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Only 16% of Top Providence Officials Are Minorities Under Elorza - Trump’s Cabinet is More Diverse

Wednesday, August 02, 2017


Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Of the more than 30 top appointed positions in the City of Providence by Mayor Jorge Elorza, only five of 31 positions are filled by individuals who are racial minorities.

The top positions in Providence include the department directors, police and fire chiefs, school superintendent, and other leadership positions in the organizational chart.

Providence by the Numbers

The composition of the leadership sits in stark contrast with the make-up of the population of the City of Providence — which is majority-minority. The most under-represented in the top positions are Latinos — while the Capital city’s population is just under 30 percent Latino, only 6.4 percent of the top city officials are filled by Latinos. Carolyn Arias is the Director of Telecom and Kathy Placencia heads the Board of Canvassers.

The other three minority members of the city's leadership are Human Resources Director Sybil Bailey, Economic Development Director Mark Huang, and Recreation Director Michael Stephens.

Trump's Cabinet is more racially diverse than Elorza's appointees.

While Elorza’s administration is comprised of just 16% minority appointees, the much-maligned cabinet of President Donald Trump is comprised of 20 percent minority. There are 15 cabinet secretaries and three of those positions are held by minorities —  Elaine Chao, who is the Secretary of Transportation is Asian-American; Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is African-American; and Alexander Acosta is the Secretary of Labor and is Hispanic.

"When you look at it, I've been asking for this from the beginning. It seems to on deaf ears,” said State Representative Ray Hull.

“Look at our city, how diverse it is -- it's to our benefit. We've come so far and we don't reflect who's in it. As a Hispanic Mayor, I would think [Elorza] would feel a bit more. You shouldn't do it for the sake of doing it, but there's a lot of quality we can pick from, that's the problem I have with this administration. We just need to reflect it a little more,” added Hull.

The top 31 senior government positions are well-paid and average over $100,000 in salary and offer superior healthcare and retirement benefits.

Elorza and Pare

In public safety, the three top jobs are being held by two appointees and both are white men. The Director of Public Safety Steven Pare also serves as the Fire Chief and the Police Chief is Hugh Clements. Providence has lacked minorities serving in the top public safety positions.

“In a city as diverse as Providence, having a local government, a city government reflect its diversity is critical to ensuring that public policy is not developed in a vacuum, that diverse perspectives and experiences are present and participate when policy is debated and formulated,” said Councilman Luis Aponte, “This administration has squandered several opportunities to attract and retain a talented and diverse leadership team.”

Jim Vincent of the Providence Chapter of the NAACP also is concerned about the failure to hire minorities in top city positions. “One thing is clear, and that is we need more than 20% [diversity] in senior positions in this city -- I'm willing to help out," said Vincent. "I'm willing to do better."

Luis Vargas, former candidate for State Representative

Minorities Closed Out of Top Jobs

The number of appointees was a surprise to many community and political leaders.

“I was not aware, but I also believe it speaks to this misconception that racial disparities are less prevalent in areas where there's a larger diversity of people,” said Ray Two Hawks Watson, a leader in cultural tourism.  

“Often it can be worse because a larger population doesn't necessarily mean more power or control.  I think it also speaks to the difference between making a commitment and demonstrating a commitment.  Commitments to diversity and inclusion are often made; I think the proof comes in how those commitments are demonstrated,” said Watson.

Now, more than two-and-a-half years through his four-year term Elorza’s promise to create “One Providence” is lacking. His 2014 campaign promise was, “Leading a City Hall that is open and responsive to all citizens, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, heritage, creed, class, sexual orientation, ability, or neighborhood.”

For Elorza, the numbers don’t lie — few top appointees are people of color.

"The minority of people there are blacks and especially black females, and is oftentimes even lower than that," said Pilar McCloud with A Sweet Creation Youth Org and the NAACP Youth Council. "I don't really understand what the problem is - we can't get a seat to the table? I say we need to start building our own tables IKEA-style, girl! I will [say our] communities are underserved and under-represented, which means that those who do get into those positions need to be held to a higher regard because there is a lot more at stake for them. They are one of few and I do mean few!"

Independent candidate for State Representative Luis Vargas also was surprised by the numbers. “The demographics in Providence have shifted drastically over the past few decades, and the government is inherently slow to adapting when circumstances change. I think it absolutely sends a message, but it is one that the Hispanic community has known for quite a while: our local government still has a lot of work to do.”

Editor's Note: A previous version identified Vargas as running as a Republican in the last election -- he ran in 2016 as an Independent. 


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