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Hispanic Vote in Providence: What Happened?

Thursday, September 11, 2014


In a primary season that saw two candidates vying to be the first Hispanic candidate elected to statewide office in Rhode Island -- and the possibility of the second Hispanic Mayor of Providence -- voter turnout was down markedly in Providence on Tuesday.

The Board of Elections reported 21,426 votes cast in the Providence Mayoral race in the Democratic primary -- as compared to 24,206 in 2010, when Mayor Angel Taveras squared off against John Lombard, Steven Costantino, and Chris Young in that year's Democratic primary. 

On Tuesday, Nellie Gorbea prevailed in the Secretary of State Democratic primary in her attempt to become the first Hispanic woman elected to statewide office in New England -- but Taveras was halted in his bid for Governor by Gina Raimondo. 

"I think that flaw begins with any analysis is when you think "Hispanic" is a homogeneous group that acts, thinks and votes the same way," said Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte. "I think with [Taveras], there was the burden of having to govern, and some people were upset with the choices he made or may have not made.   When I was out canvassing, people were upset about taxes, car tax, Davey Lopes," referring to the controversial pool closure made by Tavears in 2013 -- over politics.

Providence + Statewide Trends

Nellie Gorbea, winner of the Democratic primary for Secretary of State.

"I was surprised that the turnout was low -- given the excitement, I thought we would have seen more people," said community leader Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, who is president of Latino Public Radio.  "We know for a fact that Angel's team was out in force, but the numbers didn't reflect that effort."

"I was surprised about the numbers in South Providence," said Rodriguez.  "I believe the numbers in South Providence showed Solomon winning.  As I've always said, it's tough to be mayor in city in Providence, which was one of the problems for Angel."

While Taveras got 29.9% of the Democratic primary vote statewide, finishing second to Gina Raimondo who won with 42.2%, Taveras still lost to Raimondo on his home turf in Providence, garnering 39.8% of the urban vote to Raimondo's 41%.

Rodriguez offered his perspective as Elorza now attempts to follow Taveras' footsteps to City Hall, as he squares off against former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci and Republican Dan Harrop in November.

"It was clear that [Elorza] would do well on the East Side, especially in the "anybody but Buddy" crowd, which I think it will be continued," said Rodriguez.  "[Elorza]  needs to worry about the south side, and make inroads into the old establishment…a lot of businesses were created when Cianci was in office."

"All those old Latino generations -- and I'm talking about just one generation -- but they all worked with Buddy, and Buddy supported the cultural festivals, showed up at them.  All those kinds of things count," continued Rodriguez.  "Jorge is a relative newcomer who needs to reintroduce himself over and over and over."

On Wednesday, the Elorza campaign announced that the candidate would be "walking Broad Street with supporters and visiting neighborhood businesses that afternoon."

2010 Census data showed that population of Providence residents of Hispanic or Latino percent was 38%. 

More Sweeping Changes?

"I think it come down to the issues, and the issues were similar for Gubernatorial candidates," said Anna Cano Morales with the Latino Policy Institute, of the 2014 primary season.  "It really was about ground game, resources, and relationships."

City Councilman Aponte noted that he thought it was the issues and relationships -- not demographics -- that spelled trouble for Taveras.

"I think Angel would have had a tough time if he was a WASP," said Aponte, referring to the term for "white anglo-saxon Protestant".  "He had the burden of having to govern for four years, and that took its toll.  I think that was part of it -- and I think what moved people like [City Councilwoman Sabina] Matos and [State Rep Grace Diaz] to Gina's camp."

"If you think if you about the Angel universe, a lot of folks had been flying off that axis," added Aponte.  "When you lose a [Matt] Jerzyk, a strong field general; a Myrth York, and she's not on the team anymore, and Rep. Diaz -- who was a big part of his win last time on the southside -- these were the boots on the ground people, who know how to move votes.  And he lost them."

Cano Morales referenced Rodriguez' recent radio commentary about the outcome of the races, and that in particular, the endorsed Democratic candidates almost all went down.

"So in part, what does that mean for the party?" asked Morales.  "You have to wonder.  You not only have a Latina in Nellie, you have Jorge, but you have people like Seth Magaziner, who's relatively young," referring the winner of the Democratic primary for General Treasurer against Frank Caprio.  "Is it a call for the party to better reflect its demographics?"

"What I can say about the [Hispanic] candidates, whether they're winners or losers, is that they continue to make history," said Cano Morales.  "They continue to break barriers whether its gender, race, or economic.  They're blazing trails for people like my son who hears Taveras name on the radio, and says if he can run, so can I."


Related Slideshow: Questions Jorge Elorza Must Answer to be Providence’s Next Mayor

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Experience Necessary?

Elorza's the quintessential Providence kid-made-good -- and clearly has the education success story of CCRI to Harvard Law going for him.  He's toiled in the legal trenches, and risen through academic ranks. 

But does that translate to a business acumen and know-how to turn the city around?  Brett Smiley counts starting a successful consulting company.  Although a double-edged sword, Michael Solomon's got the city council experience. 

Elorza's managed cases, and students.  Can he oversee a staff of hundreds -- go toe to toe with the unions?

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Money for Plans?

Opponent Brett Smiley might have dubbed himself the man with the plan, but Elorza's right up there with a litany of proposals for the capital city.  Schools, jobs, public safety, neighborhoods, transportation, diversity, arts and culture, ethics -- Elorza's got plans for it all.

And like Smiley's grand amibtions, the burning question is how will these be funded?  Elorza has a plan to double the city's exports in the next five years, with mentoring opportunities and trade missions as part of the strategy.  Those cost money.   Where will it come from?

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Fundraising prowess?

At the end of the first quarter of 2014, Elorza posted a small lead over Smiley in the cash balance department, with $217,082 in his campaign coffers as compared to Smiley's $191,000 and change.  Both, however, were a distant second and third to Solomon's war chest over over $600,000

As the Democratic candidates duke it out, second quarter filings due at the end of the month will show were the money race stands with less than eight weeks to the primary. 

Of course, whoever wins will have to face a Buddy Cianci waiting in the wings, who told GoLocal he raised over $200,000K in one week -- and expects to have $1 million by the time the primary arrives. 

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Primary Factor?

For the Democrats in the race, the primary is, in fact, the primary concern of the campaigns at the moment, with Harrop and Cianci waiting in the wings for the winner. 

Will Elorza's campaign, based strongly on his Cranston-street upbringing and focus on ethics, differentiate him from political operatives Smiley and Solomon? 

The first test on the path to the Mayor's office will be to best his two top adversaries in September.  Will Elorza's deep city ties and campaign aparatus translate into a get-out-the-vote effort enough to take the Democratic title?

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Final Hurdle?

All of the Providence Mayoral candidates, whether they like it or not, have to address to Buddy card. 

So far, Brett Smiley's been the most vocal -- publicly, at least -- in criticizing former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, attacking him on his corruption charges and conviction.  Harrop and Elorza have been highly critical, but as aforementioned, the Democrats are focused primarily on the task at hand -- making it past the primary.

If Elorza does advance, can he count on the support of his former Democratic opponents and their backers -- or will there be a mass exodus of those who see Cianci as the more viable candidate?  Republican Dr. Daniel Harrop provides an X factor in the genera election, of course, but a three-way race is vastly different animal than a four-way one before Adrain dropped out.  The winner will need to secure a greater chunk of the electorate. 


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