A day after announcing his candidacy for governor, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras turned to the suburbs, as he phrased it, “to listen to the local issues.”
And one of the first places he visited was Alex and Ani packaging and offices at Chapel View Boulevard. He expressed amazement at how many people the company has hired recently and said that in terms of employee growth, it is among the top 50 companies in the country.
In an interview at Beacon Communications offices in Warwick Tuesday, Taveras said he went from one worker to the next introducing himself and giving them a thumbnail profile as the first Latino to seek the state’s top elective office.
It’s what one might expect from the mayor who likes emphasizing how people can achieve their dreams in this country and how he fits the description of the “Head Start to Harvard” candidate. His parents immigrated to this country from the Dominican Republic before Taveras was born. However, his mother raised him after his parents divorced when he was a young child.
Then talking about his tour of Alex and Ani, Taveras blended in a touch of humor. He even laughed.
“If they’re from Massachusetts, then you go on to the next person,” he said of his campaigning.
Taveras became the first Democrat to announce for governor. While she has not announced her candidacy, State Treasurer Gina Raimondo is expected to likewise seek the Democratic nomination. Also on Monday, Ken Block, founder of the Moderate Party, announced he is registered as a Republican and will seek that party’s nomination. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a classmate of Taveras at Classical High School and a friend, is expected to announce his candidacy this coming Monday.
Taveras had kind words for Fung, describing him as “friendly, honest and cheerful” but stopped short of saying he would vote for him because he [Taveras] will win a Democratic primary and be on the General Election ballot.
Taveras said he knew in third grade that he wanted to be a lawyer. Why a lawyer?
Taveras said he believed as a lawyer he could help people, and even as a third grader that’s what he wanted to do. He gave tremendous credit to one of his early teachers, Mrs. Donaldson, who he said made a “huge difference” in his life. It was a lead-in to his belief that education is critical and, in particular, early childhood education.
But from this initial campaign interview, education doesn’t appear to be a major part of Taveras’ platform.
Rather, in appealing to voters across the state, the message is that he has a proven record of fixing things and doing that by bringing people together. He said many cities and towns face fiscal issues similar to those he inherited when he became mayor. He categorized Providence’s as a “Category 5 fiscal hurricane.”
He pointed out that through reductions in city expenses with the consolidation of jobs, contract revisions, pension revisions and with the help of hospitals and educational institutions that increased funding to the city, Providence has been able to reverse its negative outlook to stable by bond rating agencies.
It doesn’t mean everything is running smoothly.
He said the city is “still living from paycheck to paycheck.”
The solution for municipalities is an expansion of the tax base.
That doesn’t promise to be easy and Taveras didn’t offer any immediate answers.
He said cities and towns continue to face declining revenues. As a means of reducing costs in Providence, Taveras was able to get retirees with pensions to forego automatic cost of living adjustments. He admitted reaching that group, which is not represented by an association, was not easy and required a form of “reverse class action suit,” whereby retirees could go along with the agreement or opt out. All but 7 percent of the retirees went with the plan, saving the city millions.
Taveras thought as governor he could make a similar form of agreement available to municipalities. And he feels he can work with the General Assembly to make this and other measures happen. He said he would do what is best for the whole.
“Negotiations don’t mean you capitulate,” he said. “If you can’t agree, you shake hands and go to court.”
Because so many municipalities face financial difficulties, this is the time for action.
“If we talk now, we have more leverage. We’re in a position of strength now,” he said.
Implying he would act no differently as governor, Taveras cited his action to repair Providence roads. He said he did away with the system of dividing funds up between wards and the city and directing the money to the worst roads first. He met resistance but held his ground, he said.
Questioned about the influence of unions and his bid for governor, Taveras said the unions shouldn’t be blamed for what they have won for their members. He reminded the unions have contracts and that elected officials signed those contracts.
“It is their job to represent the taxpayers,” he said of officials.