The optics weren’t especially appealing last week when five of the six Richmond Town Council candidates said they were going to run as a team. They framed it as a move “to do what’s right for the people” despite their nominal political differences: four Republicans and a Democrat. That’s one way of looking at it. But because all five incumbents are men and their lone challenger is a woman, it came across as something else: A boys club saying no girls are allowed. The woman, former town Recreation Director Nell M. Carpenter, is running as an independent, just as she did in 2016, when she finished sixth out of 10 candidates for the council. She said she would offer residents and business owners “a new perspective, a fresh set of eyes, a break from the status quo.”
Mark Trimmer, the Republican-endorsed councilor who got the ball rolling on the unified slate, likely would not disagree with Carpenter’s sentiments. In a mini-profile in The Sun not too long ago, he described himself as a change agent, and for 2018, he’s promising a positive campaign. We disagree, though, with his contention that there isn’t room for party politics at the local level. It’s hard work, but effective political parties need to be built from the ground up: In the words of the nongovernmental National Democratic Institute, they are essential institutions of democracy: “By competing in elections parties offer citizens a choice in governance, and while in opposition they can hold governments accountable.” It’s easy to disparage the parties, but their weakness on the local level has led to governance by cliques, and on the state and national levels by corporations, unions, and other special interests who have gained a stranglehold on public policymaking.
Succotash, venison, rabbit stew, johnnycakes, quahog chowder: These were some of the dishes served at the Dovecrest Indian Restaurant on Summit Road in Exeter, now the site of the Tomaquag Museum. The restaurant, opened in 1963, was the dream of Eleanor Dove, and her menu of traditional Indian foods made it a destination for people from across the country. Dove, a Narragansett tribal member who came from a long line of chefs, retired many years ago, but she’s still active and an inspiration to generations of her own family and many others whom she helped raise. On Wednesday, they will gather to help her celebrate her 100th birthday. We’d like to add our own best wishes to this adventuresome and accomplished woman who has contributed so much to her tribe and to the culture of Rhode Island.
Westerly could learn something from its neighbors. We reported last Sunday that the town has not participated in HUD’s housing rehabilitation program since 2015, having withdrawn that year from a regional consortium that handled federal Community Development Block Grants for housing projects. Given the region’s shortage of affordable housing, rehabbing older structures, especially multifamily dwellings, makes perfect sense. But the town lacks the specialized procedures and staffing to deal with the federal bureaucracy on its own. That was the role of the consortium, operated by Geoffrey Marchant. Marchant is something of a legend in grant-writing circles, and his recent successes include ChurchWoods and Shannock Falls in Charlestown and Richmond. He retired in January and passed the baton to the Washington County Community Development Corp., which he co-founded in 2005.
On Jan. 1, the Washington County CDC, based in North Kingstown, hired Alice Buckley, who has been on its board, as its new executive director. Marchant offered to continue as a consultant. As he remarked in an interview with The Sun, “I feel there’s value in having a higher level of expertise available to the towns. HUD’s all about compliance these days, and if you mess up, you suffer for it.” Westerly continued to sit on its hands through this transition, but the Charlestown Town Council, which has been more active on the affordable housing front, voted on Feb. 12 to join the Washington County Development Corp. Mark Stankiewicz, the Charlestown town administrator, remarked at the time that Marchant was right: “It’s very complicated. And if we do it in-house, we’d have to pull other folks off their work. We don’t do it enough to become good at it. Rules change, there’s a lot of implementation protocol to know. So we like to leave it to the folks who know how to do it best.”
If the Westerly Town Council is interested in leveraging affordable housing opportunities, a technical solution is within reach.