Interview: Dan Harrop, Republican Candidate for Mayor of Providence
Anchor Rising recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Dan Harrop — Republican candidate for mayor of Providence — about his candidacy and matters of political philosophy arising from his unique personal standing.
Anchor Rising: On your Web site, you list several problems that you intend to remedy as mayor. Is there a specific image or realization that made you decide to run?
Dan Harrop: It’s become clear to me over the last year that our current mayor is a pretty good politician, but not so good an administrator. He has consistently failed to deliver. In the last election he promised to settle the contract with firemen within thirty days of taking office. So far, nothing. He continues to take credit for the accomplishments of the state government: the GTECH deal and Masonic Temple renovation were brokered by the governor’s Office, not city hall. Four years into his term, he is still developing an education plan, and every one of our middle schools has failed; every single middle school principal is being replaced. He has failed to even address the $610 million deficit in our city’s pension fund, or the $250 million needed in deferred maintenance in our schools (yet somehow, the good politician he is, he got the Journal to headline $4 million put into school repair just before the election, and to talk about a partial pension reform plan, which seems to have no backing with the city unions or city council). He has consistently fought with the city council — witness the ten Democrat primary elections. He has raised taxes nearly 15% in three years but, with his fellow Democrats, put off a further tax raise (which the city auditor estimates will be 11% next year) until next year, so they can tell constituents the taxes were not raised this year. He has created a Providence “after schools” activities program with a five million dollar five-year grant from private foundations, which serves only a few hundred kids and provides some nice patronage jobs for the administrators. And let’s not even get into Gordon Fox on the licensing board…
In contrast, I have proposed moving to a K–8 educational system, lifting the cap on charter schools, working with surrounding communities to develop regional schools (which is NOT regionalizing the school systems, but nevertheless regionalizing magnet schools for art, music, math and science, etc.), and working with state and local cities to regionalize transportation, teacher training, etc., all of which will save money (but reduce political patronage in the city, I understand). I have proposed stepping up the sale of unneeded city properties (do we really need to own half of Scituate, since recent advances in water purification don’t require as large watershed); this would include sale, rather than rehabilitation, of some existing school buildings, and using the funds received to build smaller community-based schools. I do not argue with national standards for the number of firemen and rescue personnel we need in the city. I believe this mayor has burned his bridges with other state and local politicians (witness his walking out on the governor and his getting opposition candidates to run for city council elections) and the city has to have a change.
So the difference: I have concrete proposals — a good starting point for discussion, compromise, and collaboration. Four years into his term, the mayor is still “planning.”
AR: How do you intend to break the “Rhode apathy” that perpetuates our state’s cycle of inadvisably elected officials?
DH: Personal example. No one person can change that attitude. Every politician of every stripe needs to emphasize that politics and elections is one of the ways we move ahead in this democracy. I have been, and will continued to be, involved in various community organizations throughout my adult life. I will continue to emphasize to those organizations and people involved the need for more people to pick a candidate, any candidate, and get behind them with hard work and money.
AR: Not to push you into the third rail of RI Republican politics, but: Chafee or Laffee?
DH: Chafee, although this has nothing to do with the mayor’s race.
AR: I’ve long thought that the next major political divide, once modern liberalism burns out or fades away, will be between libertarians and social conservatives. You appear to stand on that line. As Libertarian candidate for the General Assembly in 2002, you explained, “I cannot ascribe to the moralizing of the Republican Party.” Yet, you are very active in religious circles, including with the Knights of Columbus, on whose local page a significant requirement for membership is stated as living “up to the Commandments of God and the precepts of the [Catholic] Church.” How do you reconcile these two aspects of your beliefs?
DH: While, again, I don’t believe this has anything to do with the mayor’s race, I know your readers like a good debate, so here it is:
This is a great question, and debated hotly within my Catholic Church now. While this has really nothing to do with the mayor’s race, since topics like abortion, stem cells, and the like just do not reach the mayor’s desk, my beliefs on these topics are well known because of my past races (my opponents in the 2002 and 2004 General Assembly races made much of them), and yes, my active membership in both the K of C and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, as well as other Catholic religious groups.
There is a difference between being active, and moralizing, as a private citizen and doing so as a public official. Bishops of all faiths, for example, should moralize: that is their job. While this fact really rankles some in the pro-life crowd, in fact the Catholic Church has never actively campaigned that its position on abortion (that it is morally wrong in all circumstances including rape and incest) be turned into law. Even the bishops realize that this position would have zero chance of passing into law. The bishops have yet to take any action against Catholic politicians who support liberal abortion laws. The bishops strongly encourage Catholic politicians to support pro-life legislation, although none of this legislation really completely supports the Catholic position on abortion. I’ve actually been very vocal within Catholic circles that the Church should give up its tax credits and become much more active politically if it really wants to achieve its aims (see my answer to Question 2). That’s not likely to happen, but it’s a very libertarian idea. Public officials have a responsibility to lead by example: I believe the governor (and others) do this quite well, and I would follow the same path.
AR: As mayor, how would you address the social problems — such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and single-parent households — that face any large city?
DH: There are in city (state, nation) multiple sources of power and influence, not just city hall. This means not just the churches (a huge force) but community centers, as an example here in Providence. Take the DaVinci Community Center on Charles Street, or any of the other community centers in the city, and the fine work they do. I believe the current administration in the city has failed to properly utilize these grass-roots level (street level, I suppose) centers to address these problems. I’m not afraid of having city hall work with other organizations and groups: if they can get the job done, great. Providence has tended to think of itself in isolation, with power coming from City Hall, a legacy of the Cianci years, but carried over into the Cicilline administration. Increasing the ability of these groups to intervene, through city support, moral and financial and structural, can go a long way to helping these problems.
Catholic bishops have indeed taken action against Catholic politicians who support liberal abortion laws. John Kerry was prominently denied the opportunity to participate in communion by several bishops around the country.