It didn’t take long for critics to respond after I wrote last week about a plan (see “New push: add at-large seats to Providence City Council,” News, This just in) to reformulate the Providence City Council by keeping 10 ward-based seats and adding five at-large positions.
Bloggers Matt Jerzyk of rifuture.org, who is an occasional Phoenix contributor, and state Representative David Segal (D-Providence) of providencedailydose.com, equate Ward 2 Councilor Cliff Wood’s 10-5 concept with downsizing democracy.
“This is a BAD idea, unless seats are allocated proportionally,” Segal wrote in one post. “. . . Two quick points about the 10-5 plan: It’d mean more representation by rich, white, high-turnout portions of town, and therefore more influence by moneyed interests.”
“The city would be setting itself up for a civil rights lawsuit, as Ward 11 — the only seat held by an African-American — would be chopped up into majority white and Latino areas,” Segal continued. “A city that is 15 percent African-American would likely be left with no African-American on the city council.” Referring to the 2002 election, when Juan Pichardo became Rhode Island’s first Latino state senator — but only at the cost of Charles Walton, the only black member of the chamber, losing his seat — Segal wondered whether the lessons of that contest have been learned.
Jerzyk weighed in with this: “It is disturbing to see so many ‘liberals’ support the idea of downsizing the Providence City Council from 15 wards to 10 wards and then adding 5 at-large seats. This effort will reduce the ability of Providence residents to run for office, reduce the minority representation on the Council (from four to two or one or zero), and position the wealthy areas of our city to have a wind-fall on the Council. I support the progressive solution: Councilman Seth Yurdin’s idea of keeping our 15 wards and adding two-to-six at-large seats to the Council elected on a ‘proportional representation’ system to ensure ‘one-person, one-vote’ throughout the city.”
Let’s acknowledge a few things:
• The tradition of not publicly criticizing things in other councilors’ wards promotes parochial thinking. A rare exception came some years back when Luis Aponte spoke critically about a development pro-posal for Eagle Square, which is outside his ward.
• There is a Cicilline-esque patina to Wood’s effort. Certainly, the mayor, who might run for reelection, as opposed to pursuing a gubernatorial bid, would like to enhance his influence over the council.
So if this is a circle that needs to be squared, how does that happen — particularly with the council facing an August 6 deadline to get a proposal on the November ballot?
Jerzyk suggests that the council hold publicly accessible hearings, with lots of public input, on all three related proposals — Wood’s, Yurdin’s, and one by John Igliozzi.
Responding as part of the discussion at RI’s Future, Wood defended his proposal, noting how the 2002 Charter Review Commission backed it. “I am confident that we, the people of Providence, can agree on a proposal for citywide council members that is both fair and progressive, and will make ours a more forward thinking city government,” he concluded. “Let’s work together toward a plan that fair and sensible, and put that proposal on the ballot in November.”
Part of this post was published at thephoenix.com/notfornothing on May 15.