A Chilling Effect
Providence Mayor David Cicilline spends half a million dollars a year for police security and transportation. But there may be another cost to the public. This week Jim Hummel speaks with one person who says the officer always near the mayor's side sometimes sends the wrong message - and to another person who questions how the police detail is being used.
Hummel: ``Mayor David Cicilline has at least one police officer with him wherever he goes in public to provide security and to drive him. But does the presence of that officer send another message to the public? This week we talk to two people who say: Absolutely.''
A dog park on the back side of the Cranston Street Armory was at the center of a huge controversy in 2007: Mayor Cicilline favored putting it in, but some neighbors said the land should remain a baseball field.
The mayor, who chairs a commission that made the decision, presided over the meeting where the vote was taken. A meeting that at times became contentious.
``He said, `There is a police officer in this room and if you don't behave yourself, you will be arrested.'''
Judith Reilly, one of the neighbors, videotaped part of the meeting. She said the mayor took particular exception to one man who made some caustic comments directed at the mayor and the board.
The police officer assigned to drive the mayor that day, Rhonda Araujo, was standing in the back of the room. Reilly - who also opposed the park - felt the mayor's pointing (Araujo) out had a chilling effect on the audience.
It appalled even a veteran meeting-goer like Reilly.
Reilly: ``It appalled me because I think the Democratic process is a little bit unruly at some point and I think it's entirely inappropriate, over the top, a gross exaggeration to threaten somebody with arrest for making a wisecrack.''
But it got worse. After the meeting, when Reilly had packed up her video equipment, she says the officer came over to her while she was speaking to a reporter.
Reilly: ``She came up behind us so the reporter, Linda Borg, could not exactly see what was going doing, and she put her hands - one hand on each of our backs and pushed us, and said we had to leave, we had to leave the room. We had to leave now. The mayor has used his bodyguards - not only as drivers and allegedly as personal protection for himself, but to hamper, to put a lid on dissent, to control meetings and make sure no one said anything he didn't like.''
And the man who had made the sarcastic comment was arrested by Araujo a few minutes later. The officer says in her report that he assaulted her, then resisted arrest. He took it to court and the case was later filed, and dismissed.
Reilly: ``If I know (the mayor is) there I know there's a cop in the room. And I know - and I have warned other people, you be careful what you say - don't call out a wisecrack - if he threatens that you will be arrested if you do something he doesn't like, it's serious.''
Hummel: ``Then there's the issue of using city resources for Cicilline's congressional campaign. Why was the mayor - and one of his officers - 25 miles from City Hall one Sunday last month at a local coffee shop?
Pierre Morin and his wife live in Tiverton and dropped into a local coffee shop the last Sunday afternoon in February. Morin says said Cicilline was meeting with the local state representative, Jay Edwards, to enlist his support for Cicilline's congressional campaign, a story Edwards confirmed for `The Hummel Report.'
Sitting outside - the city car with a Providence police officer waiting.
Morin: ``When I walked to the back I saw the plate City No. 1 and I knew, based on your story the previous week, that was his vehicle. Seeing the vehicle bothered me more than anything else - because certainly it wasn't on city business or based on the conversations we were hearing it wasn't city business. So it sort of bothered me a bit, that the vehicle was there.
As a taxpayer in Rhode Island some of my taxes go toward the city of Providence and if you're going to run for another office, I think he should probably be using a different vehicle.
Hummel: ``Mr. Ciclline eventually is going to be coming to Tiverton and other places to seek your vote - does that play into your thought process at all?''
Morin: ``It certainly does, with the way the state of Rhode Island is right now, economically, I don't want to see any waste. And I'm seeing it.''
Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.