Once again, corruption overshadows the financial and social struggles of Providence city government. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay parses the indictment of Council President Luis Aponte.
It was the waltz Rhode Islanders have seen way too often: A top politician dancing the perp walk through the court house. This time it was council president Aponte, standing before a judge in matching red handcuffs and a jump-suit colored orange sweater, lawyer in tow.
A wily City Hall political operator, Aponte has denied guilt. He’s entitled to his day in court. Yet, there is no denying that when the second-most important leader in city government is a perp due to felony allegations of misuse of campaign funds, that constituents feel a sense of rot gnawing at City Hall.
Aponte, who in 1998 became the first Latino elected to the city council, is hanging on by a gossamer thread. Mayor Jorge Elorza has called on him to step down from his leadership post, as have a dozen other city council members and Congressman Jim Langevin. Elorza spoke for many when he said that the charges against Aponte are deeply disappointing, in part because the city has worked so hard to overcome the stereotype of corruption gained during the reign of the late Mayor Buddy Cianci and his serial sleaze.
Aponte was charged with one count of unlawful appropriation, one count of embezzlement –felonies both—and two misdemeanor counts of misuse of campaign funds. As of this afternoon, Aponte has not stepped down from his leadership post and remains on the council.
He won’t survive – too many city council members view him as a distraction and want him gone. The first five council members who wanted him out of the leadership -- Councilors Seth Yurdin, Nick Narducci, Wilbur `Billy’ Jennings, Sam Zurier and David Salvatore said it best: The charges against Aponte have ``shattered any remaining public trust in his leadership of the city council.’’
Aponte’s arrest comes on the heels of the ouster of East Side councilman Kevin Jackson, who was recalled by voters in Ward 3 after he refused to leave the council in the wake of his indictment on charges he stole more than $100,000 from a youth sports league. Jackson and Aponte were allies.
``Every hour that Mr. Aponte remains as president worsens the crisis of public confidence he and former Majority Leader Jackson have generated,’’ read the statement from the five councilmen.
Rhode Island voters have had their trust violated so often it’s difficult to know where change should begin. From Gov. Gina Raimondo on down, Rhode Island politicians decry the cynicism that suffuses the Rhode Island citizenry.
What do they expect when so many politicians look as though they are auditioning an episode of Crimetown? Getting jammed up is one thing, but trying to stay on as a council member is another.
This stuff has gone on forever in Rhode Island. Various reforms and changes in laws haven't stopped it. It’s not possible to end greed with legislation. So let’s start with the obvious – too many pols have used their campaign accounts as slush funds. That has to end.
Another crucial element is up to voters. It’s simple –don’t vote for any candidate who doesn’t have a real job or other visible means of support, such as a pension or personal wealth. In recent years, no one in the political or media orbit could ever figure out just what it was Jackson or Aponte did that put food on their table and paid the rent.
If you wonder why it’s so important for candidates to make their tax returns public, well, here’s your answer. Voters should wise up and refuse to vote for any candidate who won’t give the public a peek at his or her tax documents. And candidates from the Statehouse to city and town halls should be subject to random audits of campaign funds in the same manner that the Internal Revenue Service oversees income taxpayers.
Public service ought to be just that, a chance to help constituents and put one’s stamp on public policy. If the pols wonder why voters don’t trust them, they ought to take a deep look in the mirror. Providence has been around since 1636. The current generation of pols has no right to drive it into bankruptcy while they line their pockets like barons in a Banana Republic. Aponte should do his city a favor – resign before tonight’s city council meeting.
Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Monday Edition at 6:45 and 8:45 and on All Things Considered at 5:44. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our `On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org