UpriseRI conducted interviews with all five candidates in the special Democratic primary election to replace east side State Senator Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) who has taken a job with the Biden Administration in Washington.
Candidate Ray Rickman is a former State Representative and Executive Director of Stages of Freedom, a non-profit that promotes black cultural events for the entire community. We conducted the interview by Zoom, and the conversation has been edited for clarity.
Links to all the interviews
â Samuel Zurier â Bret Jacob â Geena Pham â Ray Rickman â Hilary Levey Friedman â
UpriseRI: What are your most important policy ideas and what are the most important issues you plan to deal with as state senator, were you to be elected?
Ray Rickman: At the general assembly we put up an issue and then we spend four or five years getting it passed or moderated or whatever. And we agree that civil rights can wait. Every year we talk about the issue and we get more votes and we jump up and down because we go from 10 votes to 40, finally to 50. Itâs absurd that people have to wait on their rights. Itâs absurd and it requires militancy. I want my rights and I want them now. So what Iâm going to do is two things: I will put a bill in and go to court because about a third of these things are won in the court.
We never take them to court. I think itâs a crime to charge people, 29% or usury, on these payday loans. We have an obligation to protect citizens from payday loans. And people donât call out why we have payday loans. Itâs called Bill Murphy, so he can make some money. [Bill Murphy is the former Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives who now works as a lobbyist for pay day loan companies.] I donât know what people are paying, but it is got to be millions. Iâm going to involve the economics departments at Brown and Bryant. Bryant in particular claims to be thinkers and doers, that theyâre going to stretch and change the world [but] Iâve never seen a single one of these economic departments do a thing on economics for Rhode Island.
Donât misunderstand me, everybody is not obligated to do the same thing and be a crusader. But in an economics department with 25 professors there ought to be change actors. And I donât think there are any in any of these schools. So I would like to embarrass them. First thing Iâd like to do is invite them all to a round table and say, âWhat are you doing for the people of Rhode Island? Show and tell.â And theyâre going to say nothing. So Iâll say to them, âLetâs start by you getting a grad student to work on payday loan.â Itâs probably the easiest thing to work on. And by work on, I donât mean ask the legislature to pass a bill, I mean, embarrass the legislature and Bill Murphy.
UpriseRI: I am right there with you on payday loans.
Rickman: Payday loans are something thatâs bothered me for 10 years and theyâre only like three entities getting rich on them, and theyâre not Rhode Islanders by the way.
UpriseRI: Oh, I know. Iâve seen them fly in, walk directly into Speaker Mattielloâs office, then walk right into the committee room where the hearingâs are going to be. Itâs pretty ugly.
Rickman: And it needs to stop. But to my point, I think weâre too civil. We need to say, âNow!â on all of these things I love. The Democrats have a $15 minimum wage, which is three years out. And the wage is now $15.15 on its own because all the people at McDonaldâs kept quitting.
UpriseRI: I see what you mean. But the minimum wage under the state law is still $11.50.
Rickman: And only a fourth of people who were paying that a year ago pay it now. A woman who works at Marshalls, a friend of mine, is up to $16.50 because all the new workers get 15 bucks. All boats rise.
UpriseRI: Upward pressure on wages.
Rickman: But are you ready? You sitting down? The head of Marshalls gets a six or seven million dollar bonus every year when the workers get a raise .
UpriseRI: That doesnât surprise me. Let me get back to the questions. What do you consider to be your biggest areas of policy concern?
Rickman: I was asked to run for this Senate seat eight years ago by Michael van Leeston. He took me to dinner and he wanted me to run for it, be a voice in the Senate, with Harold Metts. I refused and said, âMichael, my days are over for that stuff. You know, going out in the street, begging people for votes, begging people for money Iâm done.â But two years ago, I went to lunch with [Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director] Steven Brown and got Casby Harrison as a lawyer. We were going to sue the school district over violence at Classical High School. Parents had come to me the year before telling me how their sons were being bullied and the principal wouldnât do anything because there was no physical contact. You had to have a level of violence before they help you. One of the kids said to me, âWhy donât they hit me and be done with it versus threatening me all the time? Itâs just nerve wracking.â So I promised him Iâd do something about it, and I went in the federal court and got a court order forcing the administration to deal with the violence.
Thereâs no violence in charter schools, no violence in parochial schools, no violence in private schools. None, seriously, thereâs an incident every 10 years. It ainât much. My brother went to Quaker school and they gave him a little piece of printed paper that says, âFrowning is a prelude to violence. Donât frown at people.â And for an extended frown, you have to come into the office because people think youâre going to take the next step. Everybody sees you doing it, by the way. So youâve create this environment.
We can do that. You get in trouble for threatening people, not just hitting them. You get in trouble for hitting them. If you hit them in a serious way, you get removed from the school and sent to another one. Polls show 90% of people like their high school, no matter how bad it is. So there are all these reasons that kids will behave. Thatâs why they behave in charter schools. The parents want them in that charter school. So we can create that environment on violence. We can create that environment on almost everything.
Now I tell people, Ray Rickman is not a genius. I just look closely at Ann Arbor. I look closely at Moses Brown and I see how they do it. But I also live in a neighborhood with millionaires. Iâm the poorest person around. When their child gets in a little academic trouble, they send them to Sylvan [Sylvan Learning of Cumberland] and Sylvan puts them in the side room, 90 minutes, three days a week, bored to death, improving their grammar or math scores. Providence sends them to the after-school program where thereâs music and dancing. And I donât mean classical music. I donât even mean Motown. And they party up and down the halls. They play games, they bring their phones and their videos. And every once in a while, weâll even have a pregnancy come out of it.
We donât have a real after school program. Sylvan is an after school program and we need to mimic it. Either pay for people to go to things like Sylvan or create one. An after school program is a place to study, not to be entertained. Someone ask me, âCan we afford Sylvan?â and the answer is yes. The administrative costs of these afterschool programs Iâll bet you would be the same as putting these kids in Sylvan. And again, Iâm not a genius. Sylvan works. All 12 kids I know who went there got better grades. And, by the way, they teach you study skills.
You can teach a kid coding, you can teach a kid anything. You just have to teach them â and you have to have a quiet environment to do it with. Iâm going to the general assembly to help the 23,000 Providence kids who are stepchildren of the state. One of the things Iâm going to push for, I want a Special Master. I want to take it from the commissioner and give it to a Master.
UpriseRI: Thatâs what they did in Lowell Massachusetts.
Rickman: Yes. You hire somebody. Itâs their own job. You give them five assistants and itâs someone whoâs done it before â a 65-year old retiree from Somerville or Ann Arbor, Michigan. Weâre not going to play the race game, the gender game, any game in our hiring. Who has done this in the last 10 years? Weâll pay them top dollar, which will be less than what weâre doing now, and give them a big office on the top floor with a view of all of Providence. They have to report to the school board every 10 days. And that person being paid good money, with nothing else to do, whoâs done it before, will improve the system.
UpriseRI: Speaking of school violence, thereâs a push from the Providence Student Union to remove school resource officers from schools because they see it as a a part of the school to prison pipeline. They object to being policed in their schools. What are your thoughts on that?
Rickman: I never had any cops in my school. You have police in school because thereâs violence. Weâll get rid of them in a year. Letâs get rid of the violence. Whatâs wrong with Providence Student Union is theyâre almost always in a hurry. Thereâs a reason police are in school. We need to eliminate the reason and then eliminate the police. And that can be done right now.
Let me go to the extreme. We know that the killing outside of the three high schools? Three or four kids told me about it after the killing. And I chastised them and told them they should have told me beforehand. For six months everyone knew about that beef going on and there was no intervention from the police, no intervention from the school administration, nothing. And then those two people got out and they did what a lot of gang kids do. They shot at each other with the intention of not hitting each other. They really donât want to kill each other and they donât want to go to jail and they didnât do anything big enough to be killed anyway, but it is street cred. The bullet goes astray and kills the nicest kid in the whole complex, right? Thatâs not uncommon. Bullets go astray. Iâm going to work on this legislatively. Anytime you hear about two school kids having a beef, you must intervene. You let them know you know. You see if you can put a stop to it. Kids shouldnât get killed doing nothing but waiting for a bus. Unbelievable.
UpriseRI: That was heartbreaking.
Rickman: Heartbreaking. Tears in the eyes. And then of course it sent shock waves through the public schools. You know, everybodyâs worried about where candidateâs kids go to school, whether they go to private schools or charter schools or public schools. These candidates are judged. But only 2% of people are going to vote for or against anybody because of where their kids go to school. But I have 2,500 kids in our swim program and 1100 of them are Providencians, so I tell people all the time I have 2,500 kids. The killing shattered them. Thereâs no defense against standing at a bus stop and being killed.
UpriseRI: Itâs like lightning strike or something.
Rickman: Back to the Providence Student Union. Iâve tried to work with them off and on â not successfully. Iâm not criticizing them. I praise everybody who was in the streets rallying for social justice. So Iâm in total praise of them, but they want to get rid of the cops without the reason for the cops being there. People didnât make up why cops need to be there.
UpriseRI: Their point is they want counselors. They want mental health counselors, guidance counselors, nurses and social workers. Not cops.
Rickman: Patrick Kennedy and I are best of friends. Iâve been on this mental health kick for 30 years. My sister is head of mental health counseling for a school system in St. Clair Shores, outside of Detroit. We talk regularly and they have wealthy white kids committing suicide. Thatâs their number one problem. There are answers to all of this. There are answers to every single thing. I watch rich people, wealthy people, find the answers nine out of ten times, but they donât find them a hundred percent of the time because their kids commit suicide too.
These 23,000 Providence students need an advocate. Thatâs why Iâm running for the Senate. It is the only reason Iâm running for the Senate. I have a House license plate, number three, in my bedroom. I donât need a Senate three plate. I donât need the salary. Itâs not a stepping stone for a higher office. I am going to the legislature, four hours a day, starting on the 6th of October to work on this. I met with the Providence Teacherâs Union the other day. I canât disclose what we talked about, but itâs wonderful. And Iâm going to meet with them every two weeks. You know, theyâre the âvillainsâ because we come up with short answers to big problems.
Itâs the administrators. Itâs the superintendents. Itâs the state board. Itâs the former governor, it might be this one. They are not doing their job. And sometimes itâs hard to get people do a job because they have 12 jobs. I have some sympathy for people who have all these problems and youâre the superintendent of schools and you have 23,000 people to care for.
UpriseRI: Maybe the answer to this is obvious that I donât need to ask it, but has the state takeover of Providence Schools been a failure?
Rickman: A total and bombastic failure. I want to start on the right foot. This new Commissioner of Education was as in-your-face as Iâve ever seen a public person. Bruce Sundlun wouldnât have talked like that. Thatâs not how you start.
UpriseRI: Switching subjects, Rhode Island is getting $1.1 billion in ARPA funds. The general assembly and the governor canât agree on what to do with it. What are your thoughts about all that money? What should we be doing with it?
Rickman: I wrote the governor a note, nothing fancy, and I said, half of it should go to fixing existing problems. The behavioral health community â this is a moment to help people. Thatâs the preference. I think every single school district should be given a little innovation money and I donât want to say what innovation is. They should get $750,000 bucks for innovation. Innovation could be something to make life better or it could be a new science lab. I donât know what it is. Then the other half of the money should go to change, to innovate. Hereâs a moment weâll never get again.
For example, have a nuclear reactor down at the University of Rhode Island on the water. $16 million a year for nothing, no original research, nothing, just an ugly blue box. 70 years ago Eisenhower gave away 50 of them. 49 of them are closed. I asked the former speaker and he was dialoguing with me and the finance people about closing it. Take that $16 million a year and put it in an education fund for everybody whoâs at poverty level. You can come and get some money to go to x-ray technician school, or daycare for your kid, whatever you want. Start an educational fund and a hundred years from now, weâll have a Brown University type endowment for education. Iâm serious â a billion dollars â if you spend 90% of it and put 10% back in it, I did the economics.
Thatâs the kind of thing Iâd like to see us do. When this money is gone, itâs all gone. And we have given too much to peopleâs friends who donât produce anything lasting, or even interesting.
My next big thing is to plant 10,000 trees in Providence a year from now. Itâs a ten-year program. Iâve got a deal with God â Let me live to be 85 or more so I can get my trees planted. Weâll see what God thinks about that, you know, Iâm a practical person. Iâm going to put a system in place where it gets done, whether Iâm here or not.
But next on my list, Iâm going to build an Olympic swimming pool for Providence. Olympic plus. Bigger than Brown Universityâs. If the 7,000 people at Brown have Olympic swimming pool, why canât the 180,000 in Providence have one? AndI know how to finance it. Brown wonât rent their swimming pool anymore. We can rent our swimming pool one day a week and pay for the maintenance.
Iâm giving you examples of things that they could do that would make a difference in the lives of 50,000 people. And I said that very clearly to the governor in writing. Four years from now, we need to say, âLook what happened out of this federal money â Not anything we cannot see or feel.â
UpriseRI: Moving on, what are your thoughts on policing in general, given what happened in 2019, with all the marches and rallies in the wake of George Floydâ¦
Rickman: Stop your moderation. Cops have been killing black people since the 1840s, okay? Sheriff would go on the plantation and the owner would say, kill whatâs his name for talking back to me. Then they kill him in front of 50 people â a reign of terror. Frederick Douglas said the slaves could kill the owner and mistress of the plantation just by setting on them. You got 200 slaves and three folks and one of them was a 10 year old kid. They canât defend themselves, so they create a reign of terror. Police were created for this purpose. Providence got police because we had race riots â the sailors were terrorizing the black community. And we got a police department out of it.
The purpose for police departments was never pure and clean, ever. Most of it was to keep Black people in their place. And remember, we were an apartheid society until 1965 and 65, the passags of the civil rights bills. So Black people have no rights before 1965. I get so tired of people acting like this great nation has been this way for a hundred years. Itâs been this way on some accords for a hundred days, 10 years, 20 years.
You know, we have Black millionaires. When I was a kid, AG Gaston in Alabama was the only Black millionaire in America. Then thereâs me, a solid middle upper class person. I live in a nice house and got some money at Fidelity. Cops have cracked my skull, beaten me in the face. Junior high school, high school, Mississippi, Providence. The late Carl Levin had to get the FBI to come and protect me. This is not ancient, this is society. Then, two years ago, everybody not paying attention realized that Black lives matter. Do they matter?
I havenât seen anything. The Rhode Island Foundation set aside $8 million, which it has not spent.
Police were constructed to oppress Black people. And they are no different than Citizens Bank, which wouldnât make a loan to anybody Black. All these institutions are created to elevate white people and denigrate and hurt Black people and keep us in our lowly place.
UpriseRI: Given that, should we be cutting police budgets?
Rickman: No. Why would you cut the police budget in the middle of crime wave?
Iâm a diversity trainer on police conflict and violence avoidance and all that stuff. I am able to do it cause Iâm a Kingsian. Itâs difficult for me because I say, âI just spent three hours here and how much change did I create?â Sometimes I go away and I say, âThere were 200 officers in the room and I got five who plan to be better.â Itâs not a good use of my time that God has given me. Exactly two and a half years ago. I decided not to do them anymore no more because life is limited. Iâm going to tell St. Peter that after I spent thousands of hours talking to police officers, Iâve come to the awful belief that that system is stronger than I am.
We come up with this symbolic, really cute stuff, âDefund the Police.â And Iâm told that the youngest people in the Black Lives Matter room came up with that 80% silliness. Of course, all the women, all the minorities on the force, the BIPOC people, would go first because itâs a seniority system. The force would get whiter and older. So they havenât thought that through. But secondly, we need new services. We need wrap around mental health, emotional health responders.
The last police ride along that I did the police got the stun gun out against a man who weighed 550 pounds and he was nude. I stood there kind of shocked and I was ashamed of myself later beause I didnât tell them to stop. They were proud of themselves for not shooting him. This man has done nothing except they have mental illness. The stun gun didnât work. They hit him three times. A Catholic nun came along and brought a sheet and ordered him to wrap up in it. This is the need for more training because theyâve gotten to the point where they think itâs lenient and theyâre proud for using the stun gun versus a real one.
Everything is complex. I tell the Black Lives Matter people â Most of you are new to this game and you need to think before you speak. The police force is probably the right size, but is it the right police force? No.
UpriseRI: Rhode codified Roe v Wade at the state level, but given whatâs happening in Texas and nationally, where do abortion rights go from here?
Rickman: These persons, including the ones running for this Senate seat, calling the president of the Senate names are misguided. The Senate passed what we just talked about. Leadership has agreed to leave this alone in spite of what they believe. You saw Congressmen James Langevin move in our direction after 20 plus years. So weâre in the ascendancy in Rhode Island, and weâre okay. What we need to do is be part of the national campaign because of the United States Supreme Court â if we donât either expand it or get Congress to enact legislation â we are going to be in trouble. When itâs not the law of the land it canât be the law of Rhode Island. And that is what Iâm going to do. Iâm going to create a movement here. Iâm going to create funding mechanism to see that Rhode Island helps nationally.
I donât believe in the sacredness of the Supreme Court. Three fourths of the time theyâve dogged Black people They refuse to help gay people. They havenât done feminist things. I think weâre misguided screaming about local stuff. I think my opponents are doing that because they havenât thought this out. You have to think out every problem and not come up with the easy first solution or the old solution
UpriseRI: Given that youâve touched on this, Iâll go there now. Thereâs a culture in the Senate that is very top down. The Senate President makes the decision, the committees checkbox those decisions and then the Senate passes it. What are your thoughts?
Rickman: So when I was in the House, the first two years Matthew Smith was the Speaker and I was a get things done person. I had 13 bills and I got 12 passed. Thatâs who I am. And thatâs who I was in the legislature.
The last four years, I was a reformer because Joseph de Angeles was Speaker and he didnât like me or let me do anything. When I came to the legislature, Rodney Driver and I sat there on day one and they told us at one oâclock that we were voting on the budget at two. We couldnât read this budget between now and tomorrow at two. Mattie Smith was the Speaker and he asked, âWhat are you demanding, the right to be able to read the budget? For a hundred years the budget has been presented and if you want to read the budget, you should get on the finance committee.â There are only 11 people on the finance committee. How do you get on it? We said we would not vote on the budget. We said we would hold a news conference. We were looking for other avenues to stop that. Mattie caved and we got the budget overnight. We took it home and Common Cause followed me, and the AFL CIO, all those people came to my house. So I was a reformer.
Now Iâm not going to the Senate to be a reformer. Iâm just candid. Iâm not, Iâm not much of a politician. Iâm not much of a lawyer. Iâm not a lawyer at all. You have to gain the legislators to change what the leadership does? They are who they are. They believe what they believe. All these people running for this office denouncing the president. Heâs tough. And he doesnât like to be called names. Ask Gayle Goldin.
UpriseRI: She challenged him directly.
Rickman: Thatâs correct. And she left because she knew her future was dim. And Iâm not going to do that. Iâm there for the 23,000 kids.
Finally on the big issues that I care about â the progressive issues, lesbians, gay and transgender rights, Black rights and abortion rights â the leadership has for 20 years done nothing wrong.
And when they tell me how to vote, Iâm going to do the same thing I did in the House. I made a deal with God when I went to the legislature. âWhen I come to see you, Iâm not going to have to apologize for having done something wrong legislatively.â Am I going to go up there and call the President of the Senate names? Absolutely not. When I show up the first day, Iâm going to take a sunflower. Iâm a sunflower person. Iâm going take all three leaders, the Republican, the two Democrats, a half dozen sunflowers. I do this every fall. I go to four or five people Iâm having a dispute with and I give them a sunflower and it almost always works. Iâm going to make peace before I start.
UpriseRI: We did not pass an assault weapon ban, or limit magazine clip capacity. Your thoughts on guns?
Rickman: We talked about robbing people with this payday loan stuff. We need to do the same thing with guns. We have to fight this problem and we have not done that. I want to talk to the feds. 75% of all violence is one gang member against another and once in a while they kill an innocent person. But one death is too many. I believe in the second amendment â itâs there. If we donât like it weâve got to repeal it and I donât know how we get that done. Itâs the worst amendment in the constitution. People should be able to bear arms, but not Gatling guns or assault weapons.
Weâre almost definitely going to be taking that up marijuana next session. What are your thoughts?
Rickman: You know, Patrick Kennedy is one of my best friends in life. He thinks we shouldnât do this. He and I have a little problem because I think everybody who wants to do it is doing it. And the illegality of it has created serious problems, racial disparities and jail time for certain people but not for others. We need to regulate it because itâs going to happen anyway. So Iâm in favor of it, not much, but Iâm going to vote, yes. Am I going to crusade for it? Absolutely not, but Iâm going to vote yes.
UpriseRI: Right now thereâs a push in some circles to open up the businesses to Black and brown communities that have been most seriously affected by the war against drugs. They want 50% of all licenses to go to people. What are your thoughts on that?
Rickman: I got that from the Black Lives Matter people, and I went further than them. I want it to be mandatory. All these businesses have a way of getting out of meeting legislative goals. I want it to be that after two years of not meeting your employment goals â your license is suspended. Weâre very slow in enforcing the laws. When a big construction company wants something, they get it. When we want that same construction company to hire women or people of colorâ¦
UpriseRI: A report came out this year, that shows that we havenât hit the MBE/WBE goal since that bill was enacted, basically.
Should we raise taxes on the richest one percent of Rhode Islanders, tax the rich?
Rickman: Tax the rich? Thatâs not a good way to ask. Last year almost every person with money at Fidelity, which is almost every rich person, made 18 to 21% interest. Astonishing. So every single one of them can afford 8% or whatever tax rate. Every single one â and half of them wonât notice. The rich have tax attorneys and accountants whose job it is to see that they pay as low as taxes as possible. The rich can pay more taxes and it will not hurt them. In a capitalist society taxes should be fair and the poor should pay less or nothing. The middle should pay a fair amount and the top should pay a fair amount and eight point anything is a fair amount for someone making $400,000 or $6 million a year. I donât buy any of this Republican garbage that theyâre going to move with their feet. Theyâve got the kids at Moses Brown and who wants to go to Florida anyway?
I have to be careful with religion, but that said, youâre not supposed to do for yourself when you have plenty. And my constituents, two thirds of them have plenty.
UpriseRI: Any last thoughts?
Rickman: Iâm the substantial person in this race. I was told this morning to tell people Iâm a dreamer. I really am. Iâm a Kingsian, Iâm a Du Boisian and Iâm all of these things and I have done it all my life. Iâm my motherâs child and I have as much esprit de corps as any candidate in this race, I have stood before thousands and inspired them. They think somebody 27 or whatever has more of that than I do? They donât. They certainly donât have the foundational base. They donât know how the State House works. This is a 14 month term and I am job ready. I am not doing it for any reason other than to try to elevate, protect, and help the 23,000 schoolchildren of Providence. So Iâm asking people to stand back. You can vote for one of these inspirational people later. I donât want to tell you Iâm not going to run for reelection. If I got enough done, I might not.
Iâm real and itâs a tough time. Youâre raising tough questions because weâre in a tough time and we need to have change. We really do.