2019 Is Looking to Be A Banner Year for RI’s Latinx Population
Tuesday, February 05, 2019
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea:
Nellie Gorbea continues to hold her position as the only Latina elected to statewide office in New England. She also has shown to be a force to be reckoned with as Rhode Island is consistently at the forefront of change in making elections more secure and accessible than ever before. This past year, we saw the implementation of electronic voter check-in at the polling locations throughout the State, significantly reducing wait time to check in. Whatever Secretary Gorbea’s next move, she has made it clear that her priority remains being a highly effective Secretary of State.
Mayor Jorge Elorza was once again sworn in as Providence’s Chief Executive this past January. Despite the city’s many issues and the many voices of discontent heard through various forums, he handily defeated the competition both in the Democratic Primary and in the General Election. His second-term win means that when he finishes his term in 2023, Rhode Island’s capital would have seen twelve uninterrupted years by a Latino as its mayor.
Freshmen Representatives Alzate and Mendez
This year saw the return of many familiar faces to the Statehouse, but two freshman representatives in the general assembly have vowed to stand up for their Latinx constituents, Karen Alzate (D. Pawtucket) and Mario Mendez (D. Providence). Mendez unseated incumbent Ramon Perez, another Latino. Mendez has been appointed to the highly coveted finance committee while Alzate has been appointed to the education committee, another committee with the potential to see significant effects in the State’s Latinx population.
Perhaps no other place is the Latinx success more notable than across the many city councils in the State. Notably, Providence, Smithfield, and Central Falls elected their first Latina City Council President, Sabina Matos, Suzy Alba, and L. Maria Rivera, respectively. While council president Matos had previously held the post following Councilman Aponte’s resignation, she was never elected by her fellow council members until this past January. Another huge win for Rhode Island’s Latinas was the election of Lammis Vargas as the first Latina ever to serve on Cranston’s City Council. Notably, Councilwoman Vargas is the only woman and the only person of color serving on the City Council this term.
Attorney Jose Batista who has been involved in local politics for some time, has been appointed as the Executive Director of the Providence External Review Authority (PERA), a civilian board which oversees the Providence police department. 2018 saw Attorney Batista announce his intent to run for Attorney General before he dropped out of the race. He also briefly served on the board of licenses. PERA has been defunct for several years and the hope is that Batista will revive it.
Diony Garcia, a former special assistant attorney general who is now in private practice, was appointed by Mayor Jorge Elorza to serve on the City’s Housing Court. A lifelong Rhode Islander, he is a graduate of Roger Williams University School of Law, and he is the current President of the Rhode Island Hispanic Bar Association.
Noted lobbyist Travis Escobar, Public Policy Project Manager at the United Way of Rhode Island, has been appointed to serve on the Providence School Board. He previously served on the City’s superintendent search committee, and is one of the founders of Millennial Rhode Island, the group famous for its #ChooseRI hashtag encouraging young people to remain in Rhode Island and stopping the brain drain.
Finally, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa has appointed fellow Colombian-American (and Central Falls progeny) Elizabeth Ortiz as the First Latina elected to serve as Judge on its Municipal Court. Ortiz has been a family law attorney in Rhode Island and Massachusetts since 2011, and she has been accepting appointments as Guardian ad Litem to represent Rhode Island’s children in highly contested family court proceedings in Rhode Island’s Family Courts.
This election-cycle of firsts should serve as evidence that as Rhode Island’s Latinx population continues to grow, so too will their representation in the public sphere. 2019, a banner year indeed.
Joseph Molina Flynn is a family & immigration attorney with offices in Boston & Providence. He is the current president of the RI Latino Pac and the RI Latino Civic Fund.
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