East Side, Latino voters crucial in Providence mayor’s race

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Jorge Elorza used Prospect Terrace Park on Providence’s East Side to announce a major endorsement. Michael Solomon chose the same location to show he’s a viable candidate in the general election.

They didn’t pick it for the view.

With 12 days remaining until the primary, the East Side has become a key battleground in the race for mayor, not because both candidates believe they can win the area, but because Elorza needs to run up the score while Solomon must stay competitive, according to campaign experts.

Solomon and Elorza are the remaining Democrats in a field that has shrunk significantly since last summer, when as many as seven candidates were considering jumping in the race. The winner of the primary, which also includes Chris Young, will take on independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. and Republican Daniel Harrop in the general election.

While there has been no public polling on the primary, Solomon, the president of the City Council, has spent the entire race as the perceived frontrunner thanks to a large campaign war chest, a strong base and plenty of support from current and former elected officials across the city. Elorza picked up some momentum last week when Brett Smiley dropped out of the race and backed him. He was also endorsed by The Providence Journal.

As primary day approaches, each candidate is ramping up his efforts to win over voters on the wealthy East Side, which stretches from Fox Point to the Pawtucket line and was home to nearly a quarter of the roughly 24,000 votes cast in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary. Politically, the area includes Wards 1, 2 and 3.

In a recent mail piece targeting the East Side, Solomon touted the endorsements of Councilmen Seth Yurdin and Sam Zurier as well as former state Rep. David Segal. He also held the Prospect Terrace Park press conference in an attempt to assure voters that he would be in a strong position to defeat Cianci, the former mayor, in the general election. Elorza meanwhile has focused on growing his base to include the bulk of Smiley’s former supporters while highlighting a state Ethics Commission investigation into a complaint filed against Solomon.

“Michael Solomon only needs to hold his own on the East Side,” WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said. “You don’t have to win over there, you just can’t get killed.”

Smiley endorsement helps Elorza

In the three-way Democratic primary in 2010, Angel Taveras won 73% of the vote on the East Side and 41% throughout the rest of Providence. In Ward 2, which posted the largest turnout in the city, Taveras beat his closest opponent 2,003-383. The result was a sweeping victory over John Lombardi and Steven Costantino, two political veterans from Federal Hill.

Elorza, the Harvard-educated son of Guatemalan immigrants, is attempting to recreate Taveras’s path to City Hall. He figures to perform well among minority voters on the South Side and should win in his home base of Ward 7 (Silver Lake), but he’ll likely need an overwhelming victory on the East Side to knock off Solomon.

“It’s important to have Brett’s voters really adopt Jorge, especially Brett’s donors, for him to compete with Solomon to raise the money that’s needed to win the race,” Steve Gerencser, who previously worked as a senior advisor to former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, told WPRI.com. Gerencser was managing Lorne Adrain’s mayoral campaign until Adrain dropped out of the race in July.

Both Gerencser and Anthony Pesaturo, a veteran Providence political advisor, agreed that Elorza should capitalize on Smiley’s support and the Journal endorsement. Each said they think Elorza, who reported about $160,621 cash on hand as of Aug. 11, should launch a television commercial in the final days of the campaign.

“Elorza will need to win as much of the East Side as he can,” Pesaturo told WPRI.com

Solomon has Latino support

Targeting the East Side and Latinos citywide is hardly a new approach. In 2002, the same strategy carried David Cicilline to victory in a mayoral primary against former Mayor Joe Paolino, David Igliozzi and Keven McKenna. After Cicilline left the mayor’s office in 2010 to run for Congress, Taveras used a similar tactic to become the first Latino mayor in the city’s history.

But even if Elorza mirrors Taveras’s 2010 performance on the East Side, there is no guarantee that Latino voters will unite behind the newcomer. Solomon has won endorsements from state Rep. Grace Diaz and a slew of Latino council members, including Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Luis Aponte (Ward 10) and Sabina Matos (Ward 15). He also has the endorsement of Unite Here 217, which represents hotel workers.

“Solomon won’t get clobbered on the South Side,” Pesaturo said.

Solomon also has the benefit of representing Ward 5 on the City Council, which posted the second-highest turnout in the city in 2010. He’s banking on strong support from that community as well as Wards 4 and 14 in Providence’s North End.

With $404,269 cash on hand as of Aug 11, Solomon figures to remain a constant presence on television and continue blanketing the city with mail pieces in the closing days of the campaign.

“From day one Michael Solomon has been the leader in the Democratic primary and for him, the next two weeks are about holding on to your base,” Gerencser said.

Solomon and Elorza are scheduled to debate Friday on a special edition of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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