The election to determine who will fill the Providence City Council seat left vacant by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos is closer than you might think.
While the general election for Ward 15 is set for July 6, with all four candidates running as Democrats, Tuesday’s primary will leave only one name on the ballot.
So what are the issues, and who are the people who think they can fix them? The Providence Journal spoke with each one to find out.
Here’s a primer.
Doris De Los Santos
With about $22,000 in campaign contributions, Doris De Los Santos is leading the pack when it comes to fundraising. She also benefits from what she described as a “close relationship” with Matos, who has offered her endorsement along with Sen. Sam Bell, Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera and others.
Having spent two decades in Ward 15, residing in the same home in which she raised her two children, De Los Santos said she has “seen the growth and I also see decline of my community,” emphasizing that “it has been ravaged with the pandemic.”
Indeed, zip code 02909, which covers most of Ward 15, was among the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus, with an infection rate of more than 21,000 per 100,000 residents, according to data from the Department of Health.
De Los Santos raised concerns not only over the impact on the health of the community but the health of its businesses.
“Business and property owners and parents, in spite of working hard, are not receiving the quality of services that we all deserve,” she said.
But for De Los Santos, the issues far surpass the pandemic, extending to education, housing and general quality of life, which she noted has been impacted by ATVs, speeding, trash lining the streets and neighborhood violence. In conversations with locals, De Los Santos said residents have expressed that they “feel trapped in their own homes.”
De Los Santos’ advantage in tackling those problems, she believes, is her existing relationship with Matos. De Los Santos stressed that although she does not see Matos as an extension of the council, she views her connection as “a relationship that we can leverage to bring back those resources and results that we need to Ward 15.”
Casandra Inez, a public high-school teacher and lifelong Providence resident, has staked her campaign heavily on education reform, hoping to use her experience to address the city’s troubled system.
“Not much has changed since I was a student in Providence,” she said, recalling that her education didn’t prepare her for college, leading her to subsequently drop out, “work really crappy jobs and live a really tough life.”
“I see it happening over and over where students just see the system not working for them are just either are ready to give up prematurely or going through the motions and still not feeling prepared the way that I felt,” she added.
Inez acknowledged that while there are some success stories in public schools, many students, in her opinion, are still struggling.
Inez also criticized the city’s spending habits, arguing that it “takes and takes from the hardworking people here and just continues to give breaks to the wealthy and the fortunate.”
“I don’t think we have put enough investment into our communities and residents, and you see it especially in Ward 15 with homelessness rising, crime rising, the streets and infrastructure are crumbling.”
Inez said her advantage over her fellow Democrats is her background and lived experience, not only professionally, but personally.
“I feel like I’m the most community-minded and involved,” she said. “I’ve been hurt personally by poor decisions in the past made by the city, so I’m just completely invested in the future of Providence.”
With about $12,000 raised, Inez’s campaign is second among the candidates in its funding. Her endorsements include the Providence Teachers Union and Reclaim RI — both organizations in which she participates — and the Working Families Party and UFCW Local 328.
Oscar Vargas, a state Senate staffer who launched a failed bid against Matos in 2018, said he’s running again “to serve better the community,” contending that it has been “forgotten for the last 10 years, and we need a change.”
At the top of his agenda is what he described as an accumulation of trash and mattresses left on the street — a problem he blames on a lack of knowledge in the community on how to maintain tidier habits.
Outreach, Vargas said, is key.
“I’d be in the streets every day talking to them [about] how to keep clean the front of the property, the streets, and do not have the streets as your trash bin.”
Vargas also pointed to education as another central challenge, noting that while he has two children in public school, he hopes to find a way for charters to coexist.
“We need to find a balance between charter schools and public schools, and I will work very hard to work with the rest of the body of the council people to find a solution so our kids can have a great and bright future,” he said.
Neighborhood violence is another concern of Vargas’, which he argued could be addressed with more community policing and increased outreach to residents.
With nearly $8,000 fundraised, Vargas is third in campaign contributions. He has seen endorsements from Rep. Ramon Perez and Sen. Frank Ciccone.
Santos Javier’s Ward 15 run marks his first-ever campaign. Having lived in the community for more than 25 years, Javier has spent much of his career in banking rather than politics, working a variety of positions ranging from customer service to management. Now he’s self-employed as a courier. While he acknowledged that pursing his political aspirations isn’t easy, he said he’s ready.
“I’m willing to do the work. I’m willing to get my feet wet. I’m willing to get my hands on the table and start working for the people. I’m a hard worker and I’m not afraid to go into any neighborhood and talk to anybody. I like to talk to people. I like to fix problems.”
Among the most critical issues in his community, Javier said, is the coronavirus vaccination rate. Pointing to a lack of education on the significance of the shots, Javier envisions “census-style outreach” in which participants would go “door-to-door and explain to people the need and the importance of the vaccine.”
Additional items on Javier’s agenda include tackling Providence’s ATV and dirt bike problem, on which he stressed the community’s frustration and a lack of action.
Campaign finance reports show Javier last in fundraising, with about $4,000 in loan proceeds and $200 in individual contributions.