City Council ward candidates face off
NEWPORT – The two candidates for the Ward 1 seat and the two candidates for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council discussed local issues Tuesday night in a candidates forum at City Hall before an audience of about 75 people.
James Dring, a local Realtor, and Angela McCalla, a foster care recruiter and trainer for Child & Family, are running for the Ward 1 seat, while Valerie Larkin, a technology transfer manager at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, is challenging incumbent Ward 2 Councilwoman LynnUnderwood Ceglie, who has held the seat since 2014.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Kathryn Leonard is unchallenged in her run for re-election. The other four members on the City Council hold at-large seats. The seven candidates for those four seats were featured in a forum last Thursday.
Tuesday night’s forum was the third and final organized by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, a neighborhood advocacy group. Questions were posed by Jill Kassis, first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island.
Among the issues Ward 1 candidates talked about was the state project to redesign the Pell Bridge approach and exit ramps. The project, now in its design phase, is expected to free up close to 40 acres of land in the North End of the city, within Ward 1, for economic development.
“The state says they are doing it because the traffic backs up on the Pell Bridge,” said Dring, a former chairman of the city Planning Board. “I’d rather have it back up on the bridge than have an adverse impact on our neighborhoods. I’m in favor of the proposal that is the least disruptive.”
The state Department of Transportation has developed four major alternatives for the new bridge ramp design. One of those alternatives has three variations and another alternative has two variations, so the process of coming up with a final design is still very much in flux.
The Alliance for a Livable Newport sponsored a public forum Tuesday night at City Hall for Newport Ward 1 and Ward 2 City Council candidates. From left are Ward 1 candidates James Dring and Angela McCalla, and Ward 2 candidates Valerie Larkin and Lynn Underwood Ceglie. [PETER SILVIA PHOTO]
“There has to be more transparency in the plans and we need to hear from our constituents about what they want,” McCalla said. “The community needs to come together to make a decision. It is the community that should have the final say.”
Dring called the Pell ramp project “the biggest redevelopment project in the city since the late 1960s and 1970s,” when many buildings were torn down to make way for America’s Cup Avenue, Brick Market Place and Long Wharf Mall.
“That in my opinion was a disaster, putting a fourlane highway through the downtown and cutting off sections of the city from each other,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen again.”
“We are a city of neighborhoods,” McCalla said. “We must stay that way.”
On making streets safer
The Ward 2 candidates addressed the pending pedestrian and other safety improvements the state is planning for Memorial Boulevard, since much of the thoroughfare is within their ward.
“The addition of bicycle lanes along part of Memorial Boulevard was a positive step, but we do have a traffic problem that is dangerous for people crossing the street,” Larkin said. “We are a colonial city with narrow streets. We need to find ways to keep traffic out of the city.”
Ceglie said she has been working with the DOT and residents on the plans to make Memorial Boulevard safer.
“I am particularly concerned about the crossing used by many elderly residents of Chapel Terrace and Donovan Manor,” she said.
The Ward 2 candidates also were asked about commercial development of Broadway, which seems to be expanding north.
“When you have a vibrant downtown business zone, that is one of the consequences,” Larkin said. “We need to look at the Cranston-Calvert [former school] development. We need a holistic approach and we need more engagement by the community.”
“I see the development of Broadway as a positive,” Ceglie said. “While on the council, I have addressed problems of parking, speeding and not stopping at stop signs, which we see in many of our neighborhoods. But Broadway is a shining light in our city now. We see that in the annual Broadway Street Fair.”
“The younger population count in the city is going down, which is why the Cranston-Calvert project is so important,” Ceglie said. “It would become workforce housing that is not subsidized, but is appealing to younger people.”
Moderator Kassis asked five questions with the request that the candidates answer with a “yes” or “no.” The candidates were given a chance at the end of the series to briefly explain their answers.
On term limits, Rogers High School
The two candidates who would be new to city government – McCalla and Larkin – said they would favor term limits for city councilors. That would ensure fresh faces periodically join the council, they said.
The two candidates with experience in city government – Ceglie, who has also served on the city’s Zoning Board of Review, and Dring – opposed term limits. They said the position already has a two-year term limit, when the voters decide whether incumbents should be returned to the council. Veteran council members with experience and institutional knowledge are important contributors to council deliberations, Ceglie said.
McCalla was the only candidate to answer “yes” when asked whether she “would support moving Rogers High School to the North End, closer to where two-thirds of the students reside.”
It is an important goal to explore, McCalla said.
Dring, Ceglie and Larkin all abstained from the Rogers vote. They said afterward that they would support having a high school in the North End if possible, but they believe there is no available large parcel of land in that section of the city where a high school could be built. If that changed, they would be on board with a North End high school, they said.
When asked whether they would support a citywide survey of residents’ concerns and priorities, such as took place in 2005 and 2015, Ceglie and Dring answered “no.” They said such surveys are expensive. If a third-party organization or individuals were willing to carry those costs, they would support the survey, they said.
McCalla and Larkin said they would support such a survey, but Larkin qualified her answer afterward by saying a high-cost survey could be a deterrent.
Dring, Ceglie and Larkin said they would support a homestead property-tax exemption for permanent residents of Newport, while McCalla abstained. She said she would like to research the impact of such an exemption before committing to it. The candidates were unanimous on only one of the five questions. They all rejected the idea of having the voters of the city popularly elect a mayor. They all supported the current City Council-city manager form of government that has council members choose a mayor, who also serves as council chairperson, and a city manager who serves as the city’s chief administrative officer.
The audience listens during Tuesday night’s forum for Newport Ward 1 and Ward 2 City Council candidates, sponsored by Alliance for a Livable Newport at City Hall. The red flag indicates the allotted time is up for responding to a question. [PETER SILVIA PHOTO]