Although its borders have changed somewhat, State Representative District 4 has been an important launching pad for many of those who have occupied the seat. In particular, David Cicilline and Gordon Fox both started their political careers here. And while the two current candidates for the position have expressed zero interest in using the spot to further their political careers, that hasn’t dampened the enthusiastic and well-organized campaigns the two have begun as they hustle from door to door to make their case in advance of the upcoming September 12 Democratic primary. Both have well-established progressive bona fides and impressive records of community involvement. But both express somewhat different priorities and life experiences which make this an interesting race to follow.
In her preamble to explain her decision for running, the Fourth Street resident comes straight to the point: “I’m just committed to try to bring my lifelong experience working for economic, racial, and reproductive justice to the state house.” Her activist background is writ large on her resume.
Though born in Miami, Kislak has established deep ties to Providence. After her undergraduate degree from Brown and a law degree from Georgetown, Kislak returned to Providence and has plunged into her progressive activism with gusto. She began her local career as an attorney for the RI Legal Services before becoming policy director at the RI Health Center Association. She now is president of Kislak Consulting and spends significant time at the state house lobbying for the causes to which she remains passionately committed. She also has been the president of the RI Chapter of the National Organization for Women as well as a Vice President of Membership and Outreach for Temple Emanu-El. She has somehow even found time to teach health policy at RIC.
Kislak has spent quite a bit of time on the Hill already as a lobbyist for the many social issues that are important to her. She has been active on earned sick leave legislation, anti-gun legislation, the move for a $15 minimum wage, and supporting small businesses. She feels her time spent in the trenches is what gives her an advantage over her opponent. “I have already been there advocating directly on the important issues facing our state and hope to continue the tradition of my predecessor’s [Aaron Regunberg] leadership on social issues we both feel are important.” Regunberg is among the several endorsements Kislak has received along with Planned Parenthood.
She feels her work on the Hill has also prepared her for what she admits will not be an easy relationship with the current Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello. “I have differences with him over the gender equity issues, in particular the need for legislation to protect a woman’s right to choose given the current concerns over the future of Roe vs Wade and need for greater transparency in the way business is conducted in the legislature.” At this point, she stops for a second before adding, “but then again, I’m also an optimist. If I’ve learned anything on the Hill, it’s important to be able to work with anyone if you hope to achieve useful results in the General Assembly. I have enjoyed a successful lobbying career at the State House and feel comfortable in my skills in working with both sides of an issue.”
In terms of local issues, she is definitely against the Fane building, and believes that we need more middle and low-income housing rather than expensive and high-end. On the PawSox project, she is more undecided. On the one hand she enjoys the PawSox herself and even had a party at the stadium for her nine-year-old. But she remains unsure about the degree to which the state should be involved financially.
Kislak (age 46) lives on Fourth Street and is married to Dr. Joanna Brown. They have two sons, Ezra (age 12) and Simon (age 9) who are students at Nathan Bishop and the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island respectively.
While not as well-known at this point as his opponent, Mark Tracy has initiated his candidacy with a rather unique letter to his constituents. While he succinctly identifies what he feels would make him an ideal representative for his neighbors – ”a progressive candidate with a vision for inclusive economic growth” – he writes that it’s his life itself that provides a unique narrative from traditional Rhode Island candidates. “Because I had to deal with unfortunate tragedies as I was growing up… my father passed away when I was nine, and my mother when I was 19, I was brought up to be self-reliant on the one hand, while dependent on the workings of the social safety net on the other.” Raised in New York, he arrived alone at Brown as a freshman where “I was welcomed by Providence and is why I remain so committed to this city.”
He went on to forge a successful career working in Iowa as an IT specialist for Cargill, the country’s largest family owned agribusiness trading company with sales of over $140 billion a year. “There, my position as an IT specialist was to analyze change in the agricultural marketplace and try to anticipate where the next threat might be coming from.” He hopes some of these skills will be useful for city governance. “If we continue to govern in the same way we always have, we’re going to continue to get the same mediocre results.”
Since returning to Providence about ten years ago, Tracy has thrown himself into a broad range of social activities on both an organizational and participatory level. He was appointed by Mayor Tavares to be part of the investment commission for the City of Providence. But he also enjoys hands-on projects as well. He’s a board member and secretary of Hope Hospice, and includes the RI Public Health Institute, Save the Bay, and the board of the Summit Neighborhood Association as some of his other non-profit involvements. “And every Friday I enjoy going over to help provide the muscle – which in my case is rather modest – to help unload the food truck at the Camp Street Ministries.”
Is he concerned that his opponent is being endorsed by Regunberg? “Not at all. I feel being a representative of our district ought to be a full-time job. Aaron has done that. But I also feel you shouldn’t be running around focusing on Donald Trump. My focus will be on working on the problems of District 4 and Providence. And I expect to be hands-on. If there is a late-night need for my presence to help solve a constituent problem, I expect to be there.”
As for Mattiello? “My background is in finance and creative problem solving. I also run a small business. These are areas which I feel will be useful to help my fellow legislators and will insure that our voice is better heard and more respected in advocating the progressive causes so many of us believe in.”
Tracy (age 45) lives on Arlington Avenue and is married to Dr. Molly Tracy, a neurologist. They have two children, Kate (age 8) and Jonah (age 5).