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Fri October 18, 2002
Speaker Meets Constituents
By Martha Bebinger
Pawtucket – Amidst calls for his resignation, Rhode Island House Speaker John Harwood is
fighting back. For the first time in his 22 years at the State House, Harwood hosted a town meeting for constituents in Pawtucket on Thursday night.
About 200 people, primarily Harwood supporters, attended. Many of them praised Harwood for helping the community with projects as library improvements, arts funding, and support of social service agencies. They also mentioned assistance to individual constituents.
We have four children, one 15, one 13, Harwood said of the sexual harassment allegations lodged against him, and this slander and garbage has spilled over, whether they saw it on t.v. or the press. So, it's really hurtful in that sense Its frustrating in the sense that, without
any proof, people can make allegations, despite overwhelming proof that nothing happened.
Harwood's detractors may have been outnumbered in the meeting at Pawtucket City Hall, but they were vocal. One woman, who identified herself as a long-standing constituent, said she
and her friends did not know what to believe after all the contradictions in the case. Another talked about frustration with Harwood's performance, dating back to the appointment of his wife to a life time position as a Superior Court magistrate. There were also questions about why the full House never debated a separation of powers proposal.
Separation of powers really would take the power away from your state represetantive and state senator and give it to the governor I respectfully disagree, when someone tells me there should be separation of powers. I think the governor has so much power now that I think they're doing fine, said Harwood, who said nonetheless that he now believes the issue should be debated by the General Assembly.
As far as I'm concerned, we're full circle here, resident Don Stanford said after the meeting. He acknowledged that he arrived disappointed with Harwood's leadership of the Rhode Island House. The newspaper has to sue to get access to records, there's no transparency in the budget, which has grown five times over. To be quite frank, I'm disillusioned, Stanford said.
Another constituent said she has supported Harwood for years but is unsure about him now because of the sexual harassment allegations and questions about the settlment paid to the woman making the allegations. Some supporters praised Harwood after the meeting as a local resident, who had made it to the top of state government.
This incident was yet another thing that just makes people go crazy and just say stop it already and do what you're supposed to do and do it fairly, opening and honestly. And I just personally can't accept that type of attitude or behavior in our elected officials, said Brenda Clement.
Along with this first town meeting, Harwood is also walking his district and campaigning with an aggression that some constituents say they've never seen. Harwood points out that he just got an opponent last week, but also acknowledges he needs to get a positive message out to people outside his district.