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PowerPlayer: Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien

Monday, March 21, 2011

 

Like much of Rhode Island's urban corridor, Pawtucket is facing a dire financial situation.  This week’s PowerPlayer is the man tasked with solving the city’s problems: The 43-year old Mayor Don Grebien.

A lifelong city resident and public school graduate who previously served on the City Council, Grebien is the ultimate community builder. A coach, volunteer and team sponsor, Grebien says his main goal is to help create a great community that is a good place to live, work and do business.

1. Pawtucket is a city known for political dynasties. When did you know you were the guy to break the trend?

When the votes were counted! Seriously, my campaign and my administration are not about the past, but about the future. It is true that I ran against two of the best-known political family names in Pawtucket politics, Doyle and Kinch, and in last fall’s primary we were fortunate to win almost two-thirds of the vote, with no other opponents on the November ballot. Our main issue was the need for greater fiscal responsibility, and that’s what I believe resonated with the voters.

2. Take us through a day in your life.

I am an early-to-rise person by nature so I’m typically up before 7:00 a.m. sending out emails and texts. Just ask my staff! My wife, Laureen, and I have two children in elementary school, Alexa who is 11 and Connor who is 9, so we’re all up early anyway. My day is typically a nonstop series of meetings and phone calls from my office to the State House, meetings with potential incoming businesses from Rhode Island and sometimes beyond, meetings and conversations with other public officials, plus numerous community events nights and weekends. It’s very challenging, which I like, and the days go by almost too fast.

3. If you hadn’t heard, Rhode Island is small, which means everyone seems to know what everyone else is doing. Are you conscious of your role as a public figure?

I was fortunate to serve on the City Council for 11 years, so I thought I knew a bit about being a public figure, at least on the local level. But the role of mayor amps that up exponentially. It was brought home to me early on when I made a casual joking comment at a dinner event and it got quoted back to me later from elsewhere as if I was making some kind of major policy change. Caution taken! So being mayor is on a bigger stage. But you’re right, this is Rhode Island, where people expect to be able to get up close and personal with their public servants. Which is the way it should be.

4. What’s the most difficult part of your job?

Well, as you may have heard, the City of Pawtucket is dealing with major budget deficits both short and long term. That’s a daily challenge on both ends. But we’ve already made some significant strides and I’m confident we will get where we need to go. In the personal scheme of things, the challenge is to strike the necessary balance between work and family. But thanks to my wife keeping me on my toes, I’m typically able to find time to help the kids with their school work or make it to their soccer games, and we were even able to squeeze in some time off up north this winter which helped recharge my batteries.

5. If you could change one thing about the state, what would it be?

First, there are a lot of things I would NOT want to change about our state: Rhode Island offers a great quality of life, a diversity of wonderful natural resources and people, and excellent educational and cultural opportunities. We all know the economy is in a rough stage right now, Pawtucket included. But as a parent of two young children what I would like to see more emphasis on is a greater commitment to our children’s future by increasing support for education. Governor Chafee is trying to push the state in that direction for the cities and towns, and hopefully that will continue to extend to higher education, which Rhode Island supports at one of the lowest levels of any state in the country.

6. Tell us something nobody knows about you.

Well, my wife certainly knows because that’s in part how we met. But not many people know that my high school course of study at Davies was in culinary arts, which led to me working in the catering business, through which I met Laureen, though she’s the one who made it a career, as for many years now she has been assistant manager for the Gregg’s restaurant on North Main Street in Providence. But I still enjoy whipping up a good omelet once in a while.

Role Model:

My Mom, Patricia. She taught by wise words but perhaps more importantly by example. Plus she’s still our best babysitter when we’re lucky enough to get her.

Favorite Restaurant:

Gregg’s, naturally. And you can’t beat the desserts.

Best Beach:

Roger Wheeler State Beach, in Narragansett. It’s a great family beach.

Best Book You’ve Read In The Last Year:

Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Advice For The Next Don Grebien:

Believe. And be persistent.

 

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