Pawtucket school board member Cano takes aim at council seat

Pawtucket school board member Cano takes aim at council seat

PAWTUCKET - Sandra Cano, a freshman member of the Pawtucket School Committee who was easily the top vote-getter when she won two years ago, will seek to ride that popularity to an at-large seat on the Pawtucket City Council.

More than 200 supporters attended Cano's official announcement Wednesday evening at the Slater Mill.

Cano, a Democrat and part of a rapidly expanding group of Latin Americans in area politics, would presumably face off against three incumbents, veterans Thomas Hodge, Larry Tetreault and Albert Vitali Jr.

Vitali and Tetreault both won at-large seats back in 2009, while Hodge won a seat all the way back in 1994. Hodge first got on the council in 1982, serving six years as the representative for District 4 before taking a six-year hiatus.

Only the top three Democrats in the at-large council primary move on to the general election, where few Republicans ever run. The at-large race is the only one on the council where all voters in the city have a say.

The three at-large incumbents ran unopposed in 2012. Vitali, who came in third after Hodge and Tetreault in 2012, made his run official last Friday. Vitali is the only one of the three considered to be an ally of Mayor Donald Grebien.

The current City Council is made up of nine men. Councilor Jean Philippe Barros is the only other councilor beside Vitali to align himself with the mayor.

Board of Elections data shows that Cano beat second-place school board winner Nicole Nordquist by more than 600 votes in 2012. She has taken an active role in Pawtucket schools since, visiting them often.

Cano, 31, was the only candidate for School Committee in 2012 to receive the endorsement of both the Pawtucket Democratic City Committee and the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance. She also had the support of Mayor Donald Grebien.

Cano, whose name has been connected to the at-large race for months, did not return calls Monday. In an invitation to Wednesday's announcement, she said she was "thankful to voters for making history and electing me to the School Committee" and she "will be asking them to do so again for the City Council."

"On the School Committee, I have fought for our students, teachers and parents to strengthen our schools," she said. "Now, we need a new voice on the City Council to do the same."

Tetreault, a former English teacher who retired from Shea High School the year Cano graduated in 2001, said he helped the freshman school board member get the endorsement of the Democratic City Committee in 2012.

Tetreault said that Cano running for City Council after one term on the School Committee could only be Grebien's attempt at building his base of support on the council. He said Grebien team members "think there's an opportunity to maybe get some control."

Tetreault had kind words for Cano, saying that he was scheduled to meet with her on Monday. He welcomed her to the race, but said there is no doubt in his mind that her running is an attempt by the Grebien administration to get rid of two at-large council incumbents, himself and Hodge.

Tetreault said he has not been the "obstructionist" Grebien has claimed he is, and the relationship between the mayor and dealings between the mayor and City Council "have actually gone quite smoothly" over the past year.

Tetreault said he was critical of the mayor's plan to add a second director of constituent services, among several other issues, but he doesn't see criticism and questioning as a negative thing.

"I don't see what the big problem is," he said.

The way Grebien tells it, he "didn't encourage" and "didn't discourage" Cano from running. About a year ago, Cano approached him about lending his support to a possible campaign for council, said Grebien. He didn't commit at the time, saying he wanted to see how the relationship with council members like Tetreault and Hodge might improve. When nothing changed, he told Cano he would support her planned run.

He is supporting Cano because he believes in what she's done as a member of the School Committee and is impressed by her "true immigrant story" of success despite the obstacles, said Grebien.

Comments like the ones made by Tetreault are not supported by fact, said Grebien.

"This is why the average person doesn't want to get involved in the process," he said.

He believes the words are motivated by Tetreault and Hodge's not being able to "separate the fact that they supported my opponent (Henry Kinch Jr.) four years ago," he said.

Hodge said Monday that the three at-large seats on the council "belong to the people of the city," and it will ultimately be up to the voters whether they put him back in the seat he's represented for so long.

Hodge said he's been a "watchdog for the taxpayers" during his years on the council, maintaining vigilance over the separation of powers between the council and administration. He is fair to point out when a decision is good and when "it raises questions," said Hodge, but the mayor has made it clear that he's "not receptive" to those questions. As for Tetreault's assertion that Grebien pushed Cano to run, Hodge said it's certainly possible if one looks at the race from a "political" perspective.

Grebien said the truth is that Hodge and Tetreault have voiced opposition to "anything that this administration has tried to do," from privatization of trash collection to a more cohesive economic development effort.

Vitali said he welcomes Cano to the race. While he would prefer to run unopposed, he's used to having an opponent and will approach this election with the same amount of energy he always does.

"I wish her a lot of luck," he said. "Everybody wants to do their part, and if she feels she has something to offer the taxpayers of this city, God bless her."

Comments

I wish her luck, but as a voter I'm concerned about the budget deficits the School Committee has presided over and the Sweetheart Deal it gave the superintendent upon her retirement. Not the best policy values to base a Council race on.

I hope that School Committewoman Cano does more to seperate herself from the others than point out her nationality differences from the other canidates. This race needs to be about "us for us" and not "us vs them"