Weiss: The Political Legacy of James E. Doyle

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


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Over his long career, Mayor James E. Doyle balanced a personal life and very demanding political career through the strong support of his loving family; Joan, his wife of 51 years; his children, Jamie, Cristen, and Joanne; and his grandchildren, Ellen, Caroline, Olivia, Tucker, Chloe, Jamie, Paige.

In 1972, Mayor Doyle was elected and would serve the Pawtucket City Council for more than a quarter of a Century.  During this time he served as its President and also chaired the Council’s Finance Committee.  

Doyle became the City of Pawtucket’s Mayor in 1997.  He would set a political record of becoming the longest consecutive serving Mayor (13 years) since the City’s incorporated in April 1885.     

Mayor Doyle’s Administration would have a lasting impact on the quality of life and economic vitality of his beloved City. 

Doyle's Lasting Impact

In 1999, Mayor Doyle created a 307 acre Arts & Entertainment District, the largest at that time, to bring artists into the City to fill vacant and under- utilized mills.   City officials would view artists as small businesses and this economic development policy would become one of Pawtucket’s most successful economic development initiatives in recent times. The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Providence Business News, The Providence Phoenix and other local newspapers, a 53 minute documentary, “Pawtucket Rising,” and, even a book published in England would detail the City’s successful efforts in building an arts community.

Mayor Doyle brought into the City the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre, Mixed Magic Theatre, Stone Soup Coffee House, the Foundry Artist Annual Show & Sale to enhance the City’s Arts and Entertainment District. He even created the Pawtucket Arts Festival in 1999 which over 18 years has grown into the largest arts festival in New England bringing tens of thousands of people into the City every September.  He was responsible for initially bringing the Rhode Island Philharmonic Pops Orchestra to play at that month-long Arts Festival event.

The Mayor created the Arts Organizational annual grant program to provide funding to 501 c 3 nonprofit art groups to assist them in paying operational costs.  Today, Pawtucket is the only City or Town offering this assistance. He also created the first juried art panel to annually award grants for art programming.

Eighteen years ago, Doyle enhanced the City of Pawtucket Calendar, chock full of information about City programs and services, by adding the winning photos from the City’s Photo contest, selected by professional photographers. 

Mayor Doyle also bought the Pawtucket Armory from the state of Rhode Island for just a dollar to transform it into a thriving arts center.  Later the property would be given to the nonprofit Pawtucket Amory Association to renovate, housing the JWS of the Performing arts and the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theater.  

For arts advocacy, Mayor Doyle and the City of Pawtucket were recognized for efforts by being presented the Arts Advocacy Award by Arts & Business Council of Rhode Island in 2004.

Mayor Doyle was also directly responsible for the start of the renovation of the City’s Mill buildings into residential use. The first effort, Riverfront Lofts, could not secure financing to do the development project. The Mayor used the City’s Redevelopment Agency to guarantee the needed financing. The success of this first mill conversion in Pawtucket enabled all of the other mill projects to be financed by private banks. Baily Lofts, Slater Cotton Lofts, The Lofts 25, all came on line, their financing was made possible because of the success of Riverfront lofts. These redeveloped mills have brought hundreds of new residents into the City.   In 2005, a California developer began to revitalize Hope Artiste Village, a long vacant 650,000 sf mill building, back to use.   Today, this historic mill is filled to the brim with over 150 small businesses employing an estimated 500 people.

Mayor Doyle and the City of Pawtucket was acknowledged for his innovative economic development achievements by many organizations during his years as Mayor.  In 2003, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recognized Pawtucket (for its arts initiative) and 27 other municipalities for having the best small business practice cities in the country.  The Northern Rhode Island Chamber gave him its 2004 Barbara Burlingame Award to recognize his outstanding contribution to the business community. 

Meanwhile, in 2006, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission would present him with its prestigious John H. Chaffee Public Service Award for his City’s efforts to preserve the City’s historic mills.  That year, he would also receive the Senator Chafee Heritage Award from the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley Heritage Corridor for revitalizing Pawtucket through the arts.

Doyle would give his blessings and strong support to create the Pawtucket Foundation in 2001.  Since its creation this 501 (C) 3 nonprofit has worked closely with his administration and now Mayor Donald R. Grebien, to revitalize the City’s economy.  For his tireless efforts to revitalize Pawtucket’s economy the Pawtucket Foundation present him with its Heritage Award in 2011. 

At the beginning of Doyle’s Administration, the City had close to 250 abandoned, blighted properties scattered throughout the City.  The Mayor successfully lobbied the General Assembly to strengthen the City’s Housing Court.  He put together an interdepartmental task force to wage his war on the owners on these properties.  Ultimately, only 31 properties would remain on the list, to be closely monitored by the City’s Zoning Department during this initiative.

Mayor Doyle successfully lobbied the Department of transportation to give the agency design input culled from a Task Force of Pawtucket artisans, artists and designers.  His initial efforts led to the construction of a new 82 million dollar iconic bridge that incorporates art deco design into its structure reflecting the architectural elements in Pawtucket City Hall and Tolman High School.

Under Doyle’s Administration, a state-of-the-art dog pound was built along with a skateboard Park and the former Peerless building was developed to house the City’s Visitor Center, the Department of Planning and Redevelopment, along with several other small businesses.  The Mayor put his energy into recreating the former City zoo into a passive City farm, “Daggett Farm.”

During his term as Mayor, a $46 million dollar state-of-the-art treatment plant was built and became operation in March 2008.  During his tenure the Pawtucket Water Supply Board began a system-wide rehabilitation and replacement of the piping network.  

Through Doyle’s efforts he was able to get the Division Street property donated by GM to the City for a $1. Today, under City ownership, a developer plans to develop the 11 acre site to build a medical office and residential apartments expected to cost about $ 45 million.

Also the Mayor Doyle’s beginning efforts ultimately have led to the development of the City’s new Festival Pier, and the new the Conant Street Bridge.

Mayor Doyle even charged his wife, Joan and friend, Stan Lachut, to spearhead a turkey basket drive for Pawtucket’s needy in 1998, over 1,500 baskets away in 13 years.  This tradition is still carried on today by First Lady Laureen Grebien.

Finally, one of the most important efforts started by Mayor Doyle, in partnership with the Pawtucket Foundation, was the effort that began in 2005 to develop a Commuter Rail Station in Pawtucket/Central Falls.  Under Mayor Doyle’s Administration, the City funded the required local share to allow the initial Feasibility Study for the Commuter Rail Station to happen. That study showed that a station would be successfully in Pawtucket, and currently RIDOT has publicly announced that the project is moving forward with an anticipated completion date of 2019. 


Related Slideshow: Remembering Those Who We Lost in RI in 2015

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Barbara Meek, Actress

Barbara Anita Meek who was celebrated for her more than 100 stage productions at Trinity Rep and gained national fame on TV passed away in October at the age of 81.

Meek who was born February 26, 1934 in Detroit, Michigan, was a star on the television series Archie Bunker’s Place - a spinoff series from All in the Family,

Her career at Trinity Rep included leading roles in the August Wilson plays Fences and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, James Purdy's Eustace Chisholm and the Works, Athol Fugard's Boesman and Lena, Peer Gynt, The Threepenny Opera, Tartuffe, The Visit, Fires in the Mirror, Adrian Hall and Robert Cumming's adaptation of A Christmas Carol (including the role of "Ebenezer Scrooge"), Terrence McNally's Master Class, Henry IV, Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer and, Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest to name a few.

Meek also appeared in the Broadway production of Wilson in the Promised Land.

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David Barber, TV and Radio Personality 

Former radio talk show host turned State House Host of Capitol Television , Barber one of those people that had the uncanny knack of touching most everyone he came in contact with.  He passed away on July 4 of this year.

At a memorial in his memory most everyone offered a poignant story:

Rep. Dennis Canario (D-Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton), brought up Dave’s love for his cream-colored Italian-made Vespa scooter.  “I helped him get his helmet painted to match the color of it,” said the Deputy Majority Leader. “He was the infamous social butterfly on two wheels,” he said, noting that following Barber’s adventures on his scooter was almost like “Where in Rhode Island is Dave now.”

Jason Golditch, Senior Producer and Director at Capitol Television, told a story to illustrate Dave’s love of baseball and his sense of humor.  Golditch says that oftentimes he would give out a fantasy baseball card with his image on the card along with a real major league baseball player wearing Detroit Tiger uniforms. “Little did those he gave the card to realize the photo was from a fantasy camp he once attended,” he added, noting that Dave would “go on to answer people’s questions about what it was like to play in the major leagues.” 

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Guy Abelson, Hospitality and Community Leader 

A former events manager at Lifespan and owner of Guy Abelson Events, Abeslon was a well-know figure in the Rhode Island hospitality industry.

As GoLocal reported on his passing in September:

"Guy was that constant leader, thinker, and innovator in energizing and fundraising for the nonprofit community in Rhode Island," said GoLocal24 CEO Josh Fenton.  "You can't imagine going to an event and not seeing Guy."

Abelson was 67. 

"He was a quiet leader -- along the lines of Sister Ann Keefe -- he walked the walk, and made life better for people working at the grassroots level," said Mary K. Talbot, who was first introduced to Abelson working at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

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George Germon, Al Forno

George Germon, who opened the award-winning Al Forno restaurant in Providence in 1980 along with Johanne Killeen, passed away earlier this year.

Al Forno is consistently named a top spot in Rhode Island -- and the country -- for its pizza and Italian cuisine.

Food and Wine Magazine wrote of Al Forno when it dubbed the Providence restaurant among the tops across the nation: 

"Food & Wine honored Al Forno for launching 'a new era of ambitious cooking in Providence [in 1980] with their thin-crusted grilled pizzas topped with superfresh ingredients.' The editors singled out Al Forno's Margarita Pizza (with house-made pomodoro, fresh herbs, two cheeses and extra virgin olive oil) as the signature item."

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Joe Rodio, Attorney

For the past three decades Joe Rodio was the ultimate confidant to Mayors, business leaders, heads of non-profits, and union leaders. As GoLocal reported when it first reported Rodio’s passing in October:

One of Rhode Island's top attorneys has died -- Joe Rodio, Sr., the founding member of Rodio & Ursillo. Rodio was considered one of the region's top labor attorneys.

He founded his firm in 1980 with David R. Ursillo, Sr. and piled up many of the most prominent clients in the region, ranging from the Providence Bruins to the Town of Cumberland to the Providence Police Union.

A top advisor to many candidates and elected officials, Rodio was the blend of top legal mind and smart political counsel.

"I brought Joe in to advise the board of education when we began the reorganization.  His counsel was concise, firm and effective.  His loyalty and friendship is something I will always treasure.  He was a passionate advocate and fiercely loyal.  It is a very sad day for Rhode Island," said Eva-Marie Mancuso, former Chair of the RI Board of Education.

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Ani Emdijan, Daughter, Student, Friend

In March, a RIPTA bus tragically struck and killed 9 year old Ani Emdijan on Smith Street in Providence.  It was the second fatal RIPTA accident in a year, after a court security officer was struck and killed downtown in 2014.

Donnie Bennett, who started a GoFundMe page for the family following the tragic accident, wrote the following:

"Ani was a brilliant light in the world. I can remember when she was born, how much joy she brought to both of her parents, Marie McMillan and Osheen (Oshin) Emdjian. Over the years, as Ani grew, her parents immeasurable love only expanded every day - and they each finally learned what every good parent comes to know... the meaning of unconditional, everlasting love."

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Felix Rodriguez, Spain Restaurants

Rhode Island is home to many ethnicities and one we could use a few more of is Spaniards, but Felix Rodiguez took many of us to the most delicious Spanish meals through his two restaurants in Narragansett and Cranston.

The first of the two locations - Narragansett — became famous for its Mediterranean “inspired cuisine served in an elegant yet casual atmosphere.” 

GoLocal tagged Spain’s Paella as one of the best meals you can eat in RI.

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Jim Skeffington, Lawyer and President of the PawSox

For decades, Jim Skeffington was the man behind the big deals in Rhode Island. He crafted the strategy, legal structure and financing for many of the mega-deals over more than four decades.

In 2014 and 2015, he moved into a more public role as the face of the Pawtucket Red Sox and became the focal point of the effort to move the team from Pawtucket to Providence.

GoLocal wrote when it first reported his death:

Jim Skeffington, the PawSox President and driving force behind the proposed move of the team to Providence, has died of a heart attack at age 73.

Prior to leading the new ownership group of the PawSox, Skeffington was a powerful behind-the-scenes lawyer who helped to put together the deals and financing for some of Rhode Island's biggest projects.

From establishing the financing for the Rhode Island Convention Center to the Providence Place Mall, Skeffington served as everything from bond counsel to chief strategist.

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For decades at Edwards and Angell (now Locke Lord) law firm, he had been both a legal and political force.

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First Sgt. P. Andrew McKenna, US Army Special Forces

Andrew McKenna of the U.S. Army Special Forces, a Bristol native who was killed in a terror attack in Kabul in August, is remebered for his sacrifice and bravery by Rhode Islanders.

Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said about McKenna:

"Andrew McKenna was a brave young man and a dedicated soldier, and my heart is full of grief for the unimaginable loss felt by his family and friends, and by the State of Rhode Island. My thoughts and prayers are with the entire McKenna family; Andrew was truly a hero."

"It is a tragedy whenever an American soldier dies in service to his or her country, and this devastating loss is particularly acute. Andrew's sacrifice will never be forgotten, and as we pray for his loved ones, let us also pray for the courageous men and women who continue to serve and selflessly protect this nation."

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Richard Jean-Georges, Bristol Police Officer

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He was the son of Manny and Gladys (Limage) Jean-Georges.

Richard attended the University of Alaska before transferring to the University of RI. He worked at Citizens Bank as a Loan Officer until fulfilling his dream to become a Police Officer. He served as a patrolman for the past three years with the Bristol Police Department.

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Michael Lewis and Kerry Soares

Lewis and Soares were two Rhode Islanders who died homeless in 2015. 

The Statewide Outreach Committee of the Coalition vowed this year that any deaths on the streets would not remain invisible to the community, and that the deaths of those Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness will be honored.

"Advocates lament the continuation of needless deaths when solutions exist for housing all homeless Rhode Islanders. A call is made to join the national movement, Zero: 2016 to house all chronic homeless and all homeless veterans," said the Coalition. 


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