By JONATHAN BISSONNETTE
PAWTUCKET – September’s Democratic primary for mayor will be a rematch of the 2018 general election, as incumbent five-term Mayor Donald R. Grebien will once again square off against challenger David F. Norton on the ballot, as both declared their candidacy on Monday.
In the 2018 election, Grebien easily defeated Norton – who then ran under the banner of “Hospitals Before Stadiums” – 11,721 votes or 70.7 percent to 4,737 votes or 28.6 percent. This year, however, Norton has filed has a Democrat, according to information from Pawtucket’s Board of Canvassers office.
Due to publication deadlines, The Times does not have access to filing information that might have been processed by the Board of Canvassers during a full business day on Tuesday. But The Times will catch up with news on candidates for the full three-day declaration period as quickly as print deadlines permit.
Grebien, in a press release announcing his run for a sixth term in office, said the city is in a “prime position” to continue moving forward with “real progress, real results, and proven leadership.”
Since taking office in 2011, Grebien said his administration has moved the city forward from the brink of bankruptcy to having another no-tax-increase budget with the City Council this year, while the city continues to experience “an exciting period of growth welcoming new businesses, transforming its mills into live-work space, and supporting its world-renowned arts community.”
“We continue to stay focused on and are advancing the largest economic development project in our city’s history – a beautiful, mixed-use riverfront development that will change the landscape of our downtown and restore Pawtucket to the active center of northern Rhode Island we once were,” said Grebien. “We are also welcoming a new Commuter Rail Station set to open in early 2022.”
The mayor also touted his efforts over the past nine years in teaming with the School Committee, School Department, and Superintendents to provide the city’s students with “the very best.”
“We have opened the doors to fully renovated Nathanael Greene and Potter Burns Elementary Schools,” Grebien said. “Over the next two years, we will continue with a complete ground-up rebuild of Henry Winters Elementary as well as generational health and safety improvements throughout our school district facilities to provide our children with a safe and conducive learning environment.”
“Quality of life issues will always be a priority. Amongst other initiatives, we have continued reinvesting in our parks and recreational facilities, including the newly-renovated Payne Park, the Looff Carousel in Slater Park, John Street and San Bento basketball courts for our community to enjoy,” the mayor added. He also highlighted increases in zoning and code enforcement across the city, soon-to-begin automated trash collection, and the transition of streetlights to LED as part of the administration’s green initiatives.
An Army veteran, former English teacher, and small business owner, Norton, who spent much of his adult life living abroad in Germany, Denmark, Chile, and Japan, said his “life experience and worldview tell me that a 99 percent white fire department in a city that is only 50 percent white is indicative of more than just systemic racism: it is indicative of a serious lack of leadership over the past 10 years of the current administration.”
“I feel because of my diverse experiences and view of the world that I have a very unique vision, and that I am uniquely qualified, for the job of being mayor of Pawtucket,” Norton said in a press release announcing his candidacy. “I envision a city that treats residents equally both in terms of city hiring and communication.”
Norton said this is happening across all city departments, which are “94 percent white,” which is why he envisions working with an NAACP-oriented review board to address and implement “solutions to our discriminatory hiring practices.”
Economically, he said, he would like to see a city that rejects the use of taxpayer money for “pie-in-the-sky projects for wealthy out-of-state investors,” instead focusing on a “bottom-up economic development strategy that supports local small and family businesses with a focus on specialty goods and services that utilizes our many unique and diverse cultural traditions and activities.”
Norton further said his administration would prioritize the “well-being of residents over the interests of wealthy developers. I envision a city where tax money is used for fire departments, emergency preparedness, affordable housing, and schools, not for building entertainment venues for wealthy folks.”
No stranger to the political arena, Norton has previously run for office for the District 8 State Senate seat in 2018 and District 60 State Representative in 2016. He lost both Democratic primaries.
The winner of September’s Democratic primary will move on to the general election in November, where they will be awaiting a challenge from independent candidate and Prospect Street resident Kenneth A. Hazard.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette