.”
As for education, Solomon said he supports reinvesting in the city’s schools and encouraging parent involvement in their children’s education.
“We have to be ready to take the schools back in the year 2025,” he said, referring to when the state takeover of the Providence Public School District –– which occurred after a 2019 Johns Hopkins report found the system to be severely dysfunctional –– is expected to conclude.
“Eight years ago I ran for mayor of the city of Providence, and I had a big idea. That big idea was to rebuild our schools,” Solomon said. “We need to have first-rate learning centers for our students. That’s very important, that they have all the tools they need to succeed in life.”
Solomon also supports the expansion of after-school programs, both to improve the quality and range of educational opportunities offered to Providence students and to “keep kids off the streets,” he said.
Finally, Solomon also emphasized the importance of helping parents to become more engaged in education. “Without the parents getting involved in their children’s education, that child’s chances of succeeding diminish,” he said. To this end, Solomon proposes instituting a district-wide “parent orientation day” to “bring the parents in (and) give them a two-hour orientation on what we expect from them as parents,” he said.
Seth Yurdin, who served as majority leader on the City Council when Solomon was president from 2011 to 2014, listed a number of Solomon’s priorities during that time. “We worked on a whole host of environmental issues; we worked on pensions,” he said. “We passed ordinances relating to workers’ rights, particularly hotel workers; we worked to support resolutions for marriage equality … (and) women’s rights, dealing with issues of pregnancy discrimination.”
Jake Bissaillon, who is currently the chief of staff for the president of the Rhode Island state Senate, worked with Solomon as chief of staff to the Providence City Council from 2011 to 2014 and managed his 2014 mayoral campaign. Bissaillon said that the projects he worked on with Solomon included rescuing the city from a “category 5 fiscal hurricane” in 2011, advocating for a local minimum wage and acting to preserve historic downtown buildings.
In 2011, Providence was threatened with bankruptcy after years of recession caused the city to rack up a massive deficit. To solve the crisis, Solomon worked with the then-new mayor Angel Taveras to strike agreements with many institutions, including the University, to pay more in Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) to shore up the city’s finances, Bissaillon said. He emphasized that Solomon’s ability to collaborate made the process run smoothly.
“Traditionally (in Providence) there’s kind of an acrimonious relationship between the council and the mayor’s office,” Bissailon said. “When Michael and Angel were in, it was a breath of fresh air and there was a lot of collaboration … That is the hallmark of their four years together.”
Bissaillon also recalled Solomon’s commitment to fighting for a $15 minimum wage for hotel workers in Providence in 2014, a project that was ultimately struck down by the state General Assembly.
“The City Council passed an ordinance so that the City of Providence could have its own local minimum wage,” spurred by a dispute between downtown hotels and their workers over subpar wages, Bissaillon said. “He walked the picket line with the hotel workers. … At a time when he was seen as kind of a corporate ally in the (2014) mayor’s race, he still was willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with workers and fight for them.”
Solomon’s advocacy for these workers, Bissaillon said, exemplifies “a hallmark of his leadership style.”
“He’s not afraid to take the fight to other arenas if he truly believes in it,” Bissaillon said. “If he’s going to walk alongside you, you know that he’s going to take you as far as you possibly can go.”