PAWTUCKET – Two hours after Sen. Donna Nesselbush announced last Friday morning that she would not seek re-election this year to the Senate District 15 seat, representing Pawtucket and North Providence, District 5 City Councilor Meghan Kallman announced that she’ll challenge for the seat.
Kallman, who beat incumbent Mary Bray in 2016 and ran unopposed for a second term two years later, said there was no coordination or understanding of backing from Nesselbush, and that she decided that now is the time, with the community struggling as it is in part due to the pandemic, “to be very proactive to create a political environment where everyone can thrive.”
“I think this is the moment to look at what’s broken and fix it,” she said, adding that the pandemic “has laid bare the foundational inequality in the country,” but communities have it in them to make a change. This is not so much about her “seeking higher office,” she said, but about watching “a crisis unfolding in real time” that really matters to people’s lives and wanting to be part of the solution.
Former at-large council candidate Janie Seguí Rodriguez announced on Monday that she’ll run for the District 5 seat Kallman is vacating.
A number of incumbents are planning to run for re-election for City Council, School Committee, and Pawtucket’s General Assembly seats. Longtime Councilor Terry Mercer was among those saying this week that he intends to run again, as was Councilor Albert Vitali Jr., who said unless he becomes aware of an opening for another General Assembly seat, he’s planning to seek to retain his seat, and School Committee Chairman Gerard “Jay” Charbonneau also announced that he’s running again.
Mayor Donald Grebien has also made no secret that he’s running for re-election, with returning candidate David Norton set to challenge him.
Kallman said she’s grateful for Nesselbush’s leadership, and planned to speak with her more.
A progressive Democrat, Kallman said there are clear priorities that are important to her, including economic justice, climate justice, and affordable housing, and she favors building an economy around all three. Everything should be looked at related to giving everyone an opportunity for better, she said, right down to who gets to work from home during this pandemic and who doesn’t.
She said she has run both of her campaigns on a platform of being accessible to residents, and has proven she’s available to them at every chance. That same approach is what she brings to this race and any other seat she pursues in the future, being inclusive with everyone.
Like Nesselbush, Kallman is widely seen as a politician who won’t just go along to get along. Nesselbush resigned her deputy majority leader position in 2017 after expressing frustration over a lack of rules on a more democratic process for appointing people to leadership positions.
Some of Nesselbush’s biggest pushes during her time in office have been for increasing the minimum wage and for gaining marriage equality. Also Pawtucket’s municipal court judge, she has advocated for stricter rules against sex trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence.
Senate District 15 covers much of the west side of Pawtucket and a few neighborhoods in the most easterly portions of North Providence. Kallman said she plans to walk the streets of North Providence this summer to get to know the concerns of residents there.
Nesselbush, in making her announcement that she won’t run again, said it’s been her great honor and pleasure to serve the residents of the district for the past 10 years. She originally won the seat in 2010 after former Sen. John McBurney, the chief municipal court judge she worked under at the time, waited until the last minute to announce that he wouldn’t be running again.
She said she plans to remain active in state and local politics, continuing to advocate for democracy and issues she cares deeply about.
“As a lawyer, Municipal Court judge, wife, daughter and friend, ‘I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep,’” she said in her announcement. “Thank you to my constituents, supporters and my wonderful Senate colleagues. Many of you have become valued friends. It has been an amazing 10 years of public service to my community and my state. Thank you. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to have served in this capacity.”
Kallman, of Capwell Avenue, said that during her time as an elected official, she has championed small business empowerment, economic justice, and affordable housing. Kallman is co-founder of Crash Pawtucket, an organization showcasing small businesses in partnership with community groups.
“It has been my honor to serve the residents of Pawtucket for the past four years,” Kallman stated. “And I am committed to bringing the concerns of the people of Pawtucket and North Providence to the Statehouse. It’s going to take all of us, working together, to build a strong and resilient Rhode Island. COVID-19 has brought challenges, but it has also shown our strength as a community. We must move forward together. We can’t leave working people behind or ignore the urgent need for living wages, safe housing, clean energy and healthcare.”
In her release, several people voiced support for her.
“Meghan really listened to my concerns about housing, and I saw how hard she fought for affordable housing in our city,” said Seguí Rodríguez. “I am proud to support Meghan’s candidacy for state senate. She is the kind of leader we need, fighting for those who have been marginalized or left out.”
Woodlawn resident Hilary Bodell said Kallman is one of the most caring people she has known, adding that she’ll make an excellent senator.
Fairlawn resident Stephanie Olarte noted that Kallman took the lead in working with the disability community in Pawtucket to implement accessibility measures and help those who are deaf or hard of hearing. She said she works for all of her constituents.
Kallman is a sociologist and a professor, and said she is deeply committed to public and higher education. She teaches at UMass Boston and has taught at the R.I. Adult Correctional Institution and Brown University. She plays trumpet with the Extraordinary Rendition Band and recently published a book about the Peace Corps.
“I believe that the job of an elected official is to ensure that our community is heard,” she said. “We need to create an environment that encourages students to learn, families to thrive, and businesses to grow. We need to do so with energy and vision. I promise to always be accessible. I will always listen, and I will always be transparent about my decisions.”