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Arthur Schaper: Improvident Providence

Friday, December 06, 2013


Earlier this week, GoLocalProv exposed the top forty public employees in Providence, who are pocketing an improvident amount of money. How these people can call themselves public servants, when they are serving themselves a second helping from the public coffers – I am at a loss for words (though hardly surprised).

Only a handful of city administrators made the Top 40. Interestingly enough, Mayor (and gubernatorial candidate) Angel Taveras did not even make the Top 100. At least he has one thing going for him when he runs to replace Chafee in 2014: “I close your pools and cave into public sector unions, but I don’t make you pay me extra for doing so!”

The majority of highly compensated employees were firefighters. Perhaps the high compensation is justified. How many fires have erupted in Providence? The Providence fire department released the following list of ladder and engine statistics for 2010, but more up-to-date information was not forthcoming.

Fire rescue captain Vincent D’Ambra holds the Top Spot for the Top 40, taking in nearly double his base pay in one year (Overtime: $116,356.94). With benefits, and his total pay amounted to $218,145. Providence has indeed been provident to Mr. D’Ambra, but will the city employees find themselves taking haircuts from an emergency manager (like Detroit), or a public beheading from taxpayers and underserved city residents (like Bell, California)? Remember Central Falls, firefighters. The mayor went to jail, the city filed for bankruptcy, and the sacrosanct public pensions took a scalping.

Such profligacy is not shocking to me.

In the South Bay of Southern California, where I live, the beach city communities see very little crime, fewer fires, with a high-class residential clientele in the aerospace or entertainment industry. El Segundo, California has one of the largest Chevron refineries in the country, and low crime/fire rates. El Segundo’s police and fire chiefs take in six figure salaries. One city council member wanted to contract out the fire department to Los Angeles County, and the current city council is facing massive budget deficits because of the overgenerous pensions.

Further south, there’s Hermosa Beach, where “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno practices his jokes at the Comedy and Magic Club before prime time. The city’s comedy and magical thinking comes from the public sector unions in this pretty little beach city, where one murder in seven years and very few fires have taken place. Why do police captains need a six figure salary? Better yet, why does the city hire parking enforcers for $50,000 a year, with a lavish pension waiting for them when they retire? By the way, those meter maids make more money than the teachers in the same city. Unbelievable.

Now, back to Providence.

If overtime pay is such a problem, then the city should hire more firefighters and cut down on the overtime. Providence did hire fifty-two more employees, yet the city’s budget for fire services will increase, nonetheless. What gives?

Why do public employees take in so much in the first place? Prior city leaders cave in to union pressure and agree to contracts in the best interests of the collective bargaining units, which in turn support city leaders’ re-elections. Pure and simple. The result? Take a look at San Bernardino, California, where prior city councils refused to face the facts about the financial mess that they were forcing themselves into, and declared bankruptcy last year. The crime rate since then has spiked (the housing crisis created a wasteland of abandoned, underwater homes), and city tax revenues have suffered. Sound familiar, Rhode Islanders?

Then if the leaders in Providence are so bad, what will it take to make them lead?

One Rhode Island resident who follows me on Twitter did not mince words:

“Fear of being voted out of office. Unlikely in a state full of the walking brain dead.” One Republican Party official did admit that the voter apathy in Rhode Island is horrendous.

Are the voters that apathetic about their city leadership?

I called the Rhode Island Elections Division for some tallies. Here are the results:

Providence mayoral election turnout in 2010, in which there were 96,712 possible voters.


Candidate                                      Ballot breakup                                               Total votes             Percentage

• Angel TAVERAS (DEM)               Polling place: 26,572, Mail ballots: 956            27,528                     82.1%

• Jonathan P. SCOTT (IND)           Polling place: 5,801, Mail ballots: 205               6,006                      17.9%


Two thirds of residents did not bother to vote for their next mayor.

Providence voter turnout for state senators and state assembly reps in 2012: Out of 103,165, only 53, 506, or 50.9%. Not very impressive.

Either Providentials don’t vote, or they vote for the same legal collusion of Democratic politicians and demanding public sector unions.

Brain dead voters voting against their better interests? Hardly likely. Government’s ubiquitous presence in Rhode Island, from high welfare payments to bureaucratic finagling, has made big government a big advantage to voters. How much longer this unsustainable collusion will last, however, may force even the welfare recipients, government bureaucrats, and public sector employees to give up on taking improvident advantage of indigent Providence, Rhode Island in 2014.


Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurCSchaper, reach him at [email protected], and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Taveras Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

Prev Next

#10 Fundraising

Can Taveras Keep Up with the Big Boys and Girls in Fundraising?

In America today, one issue that is a factor in nearly every election is fundraising. To date, Taveras has yet to demonstrate any consistent ability to keep up with the leading fundraisers in RI.

Taveras will have to compete with General Treasuer Gina Raimondo, who has $2 plus million on hand and a likely run from Clay Pell (grandson of US Senator Claiborne Pell and whose wife is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan).

Raimondo is on pace to raise $5m and Taveras presently has just $692,000 on hand and would be on pace to raise less than $2 mliion. 

Pell's family has access to nearly limitless dollars - back in the 1990's Pell's grandfather was ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

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#9 Curse

Can Taveras Break the Providence Mayor's Curse?

For more than 60 years, no Providence Mayor has been successful running for Governor of Rhode Island. You have to go back to the 1950 election when Dennis Roberts was elected Governor.

Since Roberts, a number of Providence Mayors have taken their shot at running for Governor and each has failed mightily.

Most notably, Buddy Cianci's run against J. Joseph Garrahy - Cianci got less than 30% of the statewide vote.

Joe Paolino was expected to win the Democratic primary in 1990, but was beaten badly by Bruce Sundlun and then Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty.

Sundlun went on to win the general election and Flaherty was later named to the state Supreme Court.

Taveras will have to break a very long curse.

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#8 Hire or Fire

Can Teachers Trust Taveras - and Will Voters Trust His Relationship with the Teachers Unions?

In the midst of the city's political meltdown, Taveras just into his first few months in office fired all the teachers in Providence.

Taveras received strong public support, but within months he capitulated to pressure from the teachers' unions.

Three years later, he is emerging as the candidate of the teachers' union leadership. Will teachers trust him in a statewide race and will voters trust him if he is perceived as too close to union bosses?

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#7 Hispanics

Will Hispanics Vote as a Block in the Primary for Taveras? Are They Influential Enough in the General?

Conventional wisdom is that Angel Taveras will get a big boost from the Hispanic voting block in the primary, but more recently Council members Luis Aponte, Danian Sanchez and Sabina Matos have all openly battled with the mayor on his tax increases and efforts to close pools in low income wards around the city.

While Taveras can rebound and the impact may be large in the primary, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic in the general election is just 7% according to Pew Research:

  • Rhode Island’s population is 12% Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic population share nationally.
  • There are 54,000 Hispanic eligible voters in Rhode Island—which ranks 35th in Hispanic eligible voter population nationally. California ranks first with 5.9 million.
  • Some 7% of Rhode Island eligible voters are Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally. New Mexico ranks first with 39%.
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#6 Temperament

Can Taveras Handle the Campaign Pressure and the Office Pressure of Governor?

Taveras had no experience as a chief executive in business or government before taking office in 2011 in Providence. He has increasingly gotten into some very non-productive scrapes.

In 2012, his law office delivered a document to GoLocalProv as part of a FOIA request and those documents included the social security number of every retiree of the City. Instead of taking responsibility he sent his lawyers to court to try to block GoLocal from writing about the mishandling of social security numbers. The judge ruled against Taveras.

In 2013, Taveras has tried to demolish a commuity swimming pool in South Providence because, according to Councilman Danian Sanchez, Sanchez would not vote for Taveras' tax increase.

Will Taveras be able to prove to voters he has the right stuff?

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#5 Base outside Prov

Can Angel Taveras Build a Political Base Outside of Providence?

While Taveras has a strong political base in Providence, it is unclear if he can build a strong political network in critical Democratic strongholds like Woonsocket, Pawtucket, East Providence, Johnston and North Providence.

It is well known that both Democratic Mayors in North Providence and Johnston have had a strained relationship with Taveras.

This strain has played out over critical matters like mutual emergency aid and in 2012, North Providence, Johnston and East Providence all cancelled emergency aid compacts with Providence.

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#4 Women Voters

Can Taveras Compete for Women Voters?

When Taveras ran for Mayor he won the critical block of East Side Democratic women. Part of his success with this critical block of voters was the support he enjoyed from Democratic power Myrth York. 

The two-time Democratic nominee for Governor went all in for Taveras in 2010, but she no longer is active in the inner circle and reportedly would have supported Governor Lincoln Chafee in the primary.

Taveras will need to compete with Raimondo who has already signed former EMILY's list bigwig Kate Coyne-McCoy.

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#3 Star Power

Can Taveras Keep Up with Clay Pell's Star Power?

In 2010, Taveras ran under the motto of "from Head Start to Harvard."  His claim on the American dream proved a successful juxtaposition to two Democrats who had the same political base - Federal Hill (Steven Costantino and John Lombardi).

Now, Taveras may face the fresh-faced Clay Pell. His bio exceeds Taveras as he can claim the legacy of his grandfather's work and hit the circuit with his superstar wife, Olympian Michelle Kwan.

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#2 Issues and Vision

Can Angel Taveras Articulate a Vision for Rhode Island?

Taveras earned good scores for managing the City of Providence's financial crises, but never seemed to develop major policies for economic development, schools, parking, crime, reducing the cost of government or improving the efficiency.
The Superman building's closure happened on his watch, technology company Dassault Systèmes is moving out of Providence, and no major employers were recruited into the city other than the scrap yard on Allens Avenue.
Taveras will need to define a forward looking vision for Rhode Island.
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#1 Crime and Education

Can Taveras Explain His Record on Crime and Education?

The biggest problem for Taveras is his record in Providence.
Most people care about the basics - their jobs, education for their children, how safe their neighborhood is.  These vary questions could be Taveras' Achilles' heel.
According to GoLocal's study of the FBI crime data, Providence is ranked #2 for violent crime per capita in Rhode Island.
The condition of Providence's schools may be worse. Of the 24 schools ranked as poor (de facto failing) in Rhode Island by the Department of Education, 6 of them were Providence Schools and in the rankings of the best high schools in the state, most of Providence's schools consistently litter the bottom of the rankings.
Taveras lead the city to win the $5 million Bloomberg award. But in a Governor's race one of Taveras' opponents is sure to ask, "Mr. Mayor, are you going to bring the same policies you used on crime and education in Providence to the rest of the state?"

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