When a pro-Fane tower councilman called in sick for Tuesday’s vote on whether to override Mayor Elorza’s brave veto of the Fane tower legislation, the council postponed the vote until tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 13. Having spouted my opposition to the tower many times this past two years, maybe it’s time to have some fun with the politics of the tower imbroglio.
I am, of course, assuming that the ill council member, Wilbur Jennings, was really ill. To imagine otherwise is to imagine an unimaginable perfidy in a sitting council member. But minds more cynical than my own must wonder whether Jennings’s absence was motivated by perceptions that the alleged swing-vote councilwoman Mary Kay Harris was showing some reluctance to swing to the pro-Fane faction, which needs 10 votes to override but has only nine. How to get a postponement? But not too much of one! A pro-Fane member is scheduled to fly out of the city on vacation before Christmas and won’t be back till after the override deadline of Dec. 31, so too long a delay will be too long.
A hospital visit? Perfecto!
Nah. This theory violates the principle of Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation is likeliest one. Bank on it. The man was ill.
Nevertheless, at a party on Saturday evening, before the postponement, I heard that some of Councilor Harris’s colleagues were jealous of what, according to news reports, she’d been promised to change her vote. My source at the party told me he could imagine, if she did flip, or swing, this would set off a round of flippers seeking still more goodies – excuse me, public benefits. The vote could become as crazy as a pinball machine, with council members careening from one side to the other, with Fane and his cronies trying to flip the flippers back and forth, back and forth in the smoke and mirrors of the back rooms of the Third Floor of City Hall, breathing heavily and swiftly losing track of the cost of their promises.
All this seems a bit far-fetched. Every council member (pro-Fane or con) is very much aware that Fane is already hard pressed to make the project work financially. Even the I-195 commission’s financial consultant’s eyebrows rose beyond his hairline months ago when he ran the numbers on the project. No way Fane can check off the public benefits on the wish list of a single council person, let alone a chorus line of them – all above and beyond the state tax incentives to which the Fane project will be entitled, whatever they may be.
So we’ll just have to wait and see whether the swing vote is strong enough to take her swing based on principle. Mayor Elorza has already made the one argument that she needs to keep in mind. “Today,” he asserted in his veto statement, “we have approximately 70 projects either completed, under construction, or in the pipeline. With more investment and development than we’ve seen in over a decade, Providence is a city on the rise. As a growing and vibrant city, we see increasing interest from people who want to invest in our future.”
In short, Fane opponents need not worry that voting against the tower will cost jobs and taxes. Providence has been attracting investment lately because the city had the foresight to put in place zoning that developers could trust. That way, the city won’t become an OK-Corral, Wild-West urban shoot-out of developers over who can offer the most payoff for the most variances. If zoning that can change by a factor of six is approved in the face of so much public opposition, then the city automatically will become the kind of zoning sink hole that developers tiptoe around on their way to other cities.
In short, far from costing jobs and tax revenue, a vote against Fane will reaffirm the zoning stability that has caused an influx of jobs and revenue. Just look around you, and you can feel free to vote your conscience.