WOONSOCKET — There hasn’t been a federal constituent service office in the city for well over a decade, but all that will change on Tuesday when U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) officially launches one inside City Hall.
The public is invited to join Cicilline as he marks the grand opening of the Woonsocket Congressional Satellite Office at 4 p.m., followed by a small business tour of Main Street, said Raymonde Charles, spokeswoman for the congressman.
“It’s all about being accessible and making ourselves available to the public,” said Charles. “We want to make it easier for residents of northern Rhode Island to meet with him and his staff to talk about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits or any other issues of concern.”
After touring Main Street, Cicilline will hold a free “neighborhood supper” of spaghetti and meatballs at the Woonsocket Middle School at Hamlet, beginning at 6 p.m. The latter event will also serve as a forum for Cicilline to gather feedback from constituents and clarify his position on some of the vexing issues facing Congress, including the extension of payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits.
Cicilline’s City Hall office will be the third satellite he operates in the district, joining Pawtucket and Newport, said Charles.
Members of Cicilline’s staff will take turns manning the office, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays. The new telephone number for the office is 401-597-6611. (The Pawtucket office, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays, can be reached at 729-5600.)
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There hasn’t been a federal constituent service office in the city since former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy last staffed one at the post office on Social Street sometime in the mid- to late-1990s. Larry Berman, a former aide to Kennedy who now serves as the communications director for House Speaker Gordon Fox, said Kennedy launched the office after he was first elected in 1994.
Staffers spent a few hours a week at the office for “several years” before they were permanently shifted to locations where there was a higher demand for services, said Berman.
Cicilline is renting about 50 square feet on the first floor of City Hall, in an enclosed office adjacent to the Personnel Department. The City Council granted Mayor Leo T. Fontaine permission to lease the space to Cicilline at the rate of $100 a month, from June 20 to Jan. 2, 2013 – the last day of the freshman representative’s current term in office.
The announcement of the lease several months ago prompted the host of at least one talk radio show to question whether the deal was a tacit endorsement of Cicilline by the administration -- which would be quite odd as Cicilline is a Democrat and Fontaine is a Republican.
But Economic Development Director Matthew Wojcik said the mayor would have supported a federal constituent service office at City Hall, for a nominal fee, regardless of the party affiliation of the congressperson seeking the use of the building.
The point is not to raise revenue or advance a point of view, but simply to provide better public service to residents of the district, some of whom arrive at City Hall with problems that revolve around federal programs that city employees are not in a position to respond to.
Those individuals will now enjoy the convenience of being steered to another office inside City Hall rather than one on the other side of town.
“We welcome the opportunity for more federal constituent activities in City Hall,” said Wojcik. “We’re trying to use every square foot of space in the building to serve the public better.”