Kobi Dennis is in. Here’s who else might run for Providence mayor

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Kobi Dennis was the first candidate to announce plans to challenge Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza next year, but he might not be the last.

Eyewitness News has learned at least four other candidates are actively considering jumping in the race, although they haven’t formally launched their campaigns.

So who could run for mayor in 2018? Here’s the lay of the land. (All Cash on Hand numbers are as of June 30.)


Mayor Jorge Elorza (D)
Cash on Hand: $484,502
The last time an incumbent mayor lost to a challenger was 1974, when then-Republican Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. took out Democrat Joe Doorley. That was two years before Mayor Elorza was born. Mix the power of incumbency with a huge head start in the fundraising department and it’s a pretty safe bet to say Elorza is a favorite to return to City Hall in 2019. But that doesn’t mean he’s a shoo-in. With no public polling in the city since Elorza took office, there is no accurate way to tell whether voters think he’s done a good job. He’s certainly found a voice as one of Rhode Island’s leading anti-Trump voices, a position that plays well in heavily Democratic Providence. At the same time, he has struggled to build relationships with other politicians, which has limited the city’s ability to score major legislative victories at the State House.

Kobi Dennis (D)
Cash on Hand: $0 (He announced his campaign on Sunday.)
A community advocate with a passionate social media following, Dennis was the first candidate to publicly declare his intent to run for mayor. Now he’s learning how to be a candidate on the fly. He told Eyewitness News he thinks he needs to raise between $250,000 and $300,000 to run his campaign, which is easier said than done. Then again, by announcing early, he has given himself plenty of time to begin make his case to voters.


State Rep. Ray Hull (D)
Cash on Hand: $52,985
He’s the highest-ranking African-American in the Providence Police Department and can likely hold his House District 6 seat for as long as he wants, but Ray Hull isn’t shying away from the fact that he wants to run for mayor. He briefly considered running in 2014 before first backing Democrat Brett Smiley and later supporting Cianci’s comeback bid. Now he’s the co-chair of the Providence delegation in the General Assembly, but it’s no secret he hasn’t always seen eye to eye with Mayor Elorza. On Monday, he told Eyewitness News he’s “absolutely still thinking” about jumping in the race, but he wants to see if he can raise the money to mount a serious campaign. He said he expects to make a decision before the end of the year.

State Rep. John Lombardi (D)
Cash on Hand: $61,367
Lombardi declined to comment Monday on whether he’ll run for mayor – he is a municipal judge, after all – but his track record suggests he’ll at least do his due diligence before making a decision. A longtime city councilman, Lombardi finished second in the 2010 Democratic primary for mayor behind Angel Taveras. But he returned to public office in 2012, winning the House District 8 seat on Federal Hill. Since then he’s worked to build his progressive credentials at the State House by supporting criminal-justice reform and bus passes for the poor. He also briefly considered running for mayor in 2014, although he never formally jumped in the race. Judging by his past, he’ll likely pay for a poll to tell him where he stands in the next couple of months.

Councilman David Salvatore (D)
Cash on Hand: $45,212
The second-term councilman from Ward 14 has flown under the radar, but David Salvatore confirmed Monday he too is considering running for the city’s top job. He said he has no timeline for making a final decision, but he’ll likely need to prove to himself that he can raise more money before he enters the race. Salvatore has a deep understanding of the city budget and he comes from a part of the city Elorza lost convincingly in both the Democratic primary and general election in 2014. The question is whether he could make enough inroads on the East Side and South Side to give himself a fighting chance against the incumbent.

Lorne Adrain (D or I)
Cash on Hand: $213
Don’t let the size of the East Side businessman’s political war chest fool you: Lorne Adrain can raise the money to run a real campaign. Between November 2013 and July 2014, Adrain actually out-raised Elorza when they were both candidates for mayor. (Adrain eventually dropped out as part of an effort to block Cianci from returning to City Hall.) Adrain told the website GoLocalProv he is considering running again, although he told Eyewitness News he isn’t leaning in any direction at this point. In an email, he said he is  “intrigued with and inspired by the vision of so many things being better,” but added, “I have to give thought to the value I would add were I lucky enough to be elected.”


Joe Paolino (D)
There are a lot of former Cianci supporters still holding out hope that former Mayor Joe Paolino may throw his hat in the ring, but he has repeatedly said he is not running for mayor. He reiterated that point again on Monday when he spoke to Eyewitness News from London. He is currently seeking to become Rhode Island’s next Democratic national committeeman. Of course, just because he’s not going to run doesn’t mean he won’t play a role in the race. Paolino has been a vocal critic of Elorza, particularly over how the mayor has handled some of the panhandling or homeless problems in downtown. If he found someone to support against Elorza, he could help raise that candidate a significant chunk of money.

Michael Solomon (D)
A year ago, it appeared as though the former City Council president might take another shot against Elorza after narrowly losing to him in the 2014 Democratic primary. But Michael Solomon has now joined the mayor’s staff as a senior advisor, which almost certainly means he won’t seek a rematch. What’s more likely is he’ll work hard to try to get Elorza re-elected, and mull his options for 2022.

Daniel Harrop (R)
The Republican nominee for mayor in 2014, Daniel Harrop proudly played the attack dog against Cianci in that race and ultimately acknowledged voting for Elorza. Reached Monday, he told Eyewitness News he will not seek the nomination again in 2018, but he has said the Republicans will put up a candidate against Elorza.

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