The Mayoral race between Democrat Jorge Elorza, Republican Dr. Dan Harrop and Independent former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci is a tale of three visions for Providence. They disagree on almost every issue: leadership, priorities, goals. However, there is one issue that they all agree on. The Providence Journal will not endorse Buddy.
The City of Providence is a physical mess. People do not feel safe in the city. Angel’s job performance is low or incomplete. The roads are a disaster. The schools remain a major problem. The deficit is real and is likely to exceed $25,000,000.
But in reality, there is only one issue in this race. Will voters accept Cianci’s request for an encore performance to lead and rejuvenate a city he clearly loves while accepting, or at least overlooking, his significant past transgressions? And while it’s not just an East Side issue, its loudest voice is here.
Nobody disputes Buddy’s intelligence or ability to rattle off numbers nor his understanding and compassion for issues. He is not a policy wonk, but he understands good policy on many levels and certainly has demonstrated he knows how to run a city. His detractors, most notably the ProJo on a daily basis, counter that his accomplishments are overstated and come with a price. Meanwhile Jorge Elorza, by all accounts a good man, has no administrative experience and while offering new ideas, is somewhat vague about the funding sources.
Meanwhile as claims and counter-claims swirl, sources of objectivity dry up. Perhaps Dan Harrop summed it up the best. “It might help everybody if The Journal could go to every other day Buddy Bashing. It will kill them if he wins on the sympathy vote.”
Dr. Dan Harrop
While anything is possible, even Harrop acknowledges that his support has plateaued at a solid 6%. “Nine hundred Republicans voted in the primary and I saw most of them before lunch.” Now he’s saying he’s committed to staying in the race until the end. Harrop is a psychiatrist who is very bright with a good sense of humor. Though a frequent candidate, he is not a radical, with many of his proposals leaning to the conservative side.
Harrop’s contention is that the City is technically insolvent and that bankruptcy is inevitable. “It is in our best interests to do it sooner than later. Short term pain is the only way that Providence can survive,” he insists.
“Taveras tried, but now he’s leaving us with a $25,000,000 deficit,” notes Harrop. By filing for bankruptcy the city could begin stabilizing finances by making some personnel and structural changes. He acknowledges that “taxes would go up and property values would go down... but it would only be for a couple of years. Reset the pension fund, make salaries reasonable, redo disability and survivor benefits and we can pick up $13-15 million in savings.”
“I have to admit that every time I hear my opponents talk about their plans, I am impressed. Yes, we should put a billion dollars into the schools. Yes, we need ‘One Providence’ and a strict code of ethics. Yes, every family deserves great schools, good paying jobs and a safe environment,” explains Harrop. “But the election is about numbers.”
“The harsh reality is that there is no money. Looking at true costs, we’re short billions. Taxes are already too high and people don’t feel safe. And, look at all of the vacant commercial space,” Harrop explains. “Whoever becomes mayor needs to focus on jobs, public safety and our schools from infrastructure to education.”
Harrop is an East Side resident.
Despite a grueling primary, Jorge Elorza remains energized. “I’m committed to serving two terms as mayor and I believe it will take that long to fix things in the city. I’m as frustrated as everyone else is with the schools. We need to create new pathways for students because college is the answer for everyone,” Elorza explains. “For the immediate problems, we need a city services plan, we need to conduct a full administrative audit, streamline the permitting process for development and upgrade a lot of the city’s antiquated technology systems.”
Elorza is not even giving his friend and supporter Mayor Angel Taveras a pass, describing his job performance as “incomplete.” However, he has hired Taveras’ press secretary to head up communications for his campaign.
His campaign theme is “One Providence” built around the premise “for Providence to succeed, we must all rise and succeed together.” He believes we cannot go back to the past and need leadership that understands the strength of the neighborhoods, the value of excellent public schools and the some immediate ‘laser-focus’ on economic development.
“Schools should be the pride of the neighborhood,” he explains, “but they need to be refashioned as the center of the community and this means fixing the infrastructure, upgrading the technology and giving them more autonomy.”
Not only does he want to have more police officers on the streets, he wants them to live in the city. “Even if we have to figure a way to give them a discount, it will be well worth it,” he adds. “People don’t feel safe, and I am committed to making sure that every resident feels safe.” He wants to increase diversity until it reflects the make-up of the city and create new outreach programs to teach non-violence.
On economic development, Elorza believes that the biggest opportunity is to establish a major import/export center, take advantage of our deep-water port and keep this prime industrial area compatible with existing uses. “The three cities ship has sailed,” Elorza adds.
Jorge Elorza is a former Housing Court Judge, law professor, lawyer, accountant and community activist. He is 38 and was raised in the West End, the son of Guatemalan immigrants who worked in factories.
He is a product of the Providence School system “barely graduating from Classical” but then graduating first in his accounting class at URI. He worked on Wall Street as an auditor returning home when one of his best friends growing up in Providence was murdered. He stayed in Providence and eventually attended Harvard Law School. He returned to Providence and began work for RI Legal Services and teaching at the Roger Williams Law School. He was appointed to the Providence Housing Court in 2010.
He is a resident of Silver Lake.
Vincent “Buddy” Cianci
Buddy has a pen and paper and is furiously sketching out the car tax issue. “When I was mayor if you have a car valued at $6,000 you paid $0 tax because there was a $6,000 exemption. Today, the exemption is $1,000 so the taxes are $300. The point is that there are cars now valued at $6,000 that aren’t worth even close to that. It’s not fair.”
“I’m running for probably only one term because I love the city. I’m here to be mayor, not to seek higher office. I don’t owe anyone. My endorsements are based on proven leadership and I’m the best-suited candidate. I knew that The Providence Journal would treat my candidacy harshly, but considering the poor condition of the city, it is worth the daily humiliation if I can get things back on track. Even my biggest detractors acknowledge that it’s been a bad 12 years for the city.”
“I intend to have an Inspector General to handle any ethics or corruption issues,” he explains, “and, I know that the whole world will be watching.”
“I know firsthand the schools need help. I’ve been raising my grandchildren so I have a very clear understanding of the problems and opportunities. In fact, I’ll bet I’ll be the first mayor in 70 years to have kids in the public school system. We need to change the culture within the school department. There needs to be a system of AP courses in all of the high schools and more charter schools. Both the Textron and Times2 charter schools began when I was mayor,” he adds.
“People don’t feel safe. There’s no community policing. There’s no community building. We need to follow the ‘broken window’ philosophy and be proactive rather than reactive,” he maintains.
Buddy views the Port of Providence as one of the city’s economic jewels. His campaign brought in consultants to show that his vision not only remains relevant but would also be a major economic generator. The port he envisions is both a working waterfront and a new mixed-use district for Allens Avenue. “My plan calls for keeping 284 acres or 82% of that area for industrial or water dependent uses. The remaining 18%, or 62 acres, the area north of Thurbers Avenue, would be opened for mixed-use development.”
Currently, National Grid owns a 37-acre waterfront parcel south of Thurbers that could be repurposed to expand and relocate water dependent businesses that are in the area where he would like to see commercial, tax generating, development. “We need to expand the tax base and this is one the highest and best use for this prop- erty,” Cianci adds. His plan also envisions making Providence a stop for cruise ships and all of the passengers with disposable money to spend.
Regardless of the outcome, Buddy will be remembered as the greatest promoter of the City, known for showing up for the “opening of an envelope.” Under Cianci, the zoo was revitalized, the skating center was built downtown, RI became a tax-free zone for artists, PPAC was saved and given a new life, historic preservation was a priority, roads were plowed (side to side), parks were important, police were visible, Providence Place mall was built, the Providence Bruins moved to town and WaterFire began. It goes without saying that he will also be remembered for all of his problems.