Grebien ready to get back at it after win

Grebien ready to get back at it after win

Mayor Donald Grebien was back answering calls at his desk in City Hall this week after effectively winning the race for mayor in the Sept. 8 primary.

PAWTUCKET – Don Grebien remembers being the outsider progressive, or “change agent” running against Mayor James Doyle in 2008. Two years later, he’d build on the results to win higher office.

Perception is everything, says Grebien, and the longer someone is in office, the harder it becomes to maintain that fresh perception in the public’s eye. Even the most significant accomplishments, he said, can be forgotten or discounted.

Grebien, who says he takes each election individually, is “honored and thankful” and feels fortunate to win another term to carry out the great progress Pawtucket has made and the numerous projects the city has undertaken after winning the Democratic primary last week against David Norton.

As for the somewhat narrower margin from two years ago, when the two met in the general election, he acknowledged that he could have done a better job of walking the streets to remind residents of his administration’s accomplishments. The primary is always “a different animal,” he said, and this year saw a completely unique election cycle. There’s been a pattern of unrest and division nationally, with “no middle ground,” and COVID-19 changed strategies in candidates and priorities among residents.

The mayor said the 2020 primary campaign was a “recheck” of sorts as he analyzed how to re-engage with the campaign process and not take anything for granted. He said he probably could have hit the streets more aggressively, but “it is what it is.”

Asked if he thinks the lack of visual progress with certain projects, including the coming riverfront stadium development and new commuter rail station, could have played a role in more people supporting a challenger, he said it certainly could have contributed. With a project such as the train station, “progress is slow,” with discussions lasting two decades or longer (his 21-year-old daughter wasn’t born yet), and finally getting it done now is “compromise, whether we like it or not,” he said.

Those who are new to public office sometimes feel like they’re going to change the world overnight, he said, but it’s often about taking the right steps day by day and being patient about the results.

Grebien said he’s proud of the accomplishments he and the City Council have achieved, particularly on quality of life and keeping taxes down while maintaining a high level of services largely within the same dollar limits.

Grebien said accomplishments such as working with other leaders to replace local schools and repave some 60 percent of local streets since his tenure began in 2011 sometimes lose their shine, despite progress happening every year. Many people forget that those were two areas people had long complained about a lack of progress, he said, and he changed the narrative after winning office.

The mayor said he hasn’t dropped the ball on smaller initiatives either, including recently finalizing a streetlight conversion program for financial savings and better lighting on roadways, investing in a new automated trash program to improve service and reduce attractions for rodents, and upgrading technology for residents and businesses. The city has also renegotiated contracts as it’s sought to do more with less, he said.

“Look at the last 10 years and we’ve done some really, really good things,” he said. Officials aren’t perfect, he said, but they’re acting in the best interest of the community as a whole.

He said construction of brand-new schools and installation of new roads “doesn’t happen by chance, it happens by hard work. We’re workers.”

COVID-19 has made everything more complicated and made life more difficult, he said, but the city and its residents will keep pushing through it.

In today’s climate, said Grebien, one sometimes hears more of the bad than good, but the large majority of voters seem to recognize the positive steps the city’s taken with infrastructure upgrades and new development.

Grebien will turn 53 years old on Sept. 25 and says he still loves the job. He said he can’t retire until he’s 65 and wants to work “until at least then.”

“I love the job,” he said, despite it being tiring at times. National division takes its toll even on the local level, he said, with people tending to veer to one extreme or the other, but “the good keeps outweighing the bad.”