PAWTUCKET – Five Democrats, incumbent at-large Councilors Michael Araujo and Melissa DaRosa and challengers Roberto Moreno, Nicole LeBoeuf and Yesenia Rubio, look to be among the top three voter-getters in the Sept. 13 primary, for the chance to move on to the general election against Republican Michael Cooper and a shot at one of three available at-large Town Council seats.
At-large council members represent the entire city, so all Pawtucket voters are eligible to choose their top candidates. There is no obligation to vote for three members, with the option to vote for one, two, or none at all on the ballot.
Incumbent Councilor Elena Vasquez is not running again, opening up an opportunity for someone else to replace her.
The stadium issue has not become the political pincushion in the at-large campaign that it has in some of the other city races.
Araujo, of 328 Pawtucket Ave., said he’s been knocking on lots of doors, responding to a Breeze question on his past high-vote totals for council and school board by saying he always campaigns as if he’s behind and doesn’t think of himself as a favorite.
He said he’s hopeful that voters will return him to the seat based on the job he’s done in multiple positions, starting with winning a school board seat in 2010 and later winning a special council primary in 2018 to replace the departing Sandra Cano. He said he always calls everyone back, and represents and is responsive to every person, doing his best to always be humble and professional as he does his job.
Rubio, of 15 Belgrade Ave. and one of three Democratic City Committee-endorsed candidates in the race along with Araujo and Moreno who have the support of Mayor Donald Grebien, said she’s excited to see new faces running. Voters she speaks with are concerned about quality of life, she said, asking for cleaner roads, landlords to take care of what they should, and more addressing of streets and sidewalks. She said they’re excited about some of the city projects going on now, and want to see more.
Rubio said she brings a different perspective than most candidates, as a Latina small business owner and member of the LGBT community. She wouldn’t just be making decisions at a high level, she said, but as someone who grew up here and understands and is in touch with its nuances.
Moreno, a resident of 63 Webster St. who is looking to make the transition from School Committee, said he’s receiving an “awesome response” from residents, saying he’s happy to answer any and all questions and would continue to be that way as a council member. He said he’s not only intimately aware of what people want when it comes to quality of life, but also has an understanding of the workings on the school side and finances as vice chairperson of the school board and chairperson of fiscal oversight. He said his record of using resources wisely and promoting accountability would translate well on the council.
Despite being 28 years old, he says he already brings experience and a mindset of putting taxpayers first.
DaRosa, of 295 Pawtucket Ave., said she’s fine with again not being part of the endorsement clique in the city, saying that outsider status puts her in a unique position to really focus on voters and their concerns, asking the tough questions and getting information out. She said she’s learned so much in her first term after being the top vote-getter in the 2020 general election and coming in second in the primary.
“I was flabbergasted. I’ve been in my glory for the last two years to be in this position,” she said of her top-vote-earner status two years ago.
She said she hopes the administration figures out some ways for everyone to work together over the next two years, saying she looks forward to working as leaders for the betterment of her city.
Many people are actively seeking taxpayer protections as their top concern, said DaRosa. They’re excited about the many planned projects in the city, from the new stadium to a new fire station, but they want to make sure, with all the controversy that’s taken place with the stadium, that they are protected, and she wants to continue being that voice for the people.
LeBoeuf could not be reached for comment this week.
Rubio said this week that it’s unfortunate that the proposed new soccer stadium on the waterfront has gotten the negative headlines that it has, which were then shared on social media, but when one talks to residents where they live, many are excited about it. Officials need to be better informed in explaining what it all means for the city, she said, and are currently in a learning process.
“I think it’s a great development that will attract a lot more development,” she said of the mixed sports, housing, recreation and commercial venue, saying she expects more small business opportunity, affordable housing, and community-space enjoyment along the riverfront. Every investment brings risk, she said, and leaders must simply make sure those risks are mitigated as much as possible.
She said she looks forward to being a voice of the people and understanding what the community needs, as someone who lives and does business here with the Notes Coffee shop she runs with her wife. Leading is all about being willing to have the hard conversations in a collaborative way, she said.
DaRosa said she too loves the potential of the stadium, saying “maybe not everything about the project is beautiful and perfect,” including on transparency, but she can already imagine, with the riverfront being opened up, a future where people are living and enjoying amenities in an area that’s been closed off for some 50 years. She said she would be ecstatic to see something like Waterfire be part of it all.
“I would love to see that kind of energy here in Pawtucket,” she said, noting that the majority of people seem most excited about the ancillary components of the project.
All of that said, she noted, people are nervous about being on the hook if the project fails, and with this and other projects, including the new fire station, transfer station that still hasn’t been rebuilt, planned public safety complex and high school, officials need to do everything to allay concerns. She said it’s also very important that the city steps up to continue making sure that police are funded correctly to be able to handle the increased pressure from all of these coming developments.
It seems like forever that Pawtucket has been going through this phase of having to talk about developments, DaRosa said, and she’s looking forward to being able to focus on the finer details such as the condition of streets and multiplying of rodents in certain areas, including a “cleaner and greener city.”
DaRosa said she was happy to get an ordinance passed addressing a concern over liquor store hours, changing the law to require that all liquor stores open at 9 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. and to be in line with surrounding communities.
Araujo said he sees his job as at-large councilor as working directly with district councilors to resolve issues, involving them on everything as the people who truly know their neighborhoods.
The head of the council’s property subcommittee, Araujo said he hasn’t heard a lot of people speaking negatively about the stadium, particularly after it is explained to them. He said it will be important to make sure the ancillary development around the stadium happens, and that taxpayers aren’t left on the hook.
Also hugely important to the future of Pawtucket is the new unified high school on the ballot this November, said Araujo, and he plans to continue focusing on that project and the development of more affordable housing in Pawtucket as key priorities going forward. Housing costs are “going through the roof,” no pun intended, he said, and the city needs to do more on that front without taking from residential taxpayers and businesses.
Big on economic development, said Araujo, he wants to make sure businesses succeed.
Moreno said he believes in any project that will lead to economic revitalization in his city, and the stadium project is just that, bringing jobs and activity. He said he’s all for any initiative that beautifies the city he grew up in. A vocal minority continues to speak out about the project, he said, but many like him are excited about what it can bring.
Moreno said he plans to bring an approach without an agenda, continuing to show care for the people residents value the most, their children, and the day-to-day items that impact them where they live. Moreno said he wants to see a return of sorts to the council diving in on those issues, including oversight on public works and public safety and providing the checks and balances expected of it.