In an effort to define himself to undecided voters, Democratic mayoral hopeful Jorge Elorza reintroduced himself to Providence voters today.
“My story is Providence’s story,” said the son of Guatemalan immigrants, in front of the elementary school he attended as a boy, who went on to become a housing court judge and a Roger Williams law school professor before running for mayor.
Elorza said priorities will include improving education for everyone and using grants to get more police officers on the streets. “If you want a Mayor who will move Providence forward, I am your candidate,” he said.
And you can read the full text of Elorza’s speech here:
Good morning and thank you for coming. I especially want to thank Representative Grace Diaz for that warm introduction.
Many people in Providence are just starting to get to know me since I won the primary and became the Democratic nominee for Mayor. A lot of people are thinking, “I want Providence to move forward, not backward. What’s Jorge’s vision for Providence? What kind of Mayor will he be?”
My vision for Providence stems from my story, and my story is Providence’s story. I come from nothing. I was raised here in the West End, the son of Guatemalan immigrants. My parents both worked in factories – in fact, my mother is still working second shift in a factory today. While working in the factories, my mom managed to run her own daycare out of our home. I watched my parents work hard and count every dollar to create a better life for me.
I’m a product of the Providence Public School System. I went to elementary school right at Asa Messer then on to Bridgham Middle School and Classical High School. I was rejected from every college I applied to before I was fortunate enough to be accepted at URI, where I graduated first in my Accounting class. I went on to get my law degree from Harvard. I worked as an accountant for a big firm in New York before coming back to Providence and becoming a law professor and a judge on the Housing Court.
The bottom line is I grew up here, my family struggled, and I know what it’s like to grow up in a school system and in a city where it’s too easy for kids to fall behind and fall through the cracks.
I also know the challenges we face today, and I have a bold and clear vision to move Providence forward. My vision for moving forward is informed by what I saw growing up, and what I continue to see every day in the neighborhood where I live: working class families struggling to get by, minority communities struggling to find work, college students willing yet unable to remain here after graduation, small business owners held back by red tape.
For me it’s personal. I decided to leave my high-paying accounting job and move back to Providence when my father called me one night and told me that one of my best friends from childhood had been killed – murdered in our old neighborhood right around the corner from here. I decided then and there that I would come back to the city I grew up in – the city I love – to fight for a brighter future.
You’re going to hear a lot in this race about me and my opponents, and some of it may be a distraction from the fact that this incredibly important election is about the people of our city – the hardworking people who live here, work here and call Providence home.
This election is about building world-class schools we can be proud to send our children to. It’s about growing our tax base and creating good paying jobs that help our working families succeed. It’s about creating a government and business climate that’s transparent and friendly. It’s about keeping our streets safe and our neighborhoods vibrant so that our families can live safely and enjoy the quality of life they work so hard for.
Education must be our number one priority. Far too often I hear from families that say, “You know what Jorge, I love Providence, and I want to stay here and raise my family, but I don’t feel like I can send my children to our public schools.”
Well, that has to change. It’s time we make the appropriate investments in our schools so that we provide every child in Providence a world-class education. This to me is one of the most important ways we raise our families out of poverty, encourage more people to come live in Providence, and encourage business and homeowners alike to make investments in our communities.
We have to reduce the amount of violence in our city. And we need more officers on the street. We all know that funding for that isn’t going to materialize out of thin air, so we need to be aggressive in applying for grants and going to the federal government to find it, something I will work closely with our Congressional delegation to do.
A new class of police will be on the streets soon. And while that number still won’t be enough, I am committed to having those officers spend a significant portion of their first year on the job literally walking their beats, building those relationships in the community.
We also need more police officers who live in the city, officers who understand firsthand what our neighbors are experiencing. And we need a police department that truly reflects the community it serves.
We need an economy that works for everyone. That’s why I’ve proposed a plan to double our export economy, so that we can create jobs here in the city. That’s why I’ve proposed a plan to ensure equity for women and minority businesses, so that our most underserved communities get their fair share. That’s why I’ve proposed a plan for a citywide broadband network, so we can jumpstart the kind of knowledge-based economy that will retain our students.
And that’s why I’ve proposed a plan to instill an efficient, customer-service oriented approach in City Hall, so that our business people can spend less time filing paperwork, and more time creating jobs.
The bottom line is that we can no longer afford to balance our budget on the backs of the hard working families that live in our city. As mayor, it will be amongst my top priorities to recruit businesses to Providence that provide good paying jobs and expand our tax base.
If you want to know what I’m made of – my commitment to standing with and fighting for working families – look at what I did on the Housing Court. I had seen firsthand the negative impact that foreclosed and abandoned properties have on our neighborhoods, and I wanted to do something about it. I pioneered a process to hold the banks responsible for these blighted properties. I called them into my court and I asked them, “What are you going to do with this property? And what’s your timeline to do it?”
They didn’t appear. They were too big to care, but I made them care. I began holding the biggest banks in the world in contempt of court, fining them hundreds of thousands of dollars. I even threatened to have the president of Bank of America arrested – that certainly got their attention. To their credit, the banks finally came before my court and took responsibility for these properties, resulting in many of these homes being repaired and returned to market. To the best of my knowledge, ours was the first Housing Court and I was the first judge in the country to do this.
That’s the fight I’ll bring to the Mayor’s office. I will be a Mayor who surrounds himself with the best and the brightest. I will be the kind of mayor who opens up City Hall and lets in fresh air, fresh blood, and the sunshine of new ideas.
This idea of One Providence is so powerful to me, because when I was growing up back in the 80s and the 90s, it didn’t always feel like there was just one Providence.
Sometimes it felt like there was more than one city within the city. If you knew the right people, ran in the right circles, supported the right politician, you lived in one city. Then, there were those who didn’t know the right people, who didn’t run in the right circles, who didn’t support the right politician, and certainly didn’t have any money to give anybody. They lived in another city entirely.
They lived in a city where schools crumbled and kids dropped out, where neighborhoods deteriorated and went ignored if they didn’t vote the right way, where business people could watch their life’s fortune evaporate if they didn’t have the right connection at City Hall. I grew up in that second city, and so when I talk about running an ethical, transparent City Hall, this not just a slogan to be slapped on a campaign poster.
If you want a Mayor who will move Providence forward, I am your candidate.
I look forward to releasing more detailed proposals over the coming weeks and bringing my message door to door, person to person to every neighborhood in Providence.