PAWTUCKET – A relatively small overall share of the vote in the House of Representatives District 58 primary could prove the difference, with four Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to replace departing and embattled Rep. Carlos Tobon.
Attorney George Hovarth, attorney Maribel Echeverry McLaughlin, early childhood development program director Cherie Cruz, and behavior technician treating children with autism Matthew Carvalho are all chasing votes in the district.
All four candidates say they’re walking and talking regularly with the residents of Woodlawn and Fairlawn, as they seek all-important votes in what is typically the lower turnout of a midterm election. If history in such races is a guide, the winning candidate in the winner-take-all Sept. 13 primary could go home with less than 30 percent of the vote, replacing Tobon as he departs the General Assembly amid accusations of questionable business dealings.
There are a range of life perspectives and ages in this race, including from the 60-year-old Hovarth, of 74 Varnum Ave.; 22-year-old Carvalho, of 410 Smithfield Ave.; 50-year-old Cruz, of 422 Smithfield Ave.; and 33-year-old Echeverry McLaughlin, of 87 Varnum Ave., who will turn 34 in November.
Cruz told The Breeze she’s excited for the democratic process in seeing four people, all with different perspectives, interested in an empty seat.
“Now it’s getting people to vote and believe in it (the democratic process) again,” she said, adding that she hopes it inspires others to get involved after seeing “working-class” candidates such as herself and Carvalho throwing their hat in the political ring.
The work she’ll focus on as representative is gaining resources and opportunities, she said, especially for the district, and in particular on housing and livable wages. People and businesses are struggling, she said, and there is no relief.
Hovarth said this week that many residents have promised him they’ll turn out in this election, giving him confidence in his chances of coming out on top. He said his work as a licensed attorney, spending thousands of hours in court and trial time like no other candidate in the race, prepares him for what needs to be done. He describes himself as moderate, focusing on “safety, home values, and backing the police.”
Echeverry McLaughlin said she’s been enjoying laying the groundwork of a great campaign by building relationships with fellow residents. She said she’s feeling very good and that people have been receptive to what she stands for and what she brings.
As a health care attorney, she said, she brings an ability no one else in this campaign has to be able to talk about the key topics of Medicare and Medicaid, a “niche area” where there is never enough information given to average people, she said. A nearly-lifelong resident, she’s been a homeowner in the city for nearly a decade. And as head of the Charter Review Commission, she said, laughing, she’s probably one of about five people who’s read the city’s charter.
Carvalho said he’s been doing a lot of door-knocking, and feels this is anyone’s race with no incumbents on the ballot.
“I think it will come down to the finish,” he said. “The winner needs 25 percent plus one. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting a majority.”
Carvalho said he’s enjoyed talking transparency and accountability with residents, saying his idea for town hall events where people can come talk with him about their concerns and hear what he’s doing on their behalf at the Statehouse has really resonated, as voters want to be able to hold their legislators accountable and honest.
He said many residents, such as on Chandler Avenue or West Forest Avenue, have told him he’s the first candidate they’ve seen at their doors in-person instead of having a staff worker show up on their behalf.
“This area really needs change and someone to really resemble the community,” he said, adding that people are looking for new and fresh ideas.
Hovarth said he’s found residents appreciate his stance of trying to get more funding for local police, saying the issue overall has become too politicized. He said the area he and his wife live and work in needs more patrols to respond to increasingly rampant crime, including a catalytic converter stolen off a police car, as well as more speed humps and more to address what has become a “horrible” rodent infestation.
Asked whether speeding, crime and rat problems might have more to do with a local council member’s work, Hovarth said he can certainly impact how the city responds to them by advocating for more funds and resources.
On the Tidewater Landing project, Hovarth said he’s found about two people who are actually in favor of it, and they changed their minds once they reviewed the facts.
“It’s the worst deal I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said, adding that he would prefer to see waterfront docks and homes in the range of $500,000-$800,000.
Echeverry McLaughlin, who is being supported by Mayor Donald Grebien, said that once people understand what the entire riverfront project will do for the city, and that it’s not just about a stadium but about housing, economic development and opportunity for businesses to come back, they’re tending to get behind it. Look at downtown Providence, she said, and envision something like that in Pawtucket.
She added that being a Latina has been key to connecting with voters of different backgrounds, as she can communicate in the languages of individual voters. Though many people think she looks a lot younger than her 34 years, she said, she’s done a lot in life, practicing law for 10 years and serving on multiple boards, including the Juvenile Hearing Board.
People want younger people with fresh ideas, she told The Breeze.
“The magic about Pawtucket is that there’s so much potential,” she said. “We can do better,” and that can happen through sitting down and finding solutions together to become more vibrant, more diverse, and more economically prosperous.
Cruz notes that she’s the only mom and grandmother in this race, saying people have been calling her frequently to add her signs to their yards. She said she probably has the most experience of anyone in the race being at the Statehouse, including testifying on legislation and community organizing.
She said she’s lived a life of public service and is not an attorney, nor does one have to be in running for office, as shown when she worked with the ACLU to challenge the city’s ordinance limiting political signs.
Quality of life is a huge topic in the district, she said, adding that people she’s spoken with say they’re not getting what they would like to out of the council people who are supposed to address issues. She added that she’s spent more time listening to people than some council members have.
Hovarth said he has a lifetime of community involvement and volunteerism that dwarfs what other candidates have done in Pawtucket, saying unlike them, he’s not sending out any “cry me a river letters” to tug at voters’ heartstrings.
The fact is, he said, that progressive-endorsed candidates achieving a $19 minimum wage would bankrupt many local businesses, and that’s the common sense he’s trying to bring to this seat.
Asked to respond to the comment about being a progressive, Cruz said she’s not into labels, but if a livable wage and housing that people can afford make her that, so be it.
Like Cruz, Carvalho says he’s just a normal resident who wants to be involved, including on the education reform issue that seems to be resonating with voters. He said he wants to bring more resources for local students to teach them the common-sense coursework the schools have been missing, such as basic accounting, and helping them into the workforce.
Though he’s 22, he said, he’s not just the typical young person thinking they can do big things before their time, saying he’s been doing interviews with politicians since he was 17 and has been actively interested in local government since before then. The Pawtucket Business Development Corp. board member said he has a genuine message and a passion to make the community better, and “that’s the only reason I’m doing this.”
Echeverry McLaughlin said she’s all about protecting the rights of women and supporting pro-choice causes and protection of medical rights through maternity leave.
“We don’t talk about them enough,” she said of those topics, as well as the need to make sure everyone is heard, including LGBTQ people and people of color. Many don’t feel comfortable with government or feel they’re being heard, she said, and she’s willing to listen to them for 45 minutes if it means finding out what’s important to them.
Some in this race don’t seem to understand the differences between state legislators and local councilors, she said, saying General Assembly members are not picking up the trash, but they are working on gaining the resources and funding to get things done.
She said she has great communication with current District 6 Councilor Marlena Martins Stachowiak, and has already worked with her several times to get answers for residents’ questions about those quality-of-life issues. As representative, she said she would continue working with the mayor and council to make sure those issues are addressed. She said she would love to see the area represented by two women.
Echeverry McLaughlin mentioned how she was recently campaigning at St. Germain Manor and looking out across the street at the home she grew up in, thinking how crazy it is that she was inside the building she once saw from across the street as she was playing in the yard.
Many millennials are choosing to move elsewhere such as Boston, she said, but she loves Pawtucket and wants to see it succeed.