Mayor Jorge Elorza pledged to build a `New Providence’ amid an improving economy as he delivered his inaugural address this afternoon on the chilly, sun-splashed steps of Providence’s Beaux-Arts City Hall.
Elorza, the second consecutive mayor of Latino descent tied his immigrant family’s journey with Providence’s history as a welcoming city for generations of the newly arrived and emphasized the need for a new economic order.
``My parents came to this country to work in our factories and to strive for a better life,’’ said Elorza. ``Exactly four decades after my family arrived in this country in 1975 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, sacrifice, humility and industry can help us achieve.’’
``The American Dream is still alive and it is our responsibility to see that it endures for generations to come,’’ he said. ``My family’s story is Providence’s story.’’
``Most of the factory jobs that once existed slowly yet surely left our city, changing who we are in the process. We are no longer the industrial city we used to be; but that’s all right,’’ said Elorza, who is of Guatemalan descent. ``We have to build the New Providence, along with a new economy, a new identity and a new purpose. I stand before you with great optimism that by coming together and capitalizing on the many wonderful opportunities that our city offers, we will build this New Providence.’’
It was a speech that touched all of the usual high inaugural notes, tugging at heart strings. It was optimistic and suffused with humility. And the new mayor sought to tamp down expectations, by noting that change won’t be easy.
As is the case with speeches that open an administration, Elorza was long on lofty goals and short on the specific policies that will be detailed later when he puts together his first budget as the city’s 38th mayor.
Elorza thanked outgoing mayor Angel Taveras and outgoing City Council President Mike Solomon for their work in rescuing the capital city from bankruptcy. Elorza also cautioned that Providence is not out of the fiscal woods yet and that ``Providence is still regaining its footing in the wake of some of the most challenging financial times that we have seen.’’
The new mayor said that the city will be faced with ``tough decisions’’ and that fiscal restraint ``will continue to be necessary to ensure that we remain on firm ground.’’
``We still face difficult times,’’ said Elorza.
He pledged to focus on delivering city services and drew applause and knowing laughter when he said, ``I want potholes to be filled even before they are reported.’’
He also promised to work diligently to change the city’s faltering school system. In one of the few specific proposals mentioned, Elorza said that ``beginning immediately’’ his administration will embark on an audit of the organizational structure of the school department, ``to make sure that crucial resources are not tied up in bureaucracy or central administration but are making their way to the schools and the classrooms where they belong.’’
Elorza built on themes from his campaign, which had a `One Providence’ slogan designed to highlight his pledge to forge an inclusive reign in one of New England’s most diverse major cities.
The new mayor said – as he proposed in his campaign – that he will work to develop the Port of Providence to attract more shipping to the city. And he said he wants to use the city’s assets in such areas as historic preservation, higher education and the vacant 195 land to rebuild the city’s economy.
Elorza also hit some more abstruse themes, promising to life the city’s sagging self-esteem, a theme the candidate he defeated in the general election, former mayor Buddy Cianci talked about often on the campaign circuit.
``In order to build the New Providence, we must recognize what a charming an fantastic city this is,`` said Elorza. ``We must have concrete plans but that alone will not make us great; I firmly believe that the future of our city depends not just on bricks and mortar, but on the intangible element of building pride in Providence.’’
``We’ve faced our share of challenges in Providence, yes,’’ said Elorza. ``But the proud people of Providence have risen to every one of these challenges. We live in a city that is 140 years older than the United States. Providence has persevered through everything from the American Revolution to the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression to the Great Recession, the Hurricane of ’38 to the Blizzard of ’78. And we have risen through every challenge that history has brought upon us.’’