NEWPORT, RI — Beth and Mike Cullen are both running for elected office in Newport. The couple has served on various commissions and boards.
Beth and Mike live with their 17-year0old son, Mac, two cats and a goldfish. She, a fourth-generation Newporter, is running for an at-large seat on the City Council, while he, who holds a master’s in Business Administration from Harvard, is running for the School Committee.
Campaign website: http://www.beth02840.com/
Why are you seeking elective office?
Newport is at a tipping point. I’ve chosen to run for Newport city council at-large. My husband Mike is running for the Newport school committee. We’ve been watching those over-sized, out-of-scale hotels go up on our historic waterfront, at the same time, we’ve been observing the highly skewed Rogers high school planning process take place. We can see that Newport is in a dire position; it’s standing at the precipice. Our character is very much at risk and the current set of elected officials is floundering. All the while, we limp along, without a community consensus around an empowering long-term vision, or the associated strategic plan to drive us forward towards that vision.
We deserve better. We can do better. Our great city deserves far more competent leadership…full-time, experienced, determined to maintain our unique heritage, while propelling our way forward towards a sustainable, more resilient 21st Century economy and quality of life.
We are running because we have the Time: Our son Mac is heading into his senior year of high school. We have the time to dedicate to public service, full-time. We don’t have to juggle a business, a young family, or part-time jobs.
We are running because we have the Talent: 25 years of Newport/Aquidneck Island civic involvement — everything from championing the restoration of the Van Zandt Pier in 1996 to organizing mentor book clubs for struggling Thompson Middle School girls with local female STEM professionals (“Hidden Figures” 2017) to chairing the city’s Personnel Appeals Board from 1998-2000, to leading the Point Association neighborhood group from 2010-2015, to serving as vice-chair of the Newport Public Education Foundation working to raise $1.5mil for TMS technology and furnishings (NPEF 1999-2003), to launching Nextdoor Newport in 2012 — have honed the skills needed to drive civic improvements through active, persistent engagement.
In parallel, Mike chaired the city’s trust and investment commission for several years setting investment policies for police and fire pensions and school scholarship funds. He’s also served as a vice president and director with Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation and helped secure much of Rose Island from tourism development.
We are running because we have the Tenacity: We have years of civic participation, researching best practices, offering workable solutions, and observing long-serving officials cling to status quo practices while promoting tourism as the only hope to stay afloat. We’ll continue to ask “why?” Why are we allowing developers to steer our economic destiny by taking advantage of the Newport brand? Why are we so dependent on a career lawyer to manage our city, especially in these uncertain times and highly unstable municipal fiscal climate? Why shouldn’t we expect measurable goals, objectives, and annual performance appraisals? Finally, why do we continue to make excuses for the academic emergencies taking place in our schools? The majority of Newport graduates shouldn’t have to struggle so mightily with proficiency in reading and fundamental math.
What do you believe should be done to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and what would you do to lessen its economic impacts?
Locally, the messaging about masking and social distancing must be more to the point. Cute, ineffective slogans and flashing electronic signs are not sufficient to get the job done. The city should develop an ad campaign that everyone uses. This is a good task for the city’s director of communication! For example, here’s what cities are using: “The virus stops here!” printed on a cartoon version of a face mask and the tagline —“Wear the damn mask!”
Enforcement means more boots on the ground, even if overtime is needed. Public servants of all stripes need to step it up; this is an all hands on deck situation. We are all stakeholders. This health crisis does not discriminate. Community leaders, businesses, non-profits, hospitality workers, neighboring towns — all need to be on the same page with a simple and persistent message broadcast to visitors, workers, and residents alike. Masks work and are mandatory!
There’s no question, that our tourism-dependent economy is taking a huge hit. Sadly, we allowed all our economic eggs to be put into one basket, an unsustainable one at that. In the short-term, we need to cut through the red tape and expand outdoor dining, to include rotating street closures.
In the long term — if we take anything away from this unfathomable nightmare — we must face the reality that over-tourism and depending on tourism revenue to pay the bills is sheer folly. This is the result of lazy, visionless, inexperienced leadership. The time has come to say “enough, we need a new direction.”
Do you believe systemic racism is a problem in America generally and Rhode Island specifically, and if so, what would you do to combat it?
Yes. Recent deplorable injustices have ripped away our blinders to the persistent, devastating racial biases living iin our country. Newport’s chronic and egregious educational achievement gaps tell the story. The numbers do not lie. The complexion of our city employees — teachers, public safety workers — does not reflect the population they are paid to serve. Elected leaders must stop pandering, must step up, and remain integral to the solution.
Should the words “Providence Plantations” be removed from the state’s name?
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
It’s back to our tagline: “Time, Talent, Tenacity” with a healthy dose of impartiality. Though it is good to see so many new candidates running for public office, when we dig deeper, we see many who have been recruited to uphold special interests and narrow-issue agendas.
At a time when there are serious challenges and major opportunities, this is not the time to elect a group of rookies. We have seen those results before. What’s needed are councilors who are determined to do their homework, discuss, and act quickly. Without this sense of urgency, the SS Newport will continue to veer toward the rocky shoals. Our community deserves tenacious talent with the time and know-how to do the job!
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform
We emphasize the imperative of building a diversified economy. We can build year-round, high-quality, family-supporting careers with benefits and growth potential. We know what these careers are; they exist right here on our island, but too few are willing to do what’s necessary to nurture a relationship that builds the needed skills. The 2016 Brookings Institution report to the governor spelled out the recipe. Sadly, educators and elected policy-makers failed to embrace the recommendations.
We support a strong public education system but we are opposed to the building of an over-priced high school, in the wrong part of town. The fix was in from the start. We participated in many of the carefully scripted public meetings. We asked the tough questions about curriculum models, blended learning, lifelong learning, alternate building locations, and collaboration with other towns. The insiders and special interests had only one plan from the start. The rest was simply a set of check-the-boxes exercises mandated by the state. We will continue to push for the options that will deliver greater value for students, parents, and taxpayers.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
We’ll let our online profiles provide more background:
The best advice ever shared with me was:
Be independent! Stick to your core beliefs. Do your homework. Demand solutions when you know the easy way out is not the best way forward. Continue breaking down barriers, connecting disparate groups, forging partnerships, and renouncing Newport’s book of easy-out excuses. A robust “can-do” attitude to leadership can make great things a reality.
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
Elect us and you will have “hired” seasoned public servants who are ready to do the job on Day One!
This article originally appeared on the Newport Patch