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Who Wants to Replace Taveras as Mayor?

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Providence Mayor Angel Taveras hasn’t announced he will run for Governor, but a number of candidates are already lining up to replace him should he declare.

Speculation has been swirling for months over who would seat the mayoral seat if Taveras seeks higher office, with a long roster of suspected candidates. But over the course of several interviews with city sources several figures have consistently emerged as those who are seriously considering a mayoral run. Some are new to politics and some are veterans of the local scene while others would be first-time candidates. They include the following:

Michael Solomon: The sitting City Council President was the first candidate to declare, earlier this year, that he would run for mayor if Taveras didn’t. Solomon, the owner of Wes’ Rib House and Cozy Catering, already has an early lead on fundraising with $183,000 in his campaign accounts by the end of 2012. Solomon, who has been a reliable ally for Taveras, would likely have the backing of much of the Democratic establishment should he run.

Victor Capellan: Capellan has been a school administrator in New York City, Providence, and Fall River, most recently serving as the deputy superintendent in Central Falls. He has run for political office at least once before, mounting an unsuccessful race for state rep in the mid-1990s. He has maintained his ties to the political world since, serving as an adviser to the Taveras campaign and last month was nominated by the Mayor to a post on the city plan commission. That appointment is slated to go before the City Council for approval.

Sabina Matos: City Councilwoman Sabina Matos has already proven her ability to beat the establish in her upset win against veteran council member Josephine DiRuzzo two years ago. Matos confirmed she is “seriously considering” a run. “I care a lot about the city, so I want to make sure whoever’s mayor next year cares about the city,” she said. Matos, a Dominican immigrant who is the associate director for the New Roots Providence initiative of the Providence Plan, is undaunted by what would likely be an uphill fundraising battle. Currently, Matos has about $1,200 in her campaign accounts.

John Lombardi: A local attorney and former longtime City Council member, Lombardi came in second to Taveras in the 2010 Democratic primary. He subsequently retired from the City Council and successfully ran for state rep. But Lombardi reportedly hasn’t lost interest in the office that he was held for a four-months stint as interim mayor. In financial terms, however, Lombardi also faces a steep climb: his campaign accounts currently have a $2,600 balance. 

Jorge Elorza: A Providence housing court judge, Roger Williams University law professor, and co-chair of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams, Elorza is said to be seriously eyeing a run for mayor. Asked to comment, Elorza said: “I don’t know what the future holds. Right now, I’m focused on my work as an academic, my work as a judge, and my work in the community.” Elorza is on the board for the Rhode Island Foundation and Miriam Hospital. A lifelong resident of Providence, he said he chose to attend law school at Harvard University after a brief stint working at the New York City offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers. “I know corporate life. It wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Elorza said. He was first appointed to the housing court to replace Taveras by former Mayor David Cicilline.

Gordon Fox: Fox, who has been House Speaker since 2010, was re-elected in a hard-fought general election race last time around and could be eyeing a move to another office. His name has widely been circulated as a potential mayoral contender, but Fox’s interest in the run is serious, one source said. Like Solomon, Fox would enter the race with a significant political and financial advantage. According to his latest finance report, Fox had a healthy campaign account balance of nearly $164,000.

Christopher Blazejewski: Should Fox pass on the race, the East Side mantle may fall to state Rep Christopher Blazejewski, still a relative newcomer to elected office, winning his seat in House District 2 in 2010. A Harvard-educated attorney, Blazejewski is well-respected in progressive Democratic circles. He is one of the founders of the Drinking Liberally series and is a co-founder of Young Lawyers for Obama. He currently works at the Boston-based firm, Sherin and Lodgen, LLP.

Buddy Cianci: A potential Cianci comeback is more than simply a talk show ratings gimmick, according to several sources. One source said that Cianci has arranged his contract with WPRO and other commitments so that he is available to run in 2014. Another source suggested that Cianci may be interested to in a third mayoral run to rewrite the story of his tenure as mayor, which ended in 2002 with a federal investigation. Local pollster and political scientist Victor Profughi wondered why Cianci would leave a secure and successful talk-show gig, but one City Hall source noted that with all the recent shake-ups at WPRO—Cianci’s longtime producer was recently let go—Cianci may see an opportunity in a mayoral run. In a brief interview yesterday, Cianci declined to shed any light on his intentions. Asked to comment on what sources had told GoLocalProv, Cianci responded: “It’s very interesting. That’s all I’ll say.” He then added that it was “too early to speculate.”

The GOP: So far, no potential GOP contenders have stepped forward. The last GOP candidate, Dan Harrop, said he is focused on his race to become state GOP chair, which will be decided at the end of March. Should he lose, he said he would then reconsider his political options. And Jon Scott, a Republican who ran for mayor on the independent ticket, has moved out of state and is not involved in local politics. Although there's no obvious contender waiting in the wings, Harrop said he was nonetheless confident that the party would be putting forward a candidate in the race.

Race remains completely open

Two local political scientists yesterday said there are too many unknown factors to make an assessment about how the race may take shape.

“It’s far too early for observers to make any reliable projections or even suggestions what the final landscape will be. As the media and political pundits have been saying for months, Angel Taveras may very well be a candidate for Governor,” said Tony Affigne, a political scientist at Providence College and a visiting professor in ethnic studies at Brown University. “But until he makes that choice and announces that decision all other [candidates] are purely speculative.”

Variables that hang over the race include the question as to when Taveras makes a decision, how effective potential successors can be in fundraising, how much money can be raised before Taveras makes his decision, and what the political landscape will look like months from now when those questions are resolved, according to Affigne.

Affigne pointed to the outcome of the new city budget as one example of how circumstances could turn on a dime. If the problems arise with the budget, the City Council could lose credibility, hurting the chances of Solomon and Matos. If, on the other hand, the council is perceived as effective in crafting the budget and navigating any other issues that emerge, it could boost their prospects, according to Affigne.

Three Latino candidates evidence of changing dynamics

The fact that three Latino candidates have already emerged as likely contenders—Sabina Matos, Victor Capellan, and Jorge Elorza—is a sign of the rising prominence of the Latino community in city in which Taveras is serving as the first Hispanic mayor. “Having several qualified candidates represents progress for the Latino community because all three of these Latino candidates are credible, visible, experienced community leaders,” Affigne said.

But he said there’s also a downside from a tactical perspective. “It does sometimes split the vote so none of them is able to win election,” Affigne said.

One City Hall source said he believes that all three candidates have an equal shot of winning over the Latino vote. “At this point, all of them have good personal stories to tell and would be able to galvanize a fair component of the Latino electorate,” the source said, adding that as the campaign moves along, other factors, such as their fundraising prowess and organizational strengths, would play a stronger role.

No obvious electoral map to victory for any candidate

Non-Latino candidates, however, could also be at a disadvantage now that the Latino community had a political breakthrough with the city’s first Hispanic mayor, according to Profughi. The question remains whether the Latino community can unite behind one candidate. “If they do, I think it’s going to be hard to go in a different direction,” Profughi said.

But the bigger question, according to Affigne, is not so much whether one of the three can get the Latino community to rally around them, but whether they can build a broad coalition that includes non-Latinos.

It’s been done before, by Angel Taveras, but he had already demonstrated a broader appeal to voters a previous Congressional run, according to Affigne. There is no such track record for any of the three Latino candidates. Elorza has never run for office. Matos’ experience is limited to one out of 15 wards and the House district in which Capellan ran is smaller than a ward, Affigne said.

Taveras won the Democratic primary by building an East Side-South Side Coalition. “There doesn’t seem to be an heir apparent for that,” one City Hall source said.

There’s also the thorny issue as to whom, if anyone, would Taveras endorse. He may face outside pressure to endorse a Latino candidate, but Solomon has also proved a close ally who may be counting on his support in a mayoral campaign, the source added.

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