Democratic businessman and lobbyist Brett Smiley formally launched his Providence mayoral campaign Tuesday morning, vowing to make Rhode Island's capital city a more equitable place. He also called for a supplemental tax on statewide gun and ammunition sales to fund expanded anti-violence efforts.
Speaking before an enthusiastic group of supporters at the Mount Hope Community Center on Camp Street, Smiley touted his progressive credentials while pledging progress in creating jobs and improving schools.
"The tough economic times we've faced have left too many of our neighbors out of work or underpaid," he said. "As mayor, my barometer for economic success will not be how many luxury apartments get built downtown. It will be whether we are generating broad-based growth and creating good jobs that actually provide enough for families to succeed."
Smiley, 34, came from his native Illinois to manage Charles Fogarty's nearly successful 2006 gubernatorial campaign. He later launched his own business, lobbied for the City of Providence and other clients, and chaired the Providence Water Supply Board. He's married to real estate entrepreneur Jim DeRentis.
Smiley is the second Democrat, following Roger Williams Law School professor Jorge Elorza, to formally launch a campaign. Democrats City Council President Michael Solomon and businessman Lorne Adrain, and Republican Daniel Harrop are also running. State Representative John J. Lombardi, a longtime former Providence city councilor, is also a likely candidate. Providence's current mayor, Angel Taveras, is running for governor.
Smiley, an East Side resident, is making his first run for public office. One of his key supporters, three-time gubernatorial candidate Myrth York, introduced him as a can-do person. During a subsequent interview, York said she believes Smiley will be able to extend support beyond the East Side and West Side as he spends more time meeting voters.
Smiley's advisers include veteran Democratic strategist Rob Horowitz. Arianne Lynch, Taveras' former deputy chief of staff, was present for Smiley's news conference, but said she is not working on his campaign. The candidate had a campaign balance of a bit less than $100,000 at the end of Q3.
A few highlights:
-- Smiley said Providence can add jobs by "focusing on our strengths -- higher ed and hospitals; design, arts and culture; a working waterfront; and neighborhood businesses whose ingenuity and resilience are unmatched." He says income and sales tax generated by new jobs created by hospitals, universities, and tax-exempt institutions should be shared with the city, to the point where it's made whole for the corresponding loss in property taxes.
-- The Democrat says he'll work with officials in other communities to build legislative support for his proposed supplemental tax on guns and ammunition. Says Smiley, "Just like we expect the tobacco industry to pay for public health initiatives, the firearm industry and those who prop it up should be supporting anti-violence efforts."
-- On the vacant Superman Building, Smiley says he doesn't support the idea of turning it entirely into apartments. "I think there needs to be a large institutional user to consume a lot of that space, and that it needs to continue to have jobs downtown. Downtown can not be just all apartments." Smiley says tax credits "may play an appropriate role" if tied to a projected economic return. He says he would support tax credits for the Superman Building if they're part of a broad-based citywide program "that any business owner can apply for, whether they're in Olneyville or downtown."