Newport This Week October 6, 2016 credits
The election season is heating up with the arrival of October, as candidates for local office are intensifying their campaigns and sharing their views on topics of interest with Newport voters.
In the first of several candidate forums being sponsored by the Alliance for a Livable Newport this month, incumbent Marco Camacho and challenger Susan Taylor each made their case as to why they should represent First Ward residents on City Council for the next two years.
The event drew about 70 attendees and was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Tuesday, Oct. 4. Susan Wells, president of the Newport County League of Women Voters, moderated the 40-minute session.
“Four years ago, we embarked on a mission together to better the lives of our citizens and transform our First Ward into a year-round economic engine,” said Camacho. In working toward that goal, he pointed to recent investments in schools, property tax relief, strong budgets, and infrastructure upgrades.
“I’ve personally met with delegations from five different nations in just the last few months all interested in Newport’s new 21st-century economy,” he added. “This is beyond tourism. This is real. It is happening, and it happened under my watch.”
Taylor honed in on what she viewed as lackluster municipal communications and the need to bring the city together. “We are One Newport, and that is my key to running for office. We are divided into small neighborhoods, with the only common thread being a mistrust or resentment concerning miscommunications from City Hall.” She continued, “No one feels they know what’s really happening with the Innovation Hub, the Naval Hospital property, or the Sheffield School.”
Both candidates responded to eight open-ended questions and four yes/no questions, several of which pertained to the future development of the North End. They discussed their respective visions for the land that will be available once the Pell Bridge off ramps are realigned, as well as for the Newport Grand property that could end up being purchased by the city if the casino moves to Tiverton.
Asked how to pay for a potential waterfront park on the Naval Hospital property, a concept that the council endorsed at its meeting on Sept. 28, Camacho said, “The entire area will be part of economic redevelopment. We will leverage the North End investors that will be coming in, while ensuring waterfront access. This is a process, and we look forward to making it happen.”
“There are many residents of Newport who would like the entire area as a park,” Taylor responded. “But the whole [North End] project has been shrouded in opacity, even though we keep getting told there will be citizen input. I want to see Newport behaving as an equal partner in the public-private partnership.”
A question on whether first-term officeholders should be precluded from serving as council chair/mayor offered the candidates a chance to comment on the dynamics of the city’s ward system.
Taylor said, “I believe in maturity and experience. A first-term councilor should not be mayor. I am also fine with the mayor being chosen from at-large council members. If elected I will serve all of Newport, although I will be representing the First Ward as my primary responsibility.”
“As a ward councilor and as the current vice-chair, I would say that experience is a good thing,” Camacho concurred. “But I would advocate for an all at-large membership… We are a council of equals, but we are not elected equally, as I’m elected by just one-third of Newporters.”
Concerning the idea of a two-level parking garage at Gateway Center, Taylor would be supportive if no other solutions were possible and if it was “part of large-scale urban planning,” while Camacho said the goal should be moving more parking to the North End and transporting people downtown. “That is how we’ll have our biggest success,” he said.
On solutions to the First Ward’s flooding risks, Camacho feels the issue is driven largely by the federal government, while Taylor hopes the community will “pull out all the stops” in combating sea level rise, including producing a cost-benefit analysis on different approaches.
The candidates were in agreement that more recreational facilities are needed in the North End, although Camacho highlighted recent improvements at Storer, Hunter, and Miantonomi parks. Both would support bonds if needed to finance an expansion at Pell Elementary School.
“I am running because we’ve lost sight of why we form government in the first place: to be secure in our homes, to have reliable transportation, and good education. In short, to have a sense of well-being,” Taylor said in closing remarks. “We are One Newport; we aren’t there yet, but I will work to improve our connectedness.”
Camacho countered, “What you’ve heard tonight is talk versus action, and rhetoric versus results. I’ve been the right person for the job, and continue to be the right person for the job.”