Dan Lawlor: A Moderate in Central Falls
Saturday, August 04, 2012
Central Falls is a mile by a mile metropolis that has received a tremendous amount of attention in the last few years. On a sobering level, the city has received a great deal of press due to 34 year old Jason Ng's death due to mistreatment while in custody in the city's private prison, ongoing mayoral corruption, massive teacher lay-offs, and the city's bankruptcy and pension cuts. More positively, the success of Viola Davis, Central Falls native and two time Academy Award nominated actress, has helped lead to donations from Meryl Streep and Alex Baldwin to the city's struggling library.
Nancy, a waitress at Stanley's Hamburger, a delicious long time diner on Central Fall's Dexter St (go!), said that the city is “a small community, everyone knows everybody. I've made a lot of friends here. A lot people who've moved away come back to visit. People come from Florida just to come back and visit us at Stanley's.”
“CF isn't no tourist town, but it's nice and small. You can get to know everyone,” a 20-something resident said. “I'm not too keen on the politics. They don't let us know nothing – there's nothing on the TV news about CF.”
Central Falls is also in a Senate District where Nick Gelfuso, one of two Moderate Party candidates for the General Assembly, is running for office.
Gelfuso, a lawyer whose practice is in a converted mill in Central Falls, said, “There's an optimism here. This area is hopeful, people are pretty positive, possibly because they've been through so much.”
Gelfuso's grandmother is from Central Falls, and Gelfuso, a Cranston native, moved his law practice here in the last year. “The only problem around here is the politics. The entrenched powers are losing their grip, and people are learning not to fall for promises that can't be kept. Machine politics are based on fear.”
In the last several years, Gelfuso grew frustrated with, and left, both the local Democratic and Republican Parties. A former VP of the RI College Democrats, Gelfuso grew frustrated with “the pandering ways of the political machine.” After involvement with the local Republican Party, including a run for Cranston School Committee in 2010, Gelfuso expressed that the group “took a turn for the weird” with its social agenda.
“For the last 12 years, we've had extreme polarization,” Gelfuso said, with both parties having “allegiance to agenda.”
“I'm interested in the best ideas. I'll side with both Democrats or Republicans based on the issue.”
More locally, Gelfuso says, “Central Falls and Rhode Island should be an example, it should be easy to turn around. Attracting business is not just about taxes, but education. The wave of the future is in science and technology. If we don't put everything we have into education, then businesses will not relocate here. Instead of nit-picking over teacher union work, it's about the students. If we want them to have schooling that's not just adequate, but phenomenal, we need to work together.”
What are Gelfuso's hopes for the Moderate Party movement in RI? “ To be a moderate is what the name implies. We're for fiscal responsibility, and free to have different social beliefs. While collecting signatures, a lot of people could relate with the idea, they feel things have become too polarized.”
Beyond the party, Gelfuso has a vision of Central Falls as an “economic powerhouse for the rest of the state.”
The other Moderate Candidate for General Assembly is Joseph Botelho, a realtor in House District 65 in East Providence. Botelho writes, "I am running to give a voice to the long-suffering middle class and middle ground constituents among us.”
Gelfuso will face the winner of the Democratic Primary on September 11. The two candidates are Elizabeth Crowley and Joseph Moran III, the former City Clerk and City Police Chief, respectively, under the discredited Mayor Charles Moreau. Crowley is a sitting State Senator, first elected in 2008, and Gelfuso himself described her as “nice, down to earth.” Based on signature collections to get on the ballot, Moran had 120 approved, Gelfuso 129, and Crowley 180. It should be an interesting race.
If Gelfuso had not stepped up with the Moderate Party, despite all the challenges faced by the city and the state, there would be no Green, Libertarian, Republican or Independent opposition to the Democratic Primary winner in Central Falls. That's ridiculous.
After our interview, I ran into a man waiting for a RIPTA bus. I asked this man, “If you could say one thing to the elected officials in Central Falls, to the Mayor, to State Representatives, what would you say to them?”
He stared at me for a second, a bit puzzled, then reflective. “They don't do much. We need to clean-up the streets, more police, there's a lot nonsense, kids killing kids. We need to have something for the homeless- there are a lot of homeless in CF. Politicians should be walking around, talking with people. If they want to want to walk around, they should come out here at night – see the street gangs and the homeless.”
Without a hint of humor, he said, “What would I want [elected officials] to know? They're doing an awful job. ”
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