Providence Mayor Angel Taveras formally launched his long-anticipated Democratic gubernatorial campaign on Monday, describing himself as the person best suited by experience and temperament to lead Rhode Island forward.
Taveras, joined by his wife and young daughter, made his announcement in a children's library at the Meeting Street School on Eddy Street -- a location chosen, he said, because of the importance education has played in his own life. Taveras dubbed himself "a working optimist" who put Providence "on the path to recovery" after he came into office in 2011 and inherited a $110 million deficit.
The 43-year-old first-term mayor generally avoided specifics on policy, but he began the process of describing a contrast with his expected Democratic rival, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo.
Taveras invoked his upbringing, including being raised by a hard-working single Dominican mother, in outlining his case for a promotion. "Mom worked in factories to raise us," he said. "She refused to go on welfare. She worked the second shift at a textile company so she could make ends meet. She was very proud that she had a job with 'beneficios' -- benefits including health insurance."
Taveras and Raimondo, who poll as the two best-liked politicians in Rhode Island, are expected to square off in a hard-fought Democratic primary. Clay Pell, the grandson of the late former US senator Claiborne Pell, is considering a possible Democratic run. "I wanted to let you know that I have begun a serious process to decide whether to run for governor," Pell says in an email to RIPR. "My focus over the next month will be on making the right decision, and how it will impact my wife Michelle, our family, and Rhode Island."
Although Raimondo has yet to announce, her campaign organization issued a news released moments before Taveras made his campaign official, highlighting a third-quarter fundraising haul of more than $400,000. Friends of Raimondo spokesman Collin Berglund called that a record for a statewide official in a non-election year. Taveras' campaign declined to release info on its third-quarter fundraising ahead of a filing deadline later this week.
But Taveras did take an apparent shot at Raimondo, asserting, "I don't answer to Wall Street. I answer to you. I answer to working families." He added, in a possible reference to hedge fund-related criticism of Raimondo, "If you work hard and earn a pension, it must be protected, not experimented with by Wall Street." The mayor declined to elaborate later when asked to outline the key distinctions between him and Raimondo.
With more than $2 million in her campaign fund, Raimondo has a decided fundraising edge on Taveras, who had roughly $700,000 at the end of the second quarter. Yet Taveras could benefit from the composition of voters in a Democratic primary, who skew more liberal.
Taveras called himself someone who knows "the power of bring people together to seek real solutions." That's a reference to how his administration negotiated pension cuts, in contrast to the statewide changes -- later challenged in court -- spearheaded by Raimondo and passed by the General Assembly in 2011.
In related campaign developments, Moderate Party founder Ken Block changed his party affiliate Monday morning to run as a Republican. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is expected to announce a GOP campaign for governor next Monday, November 4.
Many years have passed since a Providence mayor was able to win the governor's office; Dennis Roberts was the last to accomplish that feat, in 1950.
Taveras insisted he has the right stuff to help Rhode Island move past a decades-long struggle with economic decline. "We need to leverage our geographical proximity to Boston in a way that creates jobs and growth," he said, in one element of his case. Taveras also called for doing more to support existing businesses in Rhode Island. The mayor called for universal pre-kindergarten for four year olds. He pledged to flesh out his ideas in the course of the campaign.
This post has been updated.