Power play

By IAN DONNIS  |  February 9, 2006

Ward Three Councilor Kevin Jackson (Mount Hope) is among those taking a keen interest in the talk of a Williams-Wood match-up. On one hand, he says, “I don’t know if the mayor has anything to do with it.” Yet on the other hand, Jackson asks, “Why would he [Wood] be positioning himself to run against someone who’s been a supporter of the mayor?” Asked to answer his own question, Jackson says he suspects “it has to do with how the mayor feels he has a mandate,” and may want “15 [council] people who march in line with 100 percent of what he wants.” Like several other councilors, Jackson says this would raise the prospect of “dictatorship,” rather than the desirable give-and-take between an executive and a legislative body.

Cicilline describes a normal state of affairs. He calls his relations with the City Council “good. There’s always a natural tension between a legislative and an executive branch.” The way in which relations with some members are better than with others “is the nature of politics,” he says. Referring to the generally large amount of agreement with the council, and sporadic disagreements, the mayor says, “I don’t know that it’s that different from other cities.” Cicilline dismisses talk of a possible power grab, suggesting that uniform mayoral support on the council isn’t realistic — or necessarily healthy.

The remarks coming from Jackson, though, are particularly telling. Although he has been Cicilline’s staunchest council ally, Jackson, the chair of the Finance Committee, played a key role when the council recently dealt the mayor his first rejection on a nomination, and relations have chilled between the two men. Since informing the mayor that he had a problem with Kas R. DeCarvalho’s nomination as chairman of the Zoning Board of Review, Jackson says, “he [Cicilline] hasn’t spoken with me.” As a result, the councilor says, “I don’t know what their game plan is now, even with me. I’m a little — afraid is not the word — but not sure. It’s like a chess game where I don’t know what the next move is.”

Still, the way in which Ciciline and city councilors sometimes sound as if they occupy two different planets obscures how the mayor usually gets what he wants from the council.

Early hot spots in the ’06 campaign
The presence of longtime incumbents in many wards — such as Josephine DiRuzzo in Ward 15 (elected 1982), John J. Lombardi in Ward 13 (elected 1983), and Balbina Young in Ward 11 (elected 1988) — could diminish Cicilline’s hypothetical ability to remake the council with more steadfast supporters. (Of five contested council seats in 2002, only two changed hands, one of which was vacant.) There’s also the cautionary tale of Cianci came up short in at least two attempts in the ’90s to replace incumbents Rita Williams and Joseph DeLuca with his own candidates.

Still, it’s hard to completely dismiss the natural political impulse to establish a core set of allies. Governor Donald L. Carcieri has used the General Assembly as an effective punching bag, and some observers are waiting to see if Cicilline — who stands to have extra time on his hand this campaign season — will take a move from the governor’s playbook. (The mayor’s only announced opponent thus far is fringe candidate Christopher F. Young, whose home telephone number is in Narragansett.)

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