Newport will soon have a new mayor.
Xaykham Khamsyvoravong, who goes by Xay (pronounced “Sigh”), was the top vote-getter in last week’s election for four at-large City Council seats, and his colleagues have already signaled their support for him to become the new mayor on Dec. 1.
Newport’s mayor is similar to the City Council president in other communities, as the city manager oversees day-to-day operations.
Khamsyvoravong, 38, currently works as the Head of Asset Operations for US Infrastructure Partners at CBRE Investment Management. He is a former chairman of the Providence Water Supply Board and a graduate of Brown University and Roger Williams University School of Law. He also ran Frank Caprio’s campaign for governor in 2010.
So what are his top priorities for Newport? I asked him to answer a few questions for Rhode Map readers.
Q: You’re a newcomer to Newport politics, yet you won the most votes of all the council candidates and are now seeking to be mayor. What made you decide to finally run for office?
Khamsyvoravong: My wife Alicia and I love Newport because it’s an incredibly welcoming and culturally dynamic city, but it’s at an inflection point of losing the families and community members that make it such a special place.
While a lot of communities are grappling with the same types of challenges Newport is facing, the pace of those changes here is much faster, making the urgency of addressing this change that much more critical.
I’ve spent my career helping state and local governments solve similar challenges and wanted to do my part to help my hometown.
Q: Newport’s political system is different than a place like Providence where the mayor is elected citywide. What do you want to accomplish during your tenure as mayor?
Khamsyvoravong: I want both residents and visitors to look at Newport and say, “There’s a community that gets it.” That starts with the city’s elected officials being laser-focused on addressing the issues impacting our neighbors today, while simultaneously proactively planning for the future.
People are increasingly frustrated with government because too many of our elected officials revert to the politically expedient path of finger-pointing and personal attacks rather than rolling up their sleeves and working to fix things.
Filling a pothole or dealing with stormwater is not headline-grabbing material, but that’s the work people need government to do. I want Newport to be a place where people feel government listens and works well.
Q: I think you’ve said housing is the No. 1 issue in Newport. What should state leaders know about what’s happening in Newport?
Khamsyvoravong: There is an undercurrent of anxiety due to housing insecurity that impacts people and businesses of almost all backgrounds and income levels in our community.
Newport, in particular, has added challenges like seasonal surges in demand and limited space for the development of new housing. Newport already has the second highest concentration of affordable housing in the state, and our existing workforce and middle class housing stock is being rapidly converted by investors into short-term rentals and investment properties.
The result is that neighborhoods that were once filled with families and residents are now dark for much of the year. We are rapidly losing the population base we need for a year-round economy and the people that make Newport such a culturally dynamic and attractive community. We risk becoming a two-dimensional resort town if state and local leaders do not act boldly and with urgency.
Q: The proposal to merge school districts with Middletown was voted down in Newport. Is this a proposal that can be revisited, or should Newport move in a different direction?
Khamsyvoravong: My bottom line is this: Any future consideration of regionalization needs to be a community-led effort.
For years, state and local leaders have expended an incredible amount of their bandwidth trying to lead the voters to approving regionalization, and these efforts have consistently fallen short at the ballot box. At some point, we need to step back and carefully assess if the continued pursuit of voter approval for regionalization is the best and highest use of our public officials’ time, or if it would be better spent focused on improving student outcomes.
The most recent test scores affirm that, regardless of whether regionalization could help future classes, the students and teachers sitting in our classrooms today need our full attention and help. It’s going to take all of us to get education up to the level our community deserves and needs.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.