2012-09-20 / News

Two Jamestowners will vie for District 74 seat in House

Mastrostefano will try to unseat incumbent Ruggiero
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

Two candidates are running for the District 74 seat in the state House of Representatives, representing Jamestown and Middletown. Republican Anthony Mastrostefano is challenging incumbent Democrat Deb Ruggiero. Both candidates live in Jamestown.

The same two candidates also faced each other in the 2010 campaign for the District 74 seat. Ruggiero received a total of 53 percent of the vote, followed by Mastrostefano (31 percent) and 2012 Town Council hopeful Dan Capuano (16 percent).

Mastrostefano, 50, has lived in Jamestown for nine years. He was born in Providence. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. He also earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Rhode Island.

Mastrostefano is a small business owner. His family business, Mastro Electric Supply, operates five electrical wholesale stores, including one in Middletown.

He is married to Melissa and the couple has two children.

His hobbies include mountain biking and building kayaks. Mastrostefano is a member of the Rhode Island chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. That connection led him to participate in several Big River cleanup efforts, because the West Greenwich Big River Management Area has become a place where the bikers ride frequently.

The cleanup involved moving abandoned houses and was a lot more work than the typical cleanup effort. The Big River Management Area, he said, was originally supposed to become a reservoir, but the project never began. During the 30-year interim, the government had been renting out houses on the property and ultimately the buildings were abandoned. People had even left boats on the property, he said.

Mastrostefano has also been involved in service through his church, Christ Church in East Greenwich. For one example, he traveled to Honduras on a housebuilding mission. Also, his family took in a foster child for 18 months when the girl had nowhere else to live. He also supported Destiny Africa Children’s Choir by providing housing for Ugandan children for three weeks.

He has never held political offi ce.

He is running because he wants to improve the Rhode Island economy and feels no one in state government is taking the necessary steps to bring business and jobs to the state.

“Things that would improve the Rhode Island economy are really obvious,” he said, “but no one’s moving on it.”

Mastrostefano said that as a small business owner, he has felt the impact of the sour economy. He had 40 employees before the recession started. Now, he has 20 workers.

“Unemployment’s a big deal to me,” he said, adding that he sees the impact more in Providence than South County.

Mastrostefano said he would focus on the economy and jobs if elected. Specifically, he would work to lower the “death tax,” sales tax and gas tax. He would also like to eliminate the corporate tax.

The death tax, he said, is too high in Rhode Island, and effectively encourages wealthy older people to move to states like Florida.

“People want to leave more money to their kids,” he said. Florida, for example, has a “better tax structure” than Rhode Island for estate planning. He also feels the wealthy senior citizens add jobs to the local economy because they hire people to take care of them, and Rhode Island loses those jobs when residents move out.

Mastrostefano advocates lowering the sales tax to encourage residents from bordering towns in neighboring states to buy goods here. To see examples of the impact of the sales tax on the municipal economy, he suggested comparing Attleboro, Mass., to Pawtucket, and Seekonk, Mass., to East Providence. Both Massachusetts communities have thriving retail districts, while Pawtucket and East Providence are struggling. Rhode Island’s sales tax is 7 percent, while the Bay State sales tax is 6.2.

Mastrostefano said Rhode Island could also benefit by ending the corporate tax and encouraging businesses to relocate here. He says Rhode Island has won the reputation of being the least business-friendly state in the nation, partly due to the number of fees the secretary of state’s office charges business owners, including the $500 minimum corporate tax.

“These are things that discourage business formation. My basic objective is to try to make Rhode Island a place where we can have more jobs.”

Ruggiero, 53, was born in Providence. She has lived in Jamestown for 28 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and communications from Boston College. Ruggiero is employed as an advertising and marketing communications consultant. She has been in television and radio sales management since 1990 at WPRI and was a local sales manager at WBDC-TV in Washington, D.C. Her clients are primarily small businesses and nonprofit organizations, she said.

She also hosts a radio show, “Amazing Women,” which airs over 630 WPRO-AM, 92 PROFM and Lite Rock 105. In 2011, Associated Press named the program, which Ruggiero created, best in the public affairs category.

Ruggiero is single. Her hobbies are cooking and playing golf.

Ruggiero was elected as state representative in 2008. She was inspired to run, she said, after becoming involved in public service through work with nonprofit organizations. She is a founder and former board member of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, which she described as a social justice organization dedicated to gender equality. The fund makes grants to nonprofit organizations that help girls and women. She is also a past president of the American Lung Association of Rhode Island.

“We worked hard to get the nosmoking in-public law passed,” she said, adding that it was that experience that led her to consider running for political office. She also works with various foundations.

Ruggiero is running because she wants to continue being a voice in Providence for her constituents.

“I want to make sure women, men, children, the elderly, the disabled, and everyone have a voice at the State House,” she said, “and I am honored to be that.”

Ruggiero said she has been available to residents to help with problems, such as unemployment claims and other government-related issues. If she doesn’t know the answer, she will do the research, she said.

“I have not wavered from my original promise to be responsive, accountable, thoughtful and deliberate in my decisions.”

If re-elected, her priority will be to restore two tax credits, which, she said, will add jobs to the economy. First, she wants to revise the historic preservation tax credit, which the state government repealed in 2008. The credit, which was in effect from 2002 to 2008, resulted in thousands of construction jobs and returned $5.35 to the state economy for every dollar of credit, she said, citing Grow Smart Rhode Island as a source. “The credit was responsible for redeveloping hundreds of historic buildings in the state.” She said it remains a proven way to jumpstart the economy.

She will also work to reinstate the renewable energy tax credit for homeowners. This credit benefi ts residents who want to install solar panels or add other types of green energy systems to their homes. The credit costs the state about $150,000 annually, but it generates more than $1 million “in economic activity” for small businesses.

Ruggiero described her platform as the Four E’s: economy, education, the elderly and the environment. For an example of her efforts to grow the Rhode Island economy, she pointed to her work on the small business committee. The Rhode Island Local Agriculture and Seafood Act is one result of her efforts to help the state’s “outdoor economy,” she said. The overall goal is to create jobs by linking farmers to consumers. The state has 1,200 farms, and six working farms are right here in Jamestown, she said. Farmers can now apply to the state Department of Environmental Management for small grants up to $20,000. The money comes from the federal government or from foundations and private funding sources.

Ruggiero also co-sponsored the Safe Schools Act, which established a statewide policy to deal with bullying in schools and on the Internet.

“No child should feel unsafe,” she said. Ruggiero went on to explain this measure was needed because although some school districts had developed their own rules, the state did not have a comprehensive policy. Ruggiero said lawmakers worked on the issue with school officials, the state attorney general’s office, and other stakeholders.

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