City Council candidates talk transfer station, PawSox

City Council candidates talk transfer station, PawSox

At-large council candidates Rodney Barber, left, and Emmanuel Echevarria, center, offer answers on a range of topics at the May 15 community forum. Moderator Scott Rotondo is at right. (Breeze photo by Kevin Aherne)

PAWTUCKET – Candidates for Pawtucket’s vacant at-large City Council seat faced off in front of members of the Fairlawn neighborhood during a May 15 meet-and-greet event at the Smithfield Avenue Congregational Church.

Hosted by the Fairlawn Against Crime Team (F.A.C.T.), the event was moderated by WBOB radio’s Scott Rotondo, and featured candidates for the council seat vacated by former Councilor Sandra Cano, when she assumed the Senate 8 seat. Candidates offered answers to 10 prepared questions, addressing topics ranging from school safety and government transparency to the proposals for a new minor league baseball stadium and a transfer station in Fairlawn.

All three candidates for the vacant seat, Democrats Michael Araujo and Emmanuel Echevarria, and independent Rodney Barber, were invited to speak at the event. Echevarria and Barber were present, but Araujo, who recently earned the endorsement of the Pawtucket Democratic City Committee, was not, citing a prior commitment.

The candidates were introduced to the crowd of approximately 40 members of the community. Echevarria is Providence’s chief innovation and performance officer and a lifelong Pawtucket resident, and Barber is a retired veteran who has lived in Pawtucket since 1957.  

While not present, Araujo offered a written statement, read aloud by F.A.C.T. leader Pat St. Germain.

“I am asking you for your support to serve as your city councilor at large,” Araujo said. “My commitment to you the residents (is) that you will get a person who will work hard, will advocate for the taxpayers, will advocate for the schools, and will advocate to keep moving our city forward to a city that becomes a destination for other families to root just as (my wife) and I have stayed and done.”

 Araujo said he will need to receive all of the data on the effects a waste transfer station proposal would have on the Fairlawn community as well as the rest of the citizens of Pawtucket before deciding whether to support it.

Both candidates in attendance spoke in firm opposition to the proposed transfer station on Concord Street, which has been placed on the back burner as officials consider waste disposal options.

“I will vote against this transfer station,” Barber said. “The revenue sounds appealing, but we need to stay out of the trash business.”

Echevarria cited the facility’s potential impact on property values.

“I am forcefully against the transfer station,” he said. “You are absolutely correct to be concerned about your property values being affected. They will be.”

When asked about whether they would support a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, both Echevarria and Barber were lukewarm on the proposal.

“Until I have more clarity, I can’t say I support the stadium.” said Echevarria. “With more clarity, with a commitment of investment, and more transparency, with some data that actually evidences how attendance numbers will be reached, I could be swayed.”

“My problem with the current PawSox proposal is that it’s based on the hope for increased attendance. But what happens if the attendance projections aren’t reached? Those costs are shifted to the backs of taxpayers,” he added. “I will advocate vigorously for an exit clause, where if the PawSox don’t hit their numbers, we can step away.”

Barber is also a critic of the proposal.

“As the plans are now, I don’t support it,” said Barber. “Again, I think it’s a bunch of hooey. We have more important priorities at the moment. A train platform and moving the PawSox stadium will not solve our problems.”

Araujo has said he is in full support of the new ballpark.

“The PawSox organization has a history of giving back to our city, schools and many organizations such as to the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket and YMCA,” he said in his statement. “The fact that the stadium would be a key component in the revitalization of the downtown area, and that the stadium itself will be owned by the city of Pawtucket, are two of the biggest reasons why I support this deal.”

Following the May 15 forum, St. Germain and others indicated that they will be supporting Echevarria.

Araujo and Echevarria will face off in a June 5 Democratic primary for the at-large council seat, and the primary winner will challenge Barber in the July 10 special election.