2017-06-22 / Front Page

Dems Introduced at Public Forum

By James Merolla

Education. Jobs. Tourism. Traffic. College loan forgiveness. Construction. There were big questions, great enthusiasm and likable candidates, but few concrete answers during “An Evening of Conversation,” held at the Newport Public Library on Monday, June 19.

Nearly 100 people broached these subjects to the four Democrats hoping to win the July 18 primary to fill the seat left open by the sudden departure of Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed. The event was sponsored by the Newport Democratic City Committee.

Candidates David Allard, Dawn Euer, John Florez and David Hanos, all vying to represent their party against Republican foes, sat at a long table facing inquiring minds who submitted or asked questions.

“This is a conversation, not a debate,” moderator J. Clement “Bud” Cicilline said.

In opening statements, Newport City Councilor Florez spoke of his upbringing in the 5th Ward and arriving here from Colombia as a child. “My wife and I started a business. Today, this small business is growing. Innovative techniques have made us stand out and grow.”

He said that the economy, the environment (which he maintained go hand-in-hand) and social safety nets for citizens and the elderly sparked his campaign. “I am very passionate about preserving our social safety nets,” he said, adding that they were instrumental to him when he came here from Colombia.

Allard, who moved to Rhode Island 10 years ago for a teaching job, called the election “no small task.”

“Public service is what I have been trained to do,” he said.

He told stories about his parents struggling to pay bills, the impact that made on him, and how he truly learned the “power” of education after he began teaching. He said that his two years working in the governor’s office were among, “The proudest moments in my life.”

Hanos, Chairman of the School Committee and a 23-year veteran of the Fire Department, spoke of his lifetime in the city and how his four children went through the Newport schools. He also spoke of the small welding business he took over from his father.

“I know what a small business deals with in the State of Rhode Island,” he said, also citing education and the elderly as key concerns.

Euer spoke of her working-class background, and putting herself through law school. She now runs her own law firm and lobbies for people attempting to “make change.”

“I am an independent voice to give voice to people who may not be part of the system or to understand how the system works,” she said.

The issues were familiar to those living in Newport and Jamestown. How can you help residents during tourist season? How can we educate our youth for great jobs in the East Bay? How can you alleviate traffic over the Newport Bridge? Do you have the strength to fight the City Council and get meters removed from Memorial Boulevard to help tourist/traffic flow?

Florez was criticized in an anonymous written question. He was asked how he could run government “up north” when he did not attend local city budget hearings. He said he is always well informed after each hearing and receives regular updates from city officials.

Hanos was asked, with the Fire Chief retiring, if he would eventually become chief. He said that such a development was unexpected and intriguing but, for the Senate race, “I’m in it to win it.”

Some questions went far afield like the legalization and sale of marijuana. Allard suggested getting it right and moving cautiously, Hanos shared how his aging father benefited from it medicinally, but was “not sold” on its social use. Euer said the state should not legalize it merely for revenue, while Florez countered, “Tax it, regulate it, and keep it away from children.” He said a study suggested that the state could generate a potential $48 million in annual revenue, a critical source as it faces huge looming deficits.

Affordable housing stirred debate. One woman said that one of her children cannot afford to live here on his own.

Euer spoke of the vulnerable population being forced out, such as renters, students, the elderly and veterans. “We need to change the conversation. If people cannot afford to live here, they are going to move,” she said.

All four candidates agreed that college loans are out of control, and that new tools, including innovations in technology, are needed to improve education, increase vocational tech production and further those trades into good working local wages.

Hanos suggested better transportation for seniors and getting them a little extra care at home. All four candidates stressed raising the working wage for caregivers to compare with the $15 per hour that offered in Massachusetts.

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