PAWTUCKET — An incumbent City Councilor who won his seat two years ago from a veteran councilor by positioning himself as being more representative of District 5 is facing a challenge from someone who is also promising to be the voice of the constituents.
Jean Philippe Barros, 47, of 147 Lafayette St., is seeking re-election to another term of representing the residents of the Woodlawn and Oak Hill neighborhoods. Barros, a Democrat, bested 16-year Democratic City Councilor Mary Bray by just 83 votes in 2008, and he is now actively seeking to maintain his seat against his opponent, independent candidate Chris Caramela.
Barros, a city resident for over 30 years, worked as a contract manager for New England Tractor Trailer for 14 years and is currently director of marketing development for a trades school located in Quonset. He is a member of the City Council's Finance Committee, Substance Abuse Task Force and the city's Economic Development Committee, is a board member of the Pawtucket Rotary and the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, and is a past member of the city's Juvenile Hearing Board. He is single and the father of two sons. He is also the endorsed candidate of the Democratic City Committee.
“During my first term, I felt I have been the voice and ear of residents on matters of the budget, crime, and quality of life. This is something that I felt was missing,” Barros said. He said he “takes a great deal of pride” in the way he has voted on the City Council because he feels it has been representative of the way the constituents feel about issues as well as reflecting his personal opinions. He said he is seeking another term to continue being there for the people of District 5 in city government.
Barros said the obvious challenge going forward is the city's budget and said, “we need to find ways to work together to find solutions.” He said he has made it clear that he had previously warned city leaders that things would be getting to this point unless measures were taken to address the growing deficit. “I couldn't get people to follow my lead,” said Barros. “But now, we all seem to be on the same page that there has to be a collective effort on everybody's part, from the mayor and council to the School Committee and the bargaining units. We all have to hold hands and figure a way to do this as painlessly as possible.”
Barros said that in both his current and previous jobs, he has had to deal with budgets, and faults city leaders for what he says is a lack of foresight and preparedness. “You have to anticipate budget problems and put mechanisms in place. You can't wait until the problems are upon us to see what we're going to do.”
Barros noted that the administration's move to get a five-week extension from the state Department of Revenue to answer to the current budget shortfall is “irresponsible” and maintains that more action should be taken to urge the city's bargaining units to discuss concessions. “We have to get all the bargaining folks to the table. We can't continue to have these types of benefits for life and things like that,” he said. He added that he knows there are many “sincere and dedicated members of the bargaining units,” and said they have to be asked to come to the table and do something. “But, there is nothing on the table yet,” he said.
Barros said that without a large business tax base, city payroll and services are being funded mostly through property and motor vehicle taxes. “The city can't continue to run to the taxpayer and say 'pay more',” said Barros. “Now is the time for the people who work in the city—and many also live in the city-- to help balance this budget. It will be painful, but it must be done,” he stated.
Barros also said that while much has been said about trying to make the city more attractive to “big box” stores and businesses, he thinks this is not realistic in the current economy. The backbone of the city will be the small 'mom and pop' operations. It will be these businesses that move us ahead,” said Barros.
Chris Caramela, 44, of 18 Stuart St., is challenging Barros' contention that he is the best spokesperson for the residents of District 5. Since moving to Pawtucket 14 years ago and living in District 5 since 2001, he has been active in the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association, where he most recently served as vice president. He continues to maintain the group's computer website that he initiated and designed as an additional resource.
“I'm running so the 5th District can have better representation for all of the people,” said Caramela. “My opponent has had nothing to do with the district's largest neighborhood association,” he added. He said that through his involvement in this neighborhood group, he feels he has gotten a lot accomplished and looks forward to being able to do more from a City Council seat.
A married father of five grown children (and grandfather of six), Caramela works as a manufacturer's representative in the field of electrical products for the Flynn-Reynolds Agency, Inc. and also runs his own software development company. He said he thinks his type of professional business experience is what is needed right now on the City Council as the city looks to solve its budget woes.
“I'm a business person. Managing budgets, people and companies falls right into my wheelhouse,” said Caramela. “I don't have a bureaucratic look, I have a business look and it's a different point of view I'm adding to the mix,” he added.
Caramela, who regularly attends City Council meetings, said that as an outside observer, he thinks Barros and the rest of the councilors appear to be just voting “yes” or “no” to agenda items instead of “looking at active solutions” to the city's problems. “It's 'playing politics' when there really are problems and no real solutions—that's what it appears to be.” He said the first step in dealing with the budget crisis is to go over the line items in the budget, and that he has the expertise to do this.
Caramela paints himself as a fiscal conservative who has been able to run nearly a debt-free campaign. He also said that, like mayoral candidate Don Grebien, he intends to not accept any of the health insurance or pension program benefits that come with the City Councilor's position because he already gets these through his current employer. He said he doesn't believe in taking full-time benefits for what is a part-time job, and maintained that his interest in the council seat stems from his desire to better serve the people of the 5th District that he now calls home.
The race between Barros and Caramela has grown more heated in recent days as Caramela publicly criticized Barros for a campaign postcard that featured a photo of him shaking hands with Roberto DaSilva, a state representative and Pawtucket Police lieutenant. The postcard also contained a quote, supposedly from DaSilva, that Caramela said appeared to be an endorsement of Barros from the Pawtucket Police Department and could thus be a potential violation of the federal Hatch Act. The quote from DaSilva read, “Jean Philippe Barros has proven that he cares about the residents of the 5th district. His work with the police force went beyond the position of city councilor.”
Caramela said he had since notified DaSilva about the matter and that DaSilva had sent him an e-mailed statement that explained he had lent his support to Barros as a state representative and had posed with him as a fellow candidate who had been endorsed by the Portuguese American Citizens Committee. According to Caramela, DaSilva also wrote that he had not given Barros' campaign permission to use his affiliation with the Pawtucket Police Department in a campaign ad.
Caramela stated that he thought Barros should issue a “formal apology” to DaSilva and the members of the Pawtucket Police Deprtment for the ad, which he called “dishonest. ” However, he told the TIMES on Thursday that beyond this call for an apology, he does not intend to pursue the matter any further. He added that he has a good working relationship with the Pawtucket Police Department as well.
Barros has since issued a statement calling Caramela's actions “a last-ditch effort to create a platform where none exists.” He further stated, “I received an endorsement from state Rep. Roberto DaSilva supporting my efforts over the last two years as city councilor. Rep. DaSilva happens to be a member of the Pawtucket Police Department. My opponent chose to focus on this fact, manipulating the meaning of his titles on my campaign materials, questioning my character and turning a non-issue into a negative one.”
Barros added, “I have personally spoken with Roberto DaSilva and he continues to support my candidacy. I hope voters in the 5th District will as well.”