Union Activist Wins Providence Council Seat in Landslide
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Fewer than 650 voters turned out Tuesday to elect Democrat Carmen Castillo to the Providence City Council over Republican candidate Christian Chirino. A third candidate, Rochelle Lee, staged an unsuccessful write-in campaign after losing to Castillo in the Democratic primary.
The special election was for the vacant Ward 9 Council Seat, which was previously held by Miguel Luna, who died after suffering a massive heart attack in August.
Castillo, a union activist for UNITE HERE local 217, helped organize the Westin Hotel workers boycott last year and was long considered the favorite in the race after narrowly winning the six-way primary earlier this month. She had the support of the SEIU and Mayor Angel Taveras walked door-to-door with her last weekend.
In total, Castillo collected 495 votes while Chirino collected 86 votes. Lee was able to obtain 58 write-in votes.
Providence Democratic City Committee Chairperson Lauren Nocera said Castillo will bring a strong voice to the City Council
"On behalf of the Providence Democratic City Committee, I congratulate Carmen Castillo on a resounding victory tonight. I am thrilled that hundreds of Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters united to elect Carmen to the Ward 9 City Council seat," Nocera said. "Carmen has spent her entire career fighting for living wage jobs and fairness in the workplace. She will be a strong voice on the City Council for jobs, housing, public education and other issues facing working families."
Democrats Control Council
Castillo’s victory means all 15 Providence City Council seats will continue to be held by Democrats. The Council has not had a minority party member since David Segal last held the Ward 1 Council seat in 2006. Segal ended up moving to the Democratic party during his time as a State Representative.
Chirino faced an uphill battle from the beginning. But Republicans believed they had the right candidate in the 20 year old Community College of Rhode Island student. In the end, a strong effort from the Democratic machine quelled any hopes of an upset.
Despite the loss, Providence GOP chairperson Tara Pinsky offered an optimistic view of the race, arguing that simply having the option to vote for a non-Democrat was a success in its own right.
“Chris did an amazing job running as a Republican in Ward 9! He worked for every vote of the 86 he got,” Pinsky wrote in a Facebook message last night. “It was nice that they finally had an option. We will continue to grow the Republican party though out the City. Planting the seeds of conservatism!”
It is unclear exactly what role Castillo will play on the Council as far committee seats. Luna served only on the City Property Committee while two of his allies (Luis Aponte and Davian Sanchez) were not appointed to a single committee last January. Aponte and Sanchez publicly endorsed Castillo.
It is, however, likely Castillo will follow Luna’s legacy as a progressive-minded Councilman that will fight for workers’ rights. One of the first issues she’ll be faced with is the debate over the Achievement First charter management organization coming to Providence to open a Mayoral Academy.
While the Council ultimately has no say in whether the school will open, it has taken up the issue after several Council members raised concerns. The school is supported by Mayor Taveras and Council President Michael Solomon, but Luna was a vocal opponent.