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Russell Moore: Can Michael Solomon be Providence’s Menino?

Monday, March 17, 2014


Outside of any new candidate announcements, Solomon appears to be in a strong position to become Providence’s own Tom Menino, believes Russell Moore.

Besides the race for the prize that is the governor’s office, there are some pretty interesting races down the ballot. They’re races filled with kind of intrigue that should excite junkies and mere political observers alike.

The race for Mayor of Providence, quite arguably the most powerful political position in Rhode Island after the governor’s office (yes, the RI House Speaker and Senate President have tons of power, but they don’t hire and supervise hundreds of people), is turning out to be every bit as interesting as any other—even the race for the state’s top job—this year. As Providence goes…so goes Rhode Island. So this is an election that’s every bit as important to someone from Elmhurst as someone from Edgewoood.

The rest of the field

The race features two East Siders, one South Sider and an Elmhurst resident.

One east resident is Lorne Adrain. Adrain is a businessman and board member of the Rhode Island foundation who is married to author Ann Hood.

The other is former City of Providence lobbyist Brett Smiley, who moved here in 2006 to run Charley Fogarty’s gubernatorial campaign. Smiley is a former lobbyist and Providence Water Board Chairman. Both figure to be forces on the East Side.

Jorge Elorza, a former Providence Housing Court Judge and professor at Roger Williams Law School who hails from the city’s west end. Elorza, who speaks fluent Spanish, is counting on a strong performance in the city’s south side.

Name Recognition

Yet despite the strength of his rivals, things seem to be falling into place quite nicely for City Council President Michael Solomon—the son of former Rhode Island General Treasurer and Gubernatorial Candidate Anthony Solomon.

Solomon, who has easily amassed the biggest campaign war chest, has the most name recognition, and is racking up endorsements on seemingly a weekly basis—(last week, for instance, powerful State Senator Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence), endorsed him). Solomon, who, like Elorza is a lifelong Providence resident, lives in Elmhurst. Solmon also has some pretty deep roots in, Olneyville as he owns and operates Wes’ Rib House and Anthony’s Drug Store.

The next Menino?

Like former long-time Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Solomon isn’t the world’s most gifted speaker (though as evidenced by his campaign announcement speech, he’s come leaps and bounds over the where he was just two years ago).

But like Menino did in the nineties for Boston when he too was president of his city’s council, Solomon offers a refreshing balance of business experience and political experience. A small businessman, and two-term councilman, Solomon understands what it’s like to have to make payroll and pay taxes during a tough month or season. Yet at the same time, he understands the importance of government and what it takes to run it effectively.

Solomon is a pragmatic consensus builder who, for better or worse, isn’t tied to a particular ideology. Instead, he has the ability to look at all sides of the issues, which has come in handy as council president when he’s needed to bring together members of the council that who weren’t exactly on the same page on a particular issue. In other words, he’s actually the type of guy we could use in Congress right now to reduce some of the ideological gridlock.

Given his popularity, depth of resources, and regular guy charm, Solomon will be a tough out in this year’s mayoral election. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that at this point, he’s the front runner in the race.

Ties to Taveras

It’s popular these days among the electorate to try and run a campaign as an “outsider”. That means Solomon’s main vulnerability lies in his close ties with the Taveras administration. Let’s face it, even he’d have to admit that even he would have to admit, an insider.

The trouble for Smiley and Elorza however, is that both men are staunch allies of Taveras. Taveras paid Smiley roughly $3,000 tax dollars per month to lobby the state legislature on behalf of the City of Providence. (Why Providence needs a lobbyist when it already has so many hard working state legislators is beyond me, but I digress.) Elorza, for his part, was appointed a housing court judge by Taveras. All three men are supporting Taveras’ bid for Governor.

So it rang hollow at Smiley’s announcement speech a few months ago when he said Providence is a place where you need to know somebody. Let’s face it, he had to know somebody to become the city’s Water Board Chairman and lobbyist.

Therefore, if there’s going to be a dark horse candidate who can emerge, it’s more than likely going to be Adrain. Adrain is the one candidate in the race who can criticize the state of affairs in Providence and even endorse another candidate for Governor besides Taveras, which might bring him momentum. Adrain, however, still needs to prove he has the personal magnetism to bring his run into serious contention.

Outside of any new candidate announcements, Solomon appears to be in a strong position to become Providence’s own Tom Menino.

A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.
Editor's note: this column was written and submitted before the news that Mayor Menino is battling advanced cancer. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mayor Menino and his family.

Related Slideshow: Large American Cities With Black Mayors

Using data from BlackDemographics.com and 2010 Census data, GoLocal compiled the 20 American cities with a population of 100,000 or more that currently have black mayors

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Wichita, KS

Carl Brewer

Population: 382,368
Percent Black: 11.50%
Mayor Since: 2007
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Sacramento, CA

Kevin Johnson

Population: 466,488
Percent Black: 14.60%
Mayor Since: 2008
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Alexandria, VA

William D. Eullie

Population: 139,966
Percent Black: 21.80%
Mayor Since: 2003
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Columbus, OH

Michael B. Coleman

Population: 787,033
Percent Black: 28.00%
Mayor Since: 2000
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Jacksonville, FL

Alvin Brown

Population: 821,784
Percent Black: 30.70%
Mayor Since: 2011
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Tallahassee, FL

John Marks

Population: 181,376
Percent Black: 35.00%
Mayor Since: 2003
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Buffalo, NY

Byron W. Brown

Population: 261,310
Percent Black: 38.60%
Mayor Since: 2005
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Durham, NC

William V. Bell

Population: 228,330
Percent Black: 41.00%
Mayor Since: 2001
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Inglewood, CA

James T. Butts

Population: 109,376
Percent Black: 42.90%
Mayor Since: 2011
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Philadelphia, PA

Michael A. Nutter

Population: 1,526,006
Percent Black: 43.40%
Mayor Since: 2008
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Richmond, VA

Dwight C. Jones

Population: 204,214
Percent Black: 50.60%
Mayor Since: 2009
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Washington, DC

Vincent C. Gray

Population: 601,723
Percent Black: 50.70%
Mayor Since: 2011
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Cleveland, OH

Frank Jackson

Population: 396,815

Percent Black: 53.3%

Mayor Since: 2005

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Atlanta, GA

Kasim Reed

Population: 420,003 
Percent Black: 54.00%
Mayor Since: 2010
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Baton Rouge, LA

Melvin "Kip" Holden

Population: 229,493
Percent Black: 54.50%
Mayor Since: 2005
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Shreveport, LA

Cedric B. Glover

Population: 199,311
Percent Black: 54.70%
Mayor Since: 2006
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Savannah, GA

Edna Jackson

Population: 136,286
Percent Black: 55.40%
Mayor Since: 2012
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Memphis, TN

A.C. Wharton, Jr.

Population: 646,889
Percent Black: 63.30%
Mayor Since: 2009
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Baltimore, MD

Stephanie Rowlings-Blake

Population: 620,961
Percent Black: 63.70%
Mayor Since: 2010
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Birmingham, AL

William A. Bell, Sr.

Population: 212,237
Percent Black: 73.40%
Mayor Since: 2010

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