PAWTUCKET â€“ Touting the verities of education, job creation and capital-D Democratic values, three of the Democrats running for governor vied for the favor of their partyâ€™s city and town chairmen on Tuesday.
Democrats Gina Raimondo, Angel Taveras and Clay Pell made brief presentations to the RI Association of State Democratic City and Town Chairmen (RI ASDCTC) at Le Foyer ahead of that groupâ€™s endorsement vote scheduled for next month.
After several months on the campaign trail, the candidates have begun honing their message as they run for the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 9 state primary. At the Pawtucket event, all three had worked their pitch down to almost exactly the 10 minutes they were allotted to woo the chairmen and women.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras started by acknowledging the obvious: â€śThere are a lot of things that we agree on,â€ť ticking off items such as increasing the minimum wage, pay equity for women, the need to invest in infrastructure.
When it came to what set him apart from his fellow campaigners, Taveras reached back to his humble beginnings. â€śI am pretty sure I am the only candidate in this race to ever have clothes on layaway from Ann & Hope,â€ť he said, praising his divorced mother who worked nights to keep the family going and who would pay a little bit each week so he and his brothers could have new suits at Eastertime.
On a more practical level, Taveras pointed to his experience as a chief executive of the capital city, saying that too distinguished him from Raimondo and Pell.
â€śI had to manage many, many problems,â€ť he said. â€śI am the only one in this race who has taken a budget deficit and turned it into a surplus â€“ a $110 million structural deficit turned into a $1.6 million surplus.â€ť
One of the first things he did upon becoming mayor was take a pay cut, the mayor said, â€śbecause I wasnâ€™t going to ask anyone to do something I wasnâ€™t willing to do myself.â€ť
Because of that â€śleading by example,â€ť Taveras said, he was able to get the cooperation of the unions representing police, firefighters, teachers and other city employeesâ€ť to battle the cityâ€™s financial problems. The universities and hospitals located in the city also pitched in, he said, and retirees voluntarily agreed to give up cost of living adjustments (COLAs) on their pensions, all to help the city.
Raimondo, the stateâ€™s general treasurer, also harkened back to her middle-class upbringing, going to public schools on RIPTA buses, using the public libraries
With union support one battleground in the Democratic primary, and public sector unions still fuming over her proposed pension reform plan, Raimondo is quick to note that her grandfather helped establish the meatcutterâ€™s union in Providence. Her father went to college on the GI Bill and secured a manufacturing job at the Bulova watch factory until the company moved all the jobs to China.
â€śThe reason we are all here, the reason we are Democrats, the reason this election matters is that we all share a belief in the value of government to level the playing field, provide opportunity and move this state forward.â€ť
As for her executive acumen, Raimondo boasted that she took a Crime Victimsâ€™ Compensation program that had a 900-case backlog when she took office and within a year reduced the backlog to zero and started processing all claims â€świthin a week or two,â€ť later extending the program to cover victims of domestic violence.
She said a woman came up to her in Pawtucket last week and said, â€śI think I am alive because of that program, thank you.â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s why we do what we do,â€ť the treasurer told the chairmen and women, â€śbecause at the other end of all of our work and all of these numbers and all of the politics there is a person who we are trying to help.
â€śWe need a governor whoâ€™s got the courage to take on the tough issues, the experience and ability to bring everyone together, solving problems and getting people back to work.â€ť
Pell, a scion of a blueblood family steeped in politics, did not have a hardscrabble past to share with his audience.
â€śMy background is not that of an elected official,â€ť Pell told the group. â€śIt is that of an officer in the Coast Guard, as a leader in the (U.S.) Department of Education, and a member of President Obamaâ€™s national security team. It is really those experiences and those leadership ties that I bring to this race.â€ť
Pell said he learned in the Coast Guard that, â€śIf you want to change your destination, you need to change your course. In Rhode Island, we have to change our course.
â€śRight now, we have a whole generation, my generation, that is facing the inability to find a job, that does not believe they can find a job and raise a family here,â€ť he said. â€śI am running for governor because I want to change that. I want to empower people to find jobs, I want to empower teachers to create the skills in the students that they need, I want to empower our businesses and our entrepreneurs to be able to get things started.â€ť
Pell said his philosophy of economic growth is â€śwe have to invest in our people. I am a Democrat, I donâ€™t believe the way to the future is to cut, and cut, and cut. Today in Rhode Island, people do not feel that sense of investment; people do not feel that American Dream. I am running for governor because I believe we have to invest in our people again, invest in the quality of a first-class education. An education where students can get the full variety of experiences they need to deal with an uncertain world.â€ť
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