It’s a young man’s race in Providence’s District 4. Aaron Regunberg, the progressive 25-year-old Brown alum who has a track record when it comes to organizing successful community-based initiatives, emerged triumphant in September’s primaries and will soon face off against 31-year-old Independent Ethan Gyles.
Priorities have not shifted for Regunberg since securing 60% of the vote in the primaries; the Democratic candidate still advocates for ethics reform, wishes to break a “top down, compliance driven culture” within schools and believes that a bottom-up, grassroots legislative adjustment is imperative in a successfully functioning government.
Since his September win, Regunberg has actively gathered expertise from authorities across various fields.
“I’ve been focused on meeting with as many people as possible who’ve had experience [in the State House],” says the Chicago native. “Both on the inside as representatives and on the outside as advocates... I want to soak up as much information as possible so I can be as effective as possible.”
Regunberg’s opponent Ethan Gyles is a professional engineer for an environmental consulting firm with a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering from the University of New Hampshire. He moved to Rhode Island in 2008 and after six years of witnessing repeat ethical violations within state government, he decided to enter the political sphere as an Independent.
“I have a variety of issues that are important to me and I didn’t feel like I fit into either party’s platform. I just wanted to be able to be my own candidate without having any ties to party leadership or to the entrenched interest groups that go along with party membership.”
Like Regunberg, ethics reform is a top priority for Gyles and he believes in “putting the general assembly under the full jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission.” Gyles is pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and pro-regulation of marijuana.
“I have the experience out in the private sector, the familiarity with business and a background in the science/technology regulatory world that gives me a perspective that I don’t think [Regunberg] has.”
“I think it’s a pretty clear difference. I’ve spent my years in graduate school, out working in the economy, making relationships in business and I know the challenges they face.”
“I’m proud to have progressive values,” says Regunberg. “I think often in Rhode Island our Democratic party does not sometimes live up to those ideals, so I’m going to be working hard to represent those. I think the most effective way – from what I’ve seen up at the State House – is to do it as a Democrat. I think it’s going to be tough for someone without a party to be able to have much of an effect.”
An Independent candidate not being able to have an effect? An interesting perspective, considering the fact that former mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci is aggressively trying to do just that.