When Democratic candidate Lammis Vargas garnered 1,472 votes – roughly 70 percent according to the currently unofficial results from the board of elections – in last week’s primary with Jeff Gale, she punched her ticket to a general election showdown with Republican candidate Chris Sparks, a Cranston East history teacher who said he has $75 in campaign funds right now and has never run for office before.
Vargas had nearly $5,000 in campaign funds as of the primary filing date on Sept.4, according to the board of elections, which she said has been through PAC and individual donations. After the primary Vargas said she has a little over $2,000.
She said she was “humbled and extremely thankful” after winning the primary, and thinks she won because people are “looking for someone full of energy” and “a strong new voice to fight for Ward 1.”
Sparks said he was encouraged to run as a Republican by City Councilman Ken Hopkins, and though he said he’s “always been kind of independent” and voted based on who he thought was the best candidate, he’s running for Ward 1 to try to address a variety of issues he sees in the Eastern side of Cranston.
His key issues have to do with the environment, zoning, parks and recreational fields, and schools, particularly school safety, he said Monday.
Specifically, he thinks there has to be action taken on the Ciba-Geigy site on the Pawtuxet River, which he said has become an environmental issue because piles of dirt are blowing into the Edgewood Heights neighborhood. He said it was reported to the Dept. of Environmental Management, but not much has been done about it, and he thinks the city should be more transparent with information about the site.
In terms of zoning, both Sparks and Vargas think real estate is a key area of concern in Ward 1 heading into this election cycle. Sparks pointed out the Yardworks site on Mayflower Dr., which he said has violated sound ordinance and DEM regulations for the last 12 years, but nothing’s been done about it.
“It’s terrible that people who abut commercial property have to list their houses just to get peace and quiet,” he said.
Sparks said he was a supporter of the Cumberland Farms proposal this past year, until he found out that people within 300 ft. of their storage tank wouldn’t be able to receive FHA mortgages. He said he thinks the property can be developed “without totally tearing everything down.” He added that a gas station clearly isn’t the right fit, but there could be other commercial property development there.
Vargas said that spot zoning and “blighted properties” are things she’s been approached with in her campaign so far, and she thinks they need to be addressed.
“We don’t want things just being thrown in the Eastern part of Cranston,” she said. “But we also don’t want to feel neglected. We’ve got to figure out how we go ahead and bring people together.”
School safety is something that Sparks has a strong tie to – having been a teacher in Cranston schools for 16 years – six of which have now been spent at East, and having four kids who’ve gone through the school system. Vargas also has two young children who are in Cranston schools and she said that banning guns in schools is a necessary action at this point.
Sparks agrees on the point, saying that “no guns in schools is a no-brainer.” He also said, however, that he “doesn’t know how much safer we can make schools.”
“Every 84 minutes, all the doors at Cranston East are open for six minutes at a time, and anyone can walk through those doors until they’re locked up again,” Sparks said. “I’m not sure how you can shut down a whole campus. I don’t know how we can totally lock down a school campus and keep everybody out unless we keep everybody in a classroom all day, and that just won’t work.”
He added that the he thinks the steps the school department has taken so far, including buzzing every visitor into the front office and requiring teachers to wear identification badges, are “fantastic,” but he hopes that the school safety sub-committee can come up with good ideas as well.
In addition to tackling those issues if elected, Vargas thinks that the “beautification and quality of life” in Eastern Cranston are things people care about the most.
“Everybody wants to feel safe, wants to make sure trash is getting picked up, know when streets are getting paved, make schools better,” she said. “Having a relationship with the community is key, and that’s why I want to modernize and digitize city hall. There needs to be transparency with the City Council.”
She said that “at end of the day, people want to make sure they’re getting something in return for their taxes, which is a good quality of life in Cranston.”
In regards to taxes, Sparks said that the city has done a good job of keeping them level, even amid a recent revaluation process, but in order to decrease taxes the “big ticket items on the budget” must be addressed.
He said one way of cutting taxes for people is to look at regionalizing the bigger departments in the city, including schools, police, and fire.
“Rather than raising taxes to raise more money, we look at ways to save money,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to start looking at regionalization for savings. We’ve got three communities within fifteen minutes of each other. It’s not a popular idea because people don’t like change, but maybe it’s something we look at rather than spending money.”
Sparks, who has volunteered for many years in the various baseball leagues in Edgewood, from t-ball up to the senior league, thinks another issue in how the money has been spent in the city has been in the parks and recreation dept., which he said has given better service to the Western side of the city.
“Fields on this side of the city is another concern,” he said. “Clubhouses are falling down, there’s no clay on our fields. Any assistance for us is always met with some sort of disgruntled reply from Parks and Recreation. It’s been an ongoing struggle to get the same amount of service from them as Cranston West.”
He said that it could be because there is more representation on that side of the city, and part of the reason he’s running is because “anybody on the outside seems to get the door slammed in their face, so the only way to go about it is getting involved in city politics.”
Now that the primary is over and the both can turn to general election campaigning, Vargas and Sparks will be knocking on doors throughout Ward 1 to continue discussions about important issues. Sparks, who called himself a “door-to-door guy” who won’t be doing any big fundraisers, said he has been bringing some of his high school students out on his walks so that they can have their voices heard and become part of the political process like him.
Vargas said that she’s continuing to meet with residents and business owners to work towards the quality of life they all want. She added that she takes pride in the sense of community in Edgewood, and thinks that events like the William Hall Library concerts need to continue happening.
Vargas also said she’s collaborating with other Democratic candidates in Cranston because her goal for the City Council is to have a Democratic majority.
“I want to make it blue,” she said.
Sparks challenged the other City Council candidates to refuse the stipend that comes along with the job, as he said that he doesn’t think they should be getting any monetary compensation in that position, and if elected he would donate any money he received to local youth organizations.