The first question that most folks ask me when I tell them that I'm running for mayor of Woonsocket is, "Are you crazy or just a glutton for punishment?"
Well, watching the degradation of our once thriving city certainly drives me nuts, but I don't think I'm a masochist, so, I guess that that's a yes and a no.
For starters, I love Woonsocket, an I am proud to have been raised and live here.
Our government - almost by its very nature - is a very reactionary beast.
Now, I'm not saying that every problem we face is foreseeable, the disappearance of $10 million from Woonsocket's School Budget that precipitated the activation of the Woonsocket Budget Commission being a prime example of this, but if we fail to plan for foreseeable problems, we will have fewer resources available to deal with the unforeseeable issues when they materialize. Our leaders definitely need to think on their feet, but it it important to not get caught flat-footed on easily recognized future issues. It is more important than ever for our leaders to have a vision for the future of our municipalities and state, and a plan that is guided by the voice of the people.
Voter participation in Woonsocket is atrocious.
This, I believe, is due to many factors, but I will outline two of them here.
One, the biggest - some may say only - voting bloc in Woonsocket is the elderly.
Our parents and grandparents are clearly still very invested in the political process, but it seems that our youth and minority populations have given up on the political process, and who can blame them? You can only be marginalized for so long before you become disenfranchised. Our leaders have, quite frankly, pandered to the elderly population at the cost of every other potential voter in Woonsocket. If the youth and minority population wants to be heard and have their concerns addressed, the only option is to speak up at city council and school committee meetings, and at the polls. At the end of the day, whether you're young or old, black or white, liberal or conservative, I think we can agree that what we want is a safe, prosperous community that attracts good families and businesses, and allows them to thrive and succeed.
Two, nothing seems to change for the better, no matter who we elect.
This fact has stopped the participation of some of the staunchest advocates of our political process. How often have we heard the refrain, "Why vote when nothing ever changes?" I think that this is largely due to the ideological approaches to government by both of the major parties. The left wants to raise taxes, the right wants to cut spending and services. In Woonsocket's case, both things are happening.
Now, I'm no economist, but if taxes go up, there should be a corresponding increase in services, and if services are cut, taxes should go down. Woonsocket seems to be in a Twilight Zone episode where taxes and services are inversely proportional. That said, I believe that we can certainly be more prudent and efficient in how we spend the little revenue that we do have, but, like any business owner will tell you, you don't have to sell more widgets to make more money, you should first reduce your overhead.
What we need in a leader
We need a leader that will break the mold of the old-school approaches to solving financial crisises, which are clearly not working. One only has to look to the City of Braddock, Pennsylvania and Mayor John Fetterman to see examples of how new approaches can revitalize failing cities and towns.
We need a leader that can reinvigorate our young people, and in a city that was built by immigrants, we definitely need to embrace and include those growing populations in the process.One of the biggest strengths of this city, state, and country is our diversity of cultures, creeds, and ideologies. We need to capitalize on that.
We need a leader that has a plan, but that plan needs to be guided by what the residents of Woonsocket want to see in their city and government. I'll add that, just because someone doesn't vote - or doesn't vote for you - doesn't mean that they are not constituents. To that end, I will begin a listening tour of the city in March to hear the concerns and ideas of citizens and business owners alike.
There is a lot of negativity about Woonsocket, from within and without. We need to recognize our successes and potentials and put much more focus on those.
Most importantly, we, as citizens, must realize that the successes and failures of our cities, towns, states, and countries do not rest solely on the backs of our elected leaders. We are just as responsible for every outcome, good or bad. For better or worse, we are all in this together, so let's come together and start watching our neighbors backs.
I urge all Woonsocket residents that have given up on or never participated the process to register to vote, because this November, you will see a very different mayoral candidate on the ballot.