Mayoral candidate Elorza lays out new vision for Providence

WPRI/Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza held a press conference Monday aimed at “restarting our campaign” following weeks of coverage that has focused mostly on his celebrity opponent, independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr.

Elorza laid out his plans for growing the city’s police force, doubling exports from the port of Providence, expanding full-service community schools and building a citywide broadband network, all proposals he previously released before his victory in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.

“This is a new campaign and we’re speaking to a new audience,” Elorza said during the morning press conference held at Asa Messer Elementary School. “And as I’m out there throughout the community, a lot people say they like what little they’ve heard about me, but they want to know my vision, what my plans are and what my ideas are.”

A WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll released last week showed 37% of city voters didn’t know enough about Elorza to express an opinion on him as a candidate. The same survey showed Cianci in the lead at 38%, with Elorza close behind at 32%, and Republican Daniel Harrop a distant third at 6%. One in five voters – 21% – said they were still undecided.

The three candidates are scheduled to compete in their first live television debate at Rhode Island College at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The debate will be aired on Fox Providence and streamed live at WPRI.com.

Elorza, the 37-year-old son of Guatemalan immigrants who has been running for mayor for more than a year, also used the press conference to reintroduce himself to voters, taking time to explain that he almost didn’t graduate from Classical High School, but went on to finish at the top of his class at the University of Rhode Island. He worked for a short time on Wall Street before attending Harvard Law School and becoming a professor at Roger Williams Law School. He was appointed a city housing court judge by former Mayor David Cicilline in 2010.

Elorza won a contentious Democratic primary over City Council President Michael Solomon and Chris Young Sept. 9. He benefited from Brett Smiley’s decision to drop out of the race and endorse his candidacy three weeks before the primary, a move that delivered the vote-rich East Side for Elorza.

Following the primary, Solomon also endorsed Elorza in the race; the two have spent several weeks campaigning together in several parts of the city. Smiley and several former members of his campaign staff have also signed on to work and volunteer for Elorza’s campaign.

Elorza focused heavily on policy papers during his primary run, releasing plans to eliminate social promotion in schools, bring performance-based contracting to the school department, create a national arts festival in the city and encourage more police officers to live in Providence. Over the last month, Elorza and Cianci have engaged in a nonstop negative battle that has rarely focused on policy.

Cianci served as mayor four parts of four decades between 1975 and 2002, but was twice forced to resign following felony convictions. He served 4 ½ years in federal prison after a jury convicted him in 2002 of running a “criminal enterprise” as mayor. Following his release, he hosted a talk radio show on WPRO-AM until he announced his campaign for mayor in June.

Elorza’s press conference came following a violent weekend Providence that saw multiple shootings and stabbings in various neighborhoods across the city. He underscored the need to add more officers to the police force, but did not say how we would pay for his plan. He said the city needs to secure more federal funding, citing a 2013 WPRI.com report that showed federal aid for Providence police dropped from $8.6 million in 2004 to just $243,000 in 2012.

Elorza also dismissed Cianci winning the endorsements of the city’s police, fire and teachers’ unions over the last week. He said he plans to continue sharing his vision for the city with residents over the next five weeks.

“It’s a new vision and a new direction for the city and not the same old corrupt politics of the past,” Elorza said.

The election is Nov. 4.

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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