Kobi Dennis kicks off campaign for Providence mayor

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democrat Kobi Dennis formally kicked off his campaign for Providence mayor Wednesday night, promising to keep the community at the center of every decision he makes as he seeks to unseat incumbent Mayor Jorge Elorza next year.

During a 30-minute speech in front of roughly 60 people at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fox Point, Dennis said it will take “collective leadership” from city leaders and community members to create change in Rhode Island’s capital city.

The 46-year-old Navy veteran was short on specific policy proposals, suggesting he’ll roll out his campaign platform “slowly, at my own pace.” He said he’ll focus on community building, infrastructure and city services.

“So by January 1st, 2018, after my enormous New Year ’s Eve party, we will roll out the full platform, 100 to 150 pages of just pure fire about what we’re going to do to help change the city,” Dennis said as the crowd cheered.

Dennis said he doesn’t want to attack the current administration, but still took several jabs at Elorza. He has repeatedly criticized the mayor for celebrating a budget surplus despite the city’s long-term obligations for retiree pensions and health care benefits. He also scoffed at the city’s decision to place large banners on several high schools announcing how much students received in college scholarship money at a time when the buildings themselves are falling apart.

“That’s the equivalent of putting a swimming pool in the back of an abandoned house,” Dennis said.

Although he currently lives with his wife and three children on River Avenue in Ward 5, Dennis grew up on the South Side and attended Central High School. After his stint in the Navy, he completed some college but did not earn a degree. He has spent his career in the nonprofit sector, first launching an after-school program designed to keep teenagers engaged well into the evening hours. He is currently a program director for a youth mentoring program known as Princes to Kings and is the founder of Unified Solutions, a collaboration of community organizations that has a partnership with Roger Williams University.

Dennis has said he is supporter of reinstating a requirement that would force city employees to live in Providence, although he has acknowledged the proposal would require General Assembly approval. During his speech, he said he is surrounding himself with experts who “live, shop, breathe” in the city.

No sitting elected officials attended Dennis’ kickoff fundraiser, although former Councilman Kevin Jackson was in the crowd. Young people wearing T-shirts promoting the candidate were waiting at every corner in the hotel to point people toward the event. A film crew was present to shoot testimonials from supporters.

Dennis said he hoped to raise between $10,000 and $15,000 from his first event. He has previously said he believes it will take between $250,000 and $300,000 to run a competitive race over the next year.

Elorza, who has said he plans to seek re-election next year, has dodged questions about his opponent ever since Dennis announced his candidacy Oct. 1. Chris Young, who has run for mayor in the past, has said he also plans to challenge Elorza. Other potential candidates include state Reps. Ray Hull and John Lombardi, Councilman David Salvatore and businessman Lorne Adrain.

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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