It’s only Tuesday and this week has already been a nightmare for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras following the tragic shooting of a middle schooler at home in the city’s troubled Elmwood/South Providence neighborhood, a highly critical GoLocal story on the city’s deepening fiscal crisis and news that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had seized ProCap’s records. Yet Taveras remains somberly upbeat as he reflects on the “surprises” of his first year in office.
When last we spoke to Angel Taveras, he was still just a candidate for office, filled with idealism, enthusiasm and the occasional deer in the highlights look when it came to the financial complexities facing the city. Now, after a full year in office, the mayor presents a rather different image as we sit in his office at City Hall. Most of the idealism and enthusiasm remain, though it clearly has been leavened by the fiscal reality of the self-described “category five” storm he inherited when he took office. And that headlight look has been replaced by a dramatically more confident persona – while he’s enjoying his new gig, he clearly doesn’t shy away from making the tough decisions.
A high point for him during the first year has been the outpouring of support he has been receiving from city residents. “In some cases all I have to do is be there as the mayor and I can exert a positive impact. It’s very rare that you are in a job where you can make a difference just by showing up,” he says. He talks of seeing the wonder in the eyes of a Providence youngster who learned the mayor attended the very same school he had, or the modest solace he hopes his personal presence provides in the tragic case of a parent who must endure the unimaginable pain of losing a child.
So as the mayor looks back on his first year in office, especially during one of his more difficult weeks thus far, how strong are the winds of the “category five” storm he inherited when he took over last January? Taveras admits that after this year’s late August hurricane, he now tries to avoid storm related analogies. But when pressed, he says the storm facing the city “has been downgraded and the eye has passed.” He also admits the crisis is a long way from over.
The first few months, he notes, weren’t easy. His administration found itself facing a $110,000,000 structural deficit when he became mayor with no formal budget to work with. He and his staff, in particular his director of administration, Michael D’Amico, set off to deal with the cards they were dealt. Though both had limited experience relevant to running a city – D’Amico came from the private sector – the two former classmates from Classical High rolled up their sleeves and surprised most observers by tackling the city’s fiscal mess head on. The mayor was soon able to announce that by working with the unions, the city council, the universities and hospitals and Providence taxpayers both residential and commercial, he felt he’d be able to present the city with a balanced budget. For it to work, the pain would have to be shared by all: residents absorbed modest tax increases, unions renegotiated contracts and spending cuts were made. The nonprofits will be expected to help soon as well, the mayor promised.
“There are some shortfalls and surprises that we did not anticipate,” Taveras admits, not the least of which “is the $8,000,000 penalty from the federal government over Medicaid and not enough police officers taking early retirements.” So, in confirming many of the GoLocal numbers, the mayor concedes the budget remains unbalanced. He does feel confident that the city is “very close to an agreement with the colleges, universities and hospitals which will be announced by the end of the year.” How much this will be able to close the gap remains to be