Editor’s note: This is the last of three columns in which Mark Patinkin spends time with the candidates for mayor of Providence.
I asked Dr. Dan Harrop if I could tell him honestly what people think of him.
He laughed. He does that a lot. I’ve never met an endorsed candidate for a big office having so much fun while being clobbered in the polls.
“Sure.” We were sitting in his classy East Side home.
“Here goes,” I said: “Who’s the quirky psychiatrist with a screw loose who keeps running for things he never wins?”
Harrop laughed louder.
“Yes, people think I’m a flaky guy just for doing this.”
The truth, he said: “I’m different.”
Which I knew.
But after an afternoon with him, I decided he’s not the gadfly I thought he was. Dan Harrop is an accomplished doctor who’s run big mental-health centers and helped found two policy institutes to push Republican concerns behind enemy lines in Rhode Island. His biggest concern: that Providence has an impossible pension debt and no one’s facing it.
It’s his second run for mayor, and he has also run three times for the state House of Representatives with no luck. When a poll last week showed he was doing worse than he thought, he said he might withdraw.
But even months ago, Harrop admitted he’d lose, so I asked why he bothered in the first place.
Because, he said, no other Republican stepped up and in America, elections should be contested.
A few hours before we chatted, he made his quirkiest move of the campaign, donating $1,000 to Democrat Jorge Elorza. Even fellow Republicans beat him up for it.
He told me he did it for the same reason he’s running: to make the race competitive.
You expect psychiatrists to be severe types who look like Sigmund Freud. Harrop is the opposite — a jolly, chubby guy.
“I’m not the thinnest person,” he said. “I would like to go down, but it doesn’t work.” Now that he’s 60, he told me, this is who he is.
I asked if I could see his upstairs home office. That’s where he works as a psychiatrist reviewing records for insurance companies.
It was the chaotic opposite of his gracious living room. There were four computer screens, and papers everywhere. Two slanted eaves were covered with hundreds of sticky notes. I noticed a big Dunkin’ Donuts iced-coffee cup and some biscotti.
It got me asking his favorite snack.
“I prefer Hydrox.” He said he’d grown up eating them.
Over Oreos? I told him maybe he was a gadfly after all.
“I’ve been called worse,” said Harrop, “so I’ll take that.”
He insisted it was organized chaos. One section of sticky notes was business, the other for social life, including travel details for a Christmas visit with his sisters in Naples, Fla., and another trip to Bermuda in February with friends.
Harrop never married — I asked why not.
He shrugged and smiled. “I stay busy with things. I enjoy my work.”
He especially likes going out. It’s a bad night, he told me, if he doesn’t have somewhere to go. That’s the side of him that’s made for campaigning. He hasn’t done much door-to-door but is always at debates and voter forums.
Harrop’s also on a ton of boards; and then there are his two political groups — The Roosevelt Society, which takes stands on state legislation, and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, which is now pushing for a Constitutional Convention.
His phone rang again — it was doing that constantly — this time he asked if he could take the call. It was another Journal reporter asking about his Elorza donation.
I listened to Harrop’s end of it.
“I have all the money I need for my campaign,” he said at one point.
In the history of American politics, I doubt that statement has been made often.
He told me he’s the reverse of Jorge Elorza’s story of coming up from poverty.
“I’m the son of a doctor who was the son of a doctor,” he said, and pointed out his dad and granddad’s framed medical degrees — all with his same name: Daniel Smith Harrop. One MD was from Georgetown in 1901 and the other from Jefferson University Medical School in Philadelphia in 1946.
The current Daniel Smith Harrop got his degree from Brown in 1979.
For 10 years, he was medical director of East Bay Mental Health in Barrington with a staff of 85, and then the bigger Corrigan Center in Fall River for almost nine years.
He said that’s one reason he’d be a good mayor.
“I’ve had experience running major organizations,” he said. “Jorge has none of that experience. Buddy does, but look what he did with it. And I have no political favors out there.”
In recent years, he did private practice on the East Side and now just does patient assessments.
It got me asking him to give me his psychiatrist’s take on Buddy Cianci.
He said you can’t make a diagnosis without an exam, but his guess is Cianci is a “sociopath.”
“Is that on the record?” I asked.
He smiled — sure; why not?
“And by sociopath, you mean…?”
“He can tell right from wrong, but it doesn’t matter to him — he does what is expedient for him and best for him. He has no respect for the law.”
I told Harrop he’s unusually direct.
“Politicians filter their message too much to get more votes,” he said. But since he doesn’t expect to win: “I have the luxury to just say, ‘Here’s what I believe.’ ”
How about his psychiatrist’s take on Elorza?
Harrop gave a classic mother-diagnosis on that one. Elorza’s mom, he said, is still working in a factory, and the son is both inspired by that and driven to be worthy of it.
I asked Harrop to analyze himself.
He gave a more general answer — saying a fortunate life has made him want to give back.
I pushed for something deeper — might his long list of involvements be about overcoming some insecurity?
“I’m just not a loner,” he said. “I like being out in the public. I would consider it a disaster if my schedule shows I have nowhere to go to except stay home and watch TV.”
“So you don’t have self-esteem issues?”
“Some people would say I have too much of that.”
I asked about hobbies.
Not many — he walks the East Side and sometimes uses an exercise bike. He has a second home at the private Galilee Beach Club and during summers, likes to swim, read and have friends down. Otherwise, his focus is work and policy.
He has an architect brother in Rumford and three sisters, one an internist, another a teacher and a third in Florida, where she cared for the Harrops’ aging parents.
I asked if he had a significant other. He doesn’t — no time with the campaign, he explained.
“Wouldn’t life have been easier if you weren’t running?”
“It wouldn’t be as interesting,” he said. “When you get to talk to the Haitian Baptist Church about your educational program — that’s interesting.”
He added: “I used to tell people the saddest day of the campaign against Cicilline was the Saturday after the election, because the team wasn’t there with my next schedule.”
He said he’s already sad about the end of this one, especially since Cianci made it a national event.
“The New York Times called,” said Harrop, “the Wall Street Journal called; it’s not what you’d expect running for mayor of Providence.”
His biggest regret is he sees no chance of being mayor.
“I’d bring fresh air to a City Hall known to be very closed, very sclerotic,” Harrop said. “They’re not doing anything illegal but I believe they’re still political hacks running things to their own benefit. In 12 years — they’ve never appointed a Republican to anything.”
Then he said again that the Providence pension fund is a ticking disaster.
“We’re going to have this horrible collapse very soon,” he said. “It’s a $2-billion deficit. We don’t have the money.”
He told me he might run as a Rand Paul delegate to the Republican National Convention but now that he’s 60, he sees no more campaigns for office.
I asked how he wants to be remembered.
Harrop’s hope is that instead of labeling him flaky, people will follow his example of getting involved in politics.
“That’s the only way things get better,” he said.
By now, his cell and other house phones had rung dozens of times. He had to get back at it. He had calls to return, work backed up and events to go to later.
The next day would be the same pace.
It’s been that way for months.
Just how Dr. Daniel Harrop likes it.