A new era in Providence politics began with the inauguration of Jorge Elorza Monday as the city’s mayor. Elorza offered a mostly upbeat message before an audience about 200 people, while acknowledging how Providence still faces some tough fiscal challenges.
Elorza’s mid-day inaugural in front of City Hall had a little bit of everything, from the National Anthem to a rap song by an independent Christian hip-hop artist celebrating his Guatemalan roots.
Elorza became the new political power in Providence by emerging from a pack of Democratic candidates to soundly defeat former mayor Buddy Cianci in November. The 38-year-old former law school professor used his inaugural to note how he’s taking office 40 years after his family came to Rhode Island with little more than the shirts on their backs.
"We stand proudly as a family on the steps of City Hall as an example of what dedication, humility and industry can help us achieve," he said. Ladies and gentleman, the American dream is still alive, and it is our responsibility to see that it endures for generations to come."
Elorza says it’s time to build what he calls “the new Providence.” He defines that as a place where creativity is embraced, the city capitalizes on its assets, and government emphasizes customer service.
"I want potholes to be filled even before they are reported," he said. "I want our building permits to to be ready for pick up even before the date they’re due."
If that sounds a little utopian, Elorza acknowledges Providence faces challenges. For starters, a budget deficit for the fiscal year starting in July is projected at about $9 million – and there’s speculation it could be much higher.
Governor-elect Gina Raimondo was among the elected officials on hand for Elorza’s inaugural, and she pledged a close working relationship with the new mayor.
"I am thrilled to be serving with you," Raimondo said. "As a resident of Providence, forget about being the governor-elect, I am overflowing with optimism. We will make a terrific team and I commit myself to working with you to turn this city around and to turn this state around."
Elorza floated a number of ideas during his 30-minute inaugural address, from encouraging Providence residents to be more physically active, to reviewing how the School Department uses it resources. He followed up on some of his campaign proposals. Elorza, for example, said the city will launch a new arts and cultural festival this summer. He pledges to try to double Providence’s import and exports, and to eliminate the presence of 500 to 600 abandoned homes. Elorza also said he’ll work with the state and the city council to pursue the development of the former I-195 land.
"We have the chance to lay the foundation that will sustain our city and state for the next four decades," he said. "Let us seize our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine our cityscape, to leverage our strategic strengths and develop our new economy."
Later, when he met with reporters for the first time in his new office at City Hall, Elorza laughed when asked about his first order of business.
"You know, there are 10 first orders of business, in all truth," he said. "But that’s okay."
The mayor said he’s going to start by meeting Tuesday morning with the staff at City Hall and setting the tone for his administration.
"We need to have Providence be a city that works, meaning that we have customer service, that we’re delivering city services at a very high level," Elorza said. "And for that, we have to engage every employee, so we’re going to seek out advice from employees, we’re going to ask them for their ideas."
Elorza said he’s faced doubters since he first unveiled his campaign last year and has overcome each hurdle before him. He said he’ll bring the same steady focus to the complicated task of leading Rhode Island’s capital city.