On November 20th, 2018, I was granted the opportunity to interview Bryant University alum and 2018 candidate in the Pawtucket mayoral race, David Norton. We first talked about his time growing up in two different neighborhoods in the city of Pawtucket. He said that going from the neighborhood of Woodlawn, which at the time was racially diverse, to Fairlawn, which then had a predominantly white, English-speaking population, had a tremendous impact on his life. He pointed out many problems in the Pawtucket school system at the time, with one of the biggest being bullying. Norton said that he ended up dropping out of Slater Junior High and entering the work force at the age of fifteen because he felt they were not teaching him what he needed to be taught or any useful skills. From there, he went on to rent an apartment while he continued to work and obtain his GED since he wanted to go to college. Norton then talked about how he joined the army because it was what he needed to do in order to afford college. After serving pm activity duty for three years, Norton came to realize what a tough life it is for those enlisted, for you had to be disciplined and follow orders. Norton said life was particularly hard for him because there were times where he felt the people above him were wrong and he wanted to point that out to them but was not in the position to do so. While he learned a lot in the army, he did not enjoy his daily life in this field.
In regards to his life as a student at Bryant University back in the 1990s, when it was Bryant College, he lived at his sister’s house as a commuter. Norton’s time at college was “certainly not a college student experience”, for he spent little time on campus and would go only to learn. He told me that the academics at Bryant are what really prepared him to run for political office for multiple reasons. The fact that the college, even back then, gave him an extensive background in business played a large role in his run for office. He was able to learn how the city budget works, the interest rates work, how the tax policies work, and other things of that nature. His time when he studied abroad in Denmark, through Bryant, also helped him run because he was able to learn to adapt to people that thought differently from him, spoke a different language, and had a different background. Bryant’s International Studies program prepared him to communicate with all sorts of cultural groups and understand things from their perspective, which is a necessary skill to have when running for political office just about anywhere in the country.
The first Pawtucket issue we discussed was the prospect of losing the company of Hasbro Incorporated and what should be done about this problem. He said that he does think that the city is likely to lose the company because their executives are interested in being on a campus or a place where there is access to designers and engineers. Norton said that the current elected officials would like to offer Hasbro a tax incentive. The Commerce Corporation often gives out tax incentives to politically connected and influential people and large businesses like Hasbro. Norton believes that a tax break would not work for Hasbro and he would not be in support of it. He said it is against market forces to have tax payers pay a company to stay in Pawtucket and it just would not work. If they were to stay in Rhode Island, he believes it would likely be Providence and that they would try to access the talent at Brown University and RISD and attempt to get a tax incentive out of it so they could build a new campus. Norton said if he was elected Mayor of Pawtucket, that he would create a group to assist people that were laid off or likely to be laid off and try to put policies in place to protect the benefits and the incomes of those people that they are entitled to if Hasbro were to leave the city. He said that this would be practical because the city is going to lose a lot of money that the employees would be spending in the Pawtucket economy. He would want the people to be able to live safely but also spend money to help maintain and grow the city’s economy. In terms of improving the business climate of the city, he believes the people should support smaller family businesses much more than they currently are. He said that one of the ways to do that is to reach out to the immigrant community in Pawtucket. Norton said that places like Armando and Sons’s Meat Market and Spumoni’s Restaurant, that are based in Pawtucket and hire local citizens, should be offered benefits from the city so if something like Hasbro or the Pawsox or Memorial hospital left, it would not shock the economy as much as it would if the smaller businesses were not receiving help from the city. He also mentioned how he is against the over 5% car tax in the city because it is taking so much money out of the local economy that could be used to support a local, small business. Norton also said that he is a progressive Democrat and does not want a free market, for he thinks that the government does have to intervene sometimes. When I asked him about what is next for him in his political career, he said that it is likely that he will run for mayor again in 2020. He said he thinks the city is heading in the wrong direction because of the state economic policy as well as the decisions of the local elected officials.
We concluded our conversation by talking about running for office. I have been mulling over a run for office in 2020, and Norton was able to give some advice that could be utilized for anyone who is considering a run. He said that the first thing that someone should do is to build a base. A good way that he said to do that is to have an issue that is important to people and to start a petition for people to sign with their name and email and things like that. By creating a petition, one can have all this information about people that were concerned about an issue that they can email, call, or write letters to, fundraise from, build a social media presence, and build a media presence. Norton also told me that I would have a major disadvantage if I ran for the seat that I am considering running for to the incumbent official, but he also said that if people have an issue that they truly believe, they should act. He said that people who choose to not run because they say something like “I’ll just wait for another opportunity” are lazy. He said it would be an uphill battle, but it is also worth it because if I would win by working hard, that would be incredible. On top of this, you still learn a lot through your first election, like how you cannot trust anybody, and how they change the rules for you because you are the challenger. He said that by running once, I can get my name out that and maybe the incumbent will run for something else, not run at all, or actually is vulnerable enough to be defeated. Overall, this interview taught me quite a bit about David Norton and his ideas on how to contribute to the city, but I also gained some helpful advice that not only is something that I will keep in mind as I decide on my run for state office in 2020, but also something that I am able to provide to all who wish to run for office one day. I would like to thank Mr. Norton again for what was an informational and enjoyable interview and for the advice that was given.