PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Victor Capellan, who spoke no English when he moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of 12 and has risen to become a leader in education and political circles, was voted chairman of the Providence Democratic City Committee at a meeting Saturday.
Capellan, a Washington Park resident and co-chairman of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s transition team, became the first Latino to be elected to lead the city’s Democrats. (Emelda Benitez was chair of the party for a short time after Joan Badway resigned in 2010.) Capellan replaced state Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, who held the position since 2013.
“This can be a tool for us to further our Democratic values in the city,” Capellan, 44, told more than 80 fellow Democrats during a breakfast meeting at the Rosario Society Hall in Silver Lake. Capellan’s mother attended the meeting.
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In addition to Capellan, the city committee’s other officers include Armand Batastini, vice chairman; Vincent Igliozzi, secretary; Patrick Ward, treasurer; Rochelle Lee, assistant treasurer; Everin Perez, recording secretary. Each will serve a four-year term.
Each of Providence’s 15 wards has an 11-member committee that is elected every four years. Those members comprise the Democratic city committee and vote on the committee’s leadership team. When the mayor is a Democrat, the committee typically elects a chairman of his choice.
Capellan was no different.
A former deputy superintendent of schools in Central Falls who now works for Boston-based Mass Insight Education, Capellan briefly ran for mayor himself before backing out and endorsing Elorza, his longtime friend. Capellan served as the master of ceremonies at Elorza’s inauguration earlier this month. Separately, he is expected to be named to the powerful city Zoning Board in the coming weeks.
Once the symbol of the Democratic machine that dominated city politics back to before World War II, the city committee has lost some of its luster in recent years. The committee endorsed the losing candidate for mayor in 2010 (Steven Costantino) and 2014 (Michael Solomon). Most ward committees rarely meet and the days of a candidate needing to serve on the committee before winning a seat on the City Council have long expired. The committee had just $7,239 cash on hand as of Sept. 30, according to filings with the R.I. Board of Elections.
Capellan is the fourth new leader of the city committee since 2011. Ken Richardson, Lauren Nocera and Goodwin all held the volunteer position for a short time during the Taveras administration.
Still, the party remains in complete control in the city. All of the 35 elected officeholders in the city – between the mayor, the City Council and the state legislature – are Democrats. Providence hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since 1978 or a councilman since 1986. The Republican City Committee recently elected Roy Bolden its chairman, replacing Tara Pinsky.
“Let’s be honest, the engagement with this group is not what it was a generation ago,” Mayor Elorza told the crowd after the vote. He pledged to work with Capellan to breathe some life into the committee and reach out to residents across the city.
Elorza reminded the Democrats that there is no time to waste.
“All we get is 48 months,” he said, referring to their four-year terms. “We already have one down. I feel the clock ticking.”