Jorge Elorza was sworn in January 5, 2015 as Providence’s 38th mayor. Below is the transcript of his speech given during the inauguration ceremony at City Hall.
Building the New Providence
Friends, family and guests – good afternoon, and welcome to Providence! I want to begin by thanking some very special people in my life.
I want to recognize my mother and father. All I can say is thank you for everything you have done. You are my heroes and everything I do is to make sure that all your efforts were not in vain. Los quiero mucho y me siento tan orgulloso de ustedes.
Thank you to my sister, my brother-in-law and my nephew and niece. I love you so much and thank you for always being by my side.
Thank you, Stephanie, for being with me every step of the way and for inspiring me with your courage and your strength. I love you, baby.
A PROUD HERITAGE
My parents came to this country to work in our factories and to strive for a better life. They chose Providence because this city offered the promise of steady work and it was a tolerant community that would embrace and welcome them. They came to work hard, and they made sacrifice upon sacrifice to build a life of even greater opportunity for my sister and me.
My family’s story is also Providence’s story. From its founding, Providence has been a city that offers the promise of a new beginning. And generations of families just like my mine have come here in search of that same promise, ready to make the same sacrifices.
Exactly four decades after my family arrived in this country in 1975 with little more than the shirts on their backs, we stand proudly as a family on the steps of City Hall as an example of what dedication, sacrifice, humility and industry can help us achieve. Ladies and gentlemen, the American Dream is still alive, and it is our responsibility to see to it that it endures for generations to come.
Most of the factory jobs that once existed slowly yet surely left our city, changing who we are in the process. We are no longer the industrial city we used to be; but that’s alright. We have to build the New Providence, along with a new economy, a new identity, and a new purpose. I stand before you with great optimism that by coming together and capitalizing on the many wonderful opportunities that our city offers, we will build this New Providence.
WAKE OF THE STORM
Now, doing so will not be easy. Providence is still regaining its footing in the wake of some of the most challenging financial times we’ve seen. My predecessor, Mayor Angel Taveras, led our city with great distinction during these times. I thank you – and Providence thanks you – Mayor, for making the important decisions our city needed to move forward.
Your leadership over the past four years, along with the leadership of Council President Solomon and the entire City Council, has been steady and inspiring, and Providence is a better place as a result of the work you have done.
As I take office, we still face difficult times, with projected deficits in the coming years. Council President Aponte, honorable members of the City Council, as we work to pass our first budget together, we will do so knowing that tough decisions and fiscal restraint will continue to be necessary to ensure that we remain on firm ground.
And as we work with a steady hand, let us remember that no city has ever cut its way to greatness. Now more than ever, we must be creative, we must be resourceful, and we must work together to launch our city forward. Providence’s prosperity depends on us. I am confident that, together, we will seize this moment and provide the leadership our great city deserves.
And as City leaders, we know we can’t do it alone. I thank our state and federal leaders for their presence and for their support. Governor-elect Raimondo, Speaker Mattiello, President Paiva-Weed, Majority Leaders DeSimone and Ruggerio, the esteemed members of Providence’s state delegation, and our esteemed federal delegation – I look forward to aligning our City, State and Federal priorities and reclaim Providence’s standing as a city of opportunity.
BUILD A CITY THAT WORKS
Just as with our State, I believe the City of Providence is on the cusp of a remarkable season; a spring of renewal and reinvention. It is said that the secret of change and progress is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new. We are going to “build the new” here in Providence. And we are going to do it so that every one of our residents benefits.
Together, we will make Providence the city that works!
The people who live, work and visit Providence deserve a government that is transparent, ethical, accountable and easy to navigate. Too often, when faced with red tape and outmoded ways of doing business, people shrug their shoulders and say that’s just the way it’s always been done. In my administration, “that’s the way it’s always been done” will never be an acceptable answer and we will always seek new ways of doing things.
We have to start from the bottom up and engage every one of our public employees. We will ask them for their ideas, no matter how small or how big, and give them a chance to change and improve the workplace. I believe we have it within us to bring the change that we deserve. We must do a better job of listening, and create new opportunities for me, my staff and department directors to spend time in our neighborhoods listening to residents’ concerns.
This will allow us to provide city services in a way that almost goes without notice. It will be a priority that we build the New Providence by building a City Hall that just works. I want potholes to be filled even before they are reported; I want our building permits to be ready for pick up even before the date they’re due; I want a parent to plan her morning knowing fully that the school bus will arrive on time. All of this is within our grasp. These nuts and bolts are precursors to having a strong city, and in my administration they will be a priority.
It is vital that we bring these kinds of changes to our School Department as well. Over the past few years, the Providence Schools have begun to show some important signs of progress. But I’ve become convinced that what’s holding us back from becoming a truly excellent school district is not a shortage of great ideas or great people. What’s holding us back is our ability to execute on those great ideas and support our great people. We also need a School Department that just works.
Beginning immediately, my administration will audit the organizational structure of the Providence School Department to make sure that crucial resources are not tied up in bureaucracy or central administration but are making their way to the schools and classrooms where they belong.
Our future depends on it, and our children deserve nothing less than a city and a School Department that just works. And frankly, given the tax burden our residents bear, we deserve first-class city services and schools that we can feel proud to send our children to.
BUILD ON OUR STRENGTHS
A friend of mine often says that “we can do anything, but we cannot do everything.” That means that we have to be strategic and intelligent and build on our strengths. Luckily for us, we have many assets and resources to build upon here in Providence. Everything we need to become a successful city is already here. We will build the New Providence from the raw material at hand.
There is no better place to start than on our working waterfront. With a deep-water channel, the port is significantly underutilized and ready for renewed investment and attention. As Mayor, I will lead the effort to double Providence’s imports and exports and create good-paying, blue-collar jobs that offer a real path to the middle class for all of our residents.
We will link local businesses with international firms; we will take part in trade missions; we will work to foster lasting business relationships; and we will connect Providence’s economy to the rest of the world. Our waterfront, our highways, our rail lines, and our international airport are our gateway to vast global markets. The New Providence, with its diversity and its homegrown entrepreneurship, will lead the way.
Aside from our waterfront, we are so fortunate to have world-class universities and research hospitals here in our city. We have the human capital and the talent base that are the envy of the world – whether it’s all of the gifted young artists and designers at RISD, the master chefs of tomorrow studying at Johnson & Wales, or the many talented and idealistic people studying at RIC to be teachers and Brown to be doctors – we have world-class talent right before us.
But after graduation, too many of our college graduates cannot find a job and sadly leave our city and our state. As Mayor, I will lead the effort to reverse this “brain drain,” so that more and more of our talented graduates can choose to stay here in Providence. We will create new internship opportunities to connect them to our local economy; we will bolster our startup community and invest in innovation; and we will engage the Greater Providence business community, along with our great institutions, to be partners as we create and mold our new economy.
Governor-elect, Mr. Council President: my administration stands ready to work with you and our leaders at the State House to develop the 195 land and beyond. In the next four years, we have the chance to lay the foundation that will sustain our city and state for the next four decades. Let us seize our once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine our cityscape, to leverage our strategic strengths, and develop our new economy.
Providence is also blessed to be widely admired as one of America’s finest cities for arts, culture and cuisine. We must remember that creativity is the currency of our times. Our small city punches far above its weight when it comes to arts and culture and it is part of who we are. We are the Creative Capital. It’s in our DNA and it’s what makes us special. In my administration, the arts will be integrated into every aspect of what we do – from the economy, to our schools, to the vibrancy of our neighborhoods – the arts will be at the heart.
Let’s be sure to support our local and organic arts scene because when it fully blossoms, it will return the favor ten-fold. Artists not only help us challenge convention but they enrich and enliven our souls. As Mayor, I will tap into this creative energy and lay the foundation for an arts and culture festival that draws visitors from across the nation and showcases all the great talent we have in Providence. And this festival will begin this summer and it will be a wonderful weekend to be in our city.
And we have so many other strengths here in Providence – our diversity, our historic architecture, our beautiful parks, our quality of life and much, much more. We have all the ingredients for success right here in our backyard.
In order to build the New Providence, we must recognize what a charming and fantastic city this is. We must have concrete plans but that alone will not make us great; I firmly believe the future of our city depends, not just on bricks and mortar, but on the intangible element of building pride in Providence. We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves – a city, a team, a tribe – something that inspires us to be greater than what we thought we were capable of. I believe the New Providence depends on a shared sense of community, responsibility and potential. And, here is how we achieve it.
We will instill new hope and pride in our neighborhoods by preserving our historic properties and by rehabbing our abandoned and blighted homes. Providence was hit hard by the nation’s foreclosure crisis – no neighborhood was spared and we still have between 500 and 600 abandoned homes. That’s 500 to 600 homes too many. As Mayor, I will take bold action and lay the foundation for Providence to become the first city of its size without a single abandoned and boarded home. We can do it, and we will do it!
Let’s rid ourselves of this blight; let’s breathe new life into these houses; let’s put contractors to work and families into homes; and let’s bring pride back to our gorgeous neighborhoods.
Those who know me know how important sports and recreation are for me. As Mayor, I will lead my team with the vision of making Providence the fittest, healthiest and most active city in all of New England.
We will reap all the benefits, because sports and recreation touch so many of the things we care about. Let us address childhood obesity by encouraging recreation and physical fitness with our kids; let us showcase our beautiful parks by drawing families to walk, run, or do Zumba in our public spaces; let us create camaraderie by starting a City Hall softball league and a chess club; let us enhance summer learning by connecting our Recreation Centers with our School Department; and let us reduce violence by supporting midnight basketball leagues and other activities for young adults. In short, let’s create an active and adventurous culture and bring people together from every walk of life, to instill pride in literally being part of a bigger team.
And all of our goals will only be possible if people feel safe and secure to live and work in our city. In fact, it’s impossible to have pride in our city if we don’t feel safe. I believe that every family should have a family doctor, a family dentist, and a family police officer. As Mayor, I will restore and strengthen community policing and continue to build the relationships between the community and law enforcement.
And as we do so, we must recognize that the stubborn persistence of crime will only abate once we truly address the very conditions that give rise to it. We must work with all of the tools in the toolkit because we know that stopping violence requires a full community effort – from our teachers to our legislators, from our employers to our coaches, and from our parents to our priests. We all have a role to play.
To truly address these issues, we must invest in real economic development that benefits everyone – from the corner office to the corner store. And we must support our small businesses and in particular those that hire within our city, such as our many women and minority owned businesses.
And, we need neighborhood schools that engage parents and bring together entire communities. We need a culture of excellence at every school and we need to invest in school infrastructure so that every child sits in a classroom that inspires her to learn.
We need to prepare our students for life after high school. And one thing I am convinced of is that we cannot quit on each other. We need mentorship and workforce development whether you have a clean record or you’re trying to get your life back together.
And we need a public transit system that meets the needs of our diverse communities. We want a city that’s on the move, with people on the move; a city where you can commute without owning a car, where you can bike to your favorite park, and walk to your local farmer’s market.
We need a clean city, and a sustainable city. From composting to community gardens, from solar panels to bike share programs, we want to think globally but act locally to be good stewards of our land.
This is my vision for a New Providence that we can all be proud to call home. We will achieve this vision and we will rise and succeed – but only if we rise and succeed together.
We’ve faced our fair share of challenges in Providence, yes. But the proud people of Providence have risen to every one of these challenges. We live in a city that is 140 years older than the United States. Providence has persevered through everything from the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression to the Great Recession, the Hurricane of ’38 to the Blizzard of ’78. And we have risen through every challenge that history has brought upon us.
As we rise yet again to meet the challenges of today, let all of us in Providence keep our heads held proud and high, and with our arms locked together and ready for the new challenges that will come our way.
As I take the oath of office as Providence’s 38th Mayor, I feel truly humbled by the confidence placed in me to lead our capital city. I take great comfort in having so many genuine well-wishers and supporters; and I pledge to work with every person, at every moment and take every opportunity to make this city great and to make you all proud.
We stand at a crucial moment; I will not shrink because I know you will not shrink. We will build the New Providence – a city that works, a city of great strengths, a city of great pride. And we will build this city together! We will rise and succeed, the only way we know how, as One Providence.
Thank you everyone and God bless.