Providence Mayor Angel Taveras formally kicked off his campaign for governor Monday, promising if elected to give families and businesses in this struggling state a better chance to succeed.
Speaking at a Providence elementary school library, Taveras cited his work to address Providence's financial problems and his background as the son of a working single mother who pushed him to success at Harvard University.
"Providence is on the road to recovery," he said. "I'm running for governor because I know what can be achieved by putting the needs of families and children front and center. ... I'm here because my mother never gave up hope. We need to never give up hope as a state."
Taveras is the first prominent Democrat to enter the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who will not seek re-election next fall. Monday's announcement by the first-term mayor had been expected for months.
He's expected to face Treasurer Gina Raimondo is what is shaping up to be a contentious and expensive Democratic primary.
Raimondo, who has not formally declared her candidacy, announced Monday that she raised $400,000 in the third quarter, giving her more than $2.3 million for the race.
"I am overwhelmed and humbled by the tremendous support I continue to receive from people across Rhode Island encouraging me to run for governor," she said in a statement.
Taveras hasn't reported his third-quarter donations but had less than $700,000 as of July 31.
Todd Giroux, who ran for governor as an independent in 2010, is running as a Democrat in 2014.
Clay Pell, the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, told The Providence Journal on Monday that he's also looking at running. Pell met last week with members of the National Education Association-Rhode Island union, an influential group in this heavily Democratic state.
"If he decides to run for governor, he shows a lot of promise," Bob Walsh, executive director of the union, said of Pell.
On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is contemplating a run for governor and has scheduled an unspecified announcement next week. Businessman and Moderate Party founder Ken Block has announced that he'll run as a Republican too.
Taveras, 43, was elected as the city's first Hispanic mayor in 2010, taking over as deficits threatened to push the city into bankruptcy. He cut spending and positions, closed schools, raised taxes and convinced tax-exempt organizations like Brown University to make voluntary payments in lieu of taxes.
Taveras has had a complicated relationship with public-sector workers. He angered educators two years ago by issuing firing notices to nearly all of Providence's 2,000 teachers though most were kept on.
He took a more diplomatic approach when he negotiated pension settlements with public-sector unions and retirees. The deal prevented costly litigation and shaved millions off the city's pension liabilities.
Taveras was born in New York to parents who had recently emigrated from the Dominican Republic. The family moved to Providence when he was 7, and he was raised by his mother after his parents divorced. Taveras later graduated from Harvard and Georgetown University's law school.
Citing his own story Monday, Taveras called education the best way to bridge the gap social inequalities and create a trained workforce.
Taveras said he also wants to make state government more efficient, protect state funding for cities and towns and help local businesses struggling in a state that had a jobless rate of 9.1 percent in August.
"This election should be about your future," Taveras said, standing near his wife, Farah, and their 1-year-old daughter. "About believing in Rhode Island, believing in America's promise that our children will do better than we did."