Dr. Dan Harrop ’76 MD ‘79 is the Republican candidate for Mayor of Providence. He serves as the Founding Chairman of the Rhode Island GOP Liberty Caucus, and as the Chairman of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom. He recently sat down with BPR’s Naomi Chasek-Macfoy.
Brown Political Review: What do you think is the single most important issue in this election, and why does it matter to you?
Dan Harrop: Finances. I mean, the people want to hear jobs, and I understand that, some people think schools, some people think public safety, but it all comes down to the city finances. And the finances are really a disaster, and they’re not being actively addressed at this particular time. Because it’s a difficult thing to address. We have this yoke around our necks of a two billion dollar pension and benefits deficit. We’ve sunk to 30% of what we need in the pension fund and 10% of what we need in the benefits fund in order to give our retirees what they’ve been promised, and we’re withdrawing from that every year. So it’s the exact same thing that Detroit is going through at the moment and what Central Falls, here in Rhode Island, went through. The prior administrations did not put enough money into the pension fund. So we are having to put more and more of our current recollected taxes into pensions. And some of the pensions are unjust. They were given away as political favors. Mr. Cianci funded the pension system at 50% for about four years running and he signed to keep the peace with the municipal workers. The result of that, for example, is we have a retired Police Chief who now gets a $200,000 a year pension. We can’t afford that. And I do realize that people begin to glaze over as you go over these numbers, but that’s the problem.
BPR: Can you offer more specific details about your plans for financial reform?
DH: I don’t think there’s anything more to tax in Providence. What I want to do is I want to bring the city through bankruptcy. It’s called receivership when you do it in a city in Rhode Island. It’s a long complicated process, but it helped Central Falls, here. It helped them get rid of this yoke of pensions that they had, and the like. It’s helping Detroit at the moment. It’s helping business come back, because they can see Detroit has a better future, because the finances have stabilized at this point. With a receivership, with a bankruptcy, we can reset a lot of the contracts and give fair pensions. Somebody who retires at $60,000 a year should get a fair pension, but not a $200,000 a year pension.
BPR: What would you do to reform the education system in Providence that your opponents wouldn’t?
DH: We could vastly expand homeschooling and make it a real curriculum for people who want to do that. They could really get certified in the city. We could lift the cap on charter schools. That’s actually one of the ways universities could help. They could start their own charter high schools. We could give ‘means-tested vouchers’ so that, depending on your family’s income, the city could help you attend a private school.
Remember, we don’t have good functioning schools. We don’t have safe buildings. But we are demanding that children go there everyday. I think that we can get rid of a lot of the buildings and reduce a lot of the public schools, and strengthen them over the long run by really giving people the options to educate their children as they feel best.
BPR: Providence is diverse, ethnically, racially, socioeconomically, and I’m wondering how, if elected, your office might reflect that diversity in its make up?
DH: First of all, enforce the laws. There’s a law in this city that 10% of all building in the city has to be minority owned – put up a building and 10% of the contracts you give out have to be minority businesses. That’s never been enforced. Second, I work in major healthcare organizations, I have an MBA, I’ve administered them; to get the people working for you that you want, you have to put people in positions to hire those people. You have to really take a position, as mayor, in the personnel office, of putting the people in those positions to hire people that you want to bring in. There is no diversity in the hiring positions in the city at this point. That’s really what you need to begin to do, is enforce the law that’s never enforced, and really change the personnel to hire people.
BPR: You suggested that crime in Providence has increased in recent years, although other independent sources, including WPRI, claim that crime has decreased in Providence during mayor Taveras’ term. Could you speak to that disagreement?
DH: Well, statistics can be played with. People certainly do not feel safe at this point at certain areas in this city. There’s been increasing crime in various areas in this city, and the gun violence in the south of Providence is particularly bad. We’ve cut 100 policemen, the city population is down somewhat, and it’s somewhat older, and of course that affects the crime rates. But, I think that you need to put those police back on the streets in areas where they’re most needed at this point, to address a number of the issues that go on at this point. I don’t think you can just look at statistics. I think that you’ve really got to look at how people feel and how people act, and where things are particularly bad in the city and need to focus on that.
BPR: Further, you suggested that Broken Windows as a policing policy might be fitting for Providence, citing New York City as an example of its success, but communities that have lived under Broken Windows policing have voiced a lot of discomfort and frustration with the policy. Why do you think Broken Windows is right for Providence?
DH: But that has to do a lot with the makeup of the police force and the makeup of who is running the police force, I think, for New York City. We have community policing here, where the police really are in the neighborhoods. I think the police are doing an excellent job. I just don’t think there are enough of them. We have been unable to use some of the more advanced crime fighting techniques, statistical techniques about where to place people and where to place programs, because we don’t have the money to do that.
BPR: A facet, often, of Broken Windows is Stop and Frisk, a huge touchstone when it comes to police policy. How do you think that might fit into the Providence police?
DH: [laughter] My grandfather was a policeman, he lived in our house after my grandmother died. I have great respect for the police. I think that you need to always give them somewhat of the benefit of the doubt. The problem is that the police force has not been well integrated. Either with minorities or with women, and they’re only beginning to get there. You can’t wholesale lay off or fire the police force.
BPR: Do you think that would make a noticeable, tangible difference for everyday individuals in their interactions with the police?
DH: I think it would make a noticeable difference in the way people perceive what’s being done. There’s a lot of perception, as well. That people are either being hassled or not protected. And it goes between the two extremes. I think if the police were more like the people they were policing, or at least interacted more with the people they’re policing, that would change the perception. And that when an officer accidentally steps over the line, not violently over the line, but stops and frisks somebody who really shouldn’t have been, there might be a little bit more give and take.
BPR: You pledged not to take a salary if elected mayor. Why?
DH: Yeah, Mr. Cianci has never applied for his pension, because of course with two felonies, he’s been afraid he would never be granted a pension. I had initially made that a big point, but he made a challenge to us, “Oh I’m not going to apply for my pension, I don’t need my pension.” I said, fine Buddy, I’ll go better than you. I won’t take the pension, I won’t even take a salary. I’m wealthy, I don’t need the money. It’s a showpiece. I mean, the current mayor, who’s a nice young man, young family, cut his salary by ten percent as a symbol, it’s purely a symbol.
BPR: What role do you think a mayor might have in setting the ethical tone for a city?
DH: A mayor has all the tone! I mean it’s one of the reasons why I am adamant against Buddy Cianci being re-elected again. 32-22-17, my staff reminds me. First administration: 32 people are indicted, 22 people convicted, 17 people imprisoned in his first era as mayor, until he is finally thrown out for assault. Second term, he ends up in federal prison for five years on racketeering charges. He bitterly complains that some guy down the hall took an envelope with cash.
BPR: So, specifically, how do you think your office might set a tone for the city?
DH: There is an ethical standard in the city that must be absolutely maintained. No kickbacks, no graft, no you gotta know a guy to get something done. And that’s the way Providence has operated for a long time. You want a permit? You’ve got to know somebody at City Hall to get it done. So, I think that that has to stop, and it must be much more businesslike.