Mind and Body

Lives in the balance

Providence mayoral candidates respond to stark questions about real-life challenges facing those in recovery trying to make a better life for themselves and their children

Photo by Richard Asinof

Gonzalo Cuervo, left, responds to questions at the Aug. 4 mayoral forum at the Jim Gillen Teen Center in Providence, as candidates Nirva LaFortune [center] and Brett Smiley [right] listen.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/15/22
In Part Three, reporting on the mayoral candidates' forum held at the Jim Gillen Teen Center, the stark questions from members of the recovery community resulted in the kind of honest dialogue so often missing from the campaign trail, talking about difficult challenges with affordable housing, domestic violence, and policing policies.
How much money is being spent to support health care related to substance use disorders in Rhode Island? What is the economic value of recovery related to job growth, health care workplace improvements, reductions in behavioral health problems, and a decrease in crime? How can Rhode Island recognize and honor the recovery community for their innovative approaches to recovery – from peer-to-peer recovery coaching to the pilot program to create a harm reduction center, from the workplace recovery initiative to the mobile methadone delivery system? What is the relationship between preventing gun violence, halting domestic violence, and support for recovery? With the continued layoffs for newspapers owned by Gannett, including the Providence Journal, how does that increase the value of news platforms such as ConvergenceRI in providing in-depth, accurate reporting, such as the mayoral forum sponsored by the recovery community?
With some $20 million about to flow out to the recovery community as a result of Attorney General Peter Neronha’s legal efforts to hold the bad actors in the opioid epidemic accountable – the manufacturers like Purdue Pharma,, the distributors, and the consultants like McKinsey, it offers a lesson in the importance of having an attorney general who aggressively pursues the role of public health advocate.
At the same time, the unwillingness of the state leadership of the Providence Public Schools to allow a mayoral candidate’s forum to take place at an elementary school, rescinding its earlier approval, demonstrates the hollowness of the words of the Commissioner when it comes to talking about community engagement.
In Massachusetts, the state’s two largest health systems, Mass General Brigham and Beth Israel Lahey Health, each reported multimillion-dollar operating losses from the three months ending in June, according to the Boston Globe.
Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest employer, reported a $120 million operating loss. Beth Israel Lahey Health reported a $$60.5 million operating loss for the quarter that ended in June.
The culprit: severe labor shortages, particularly for nurses, and the inability to discharge patients as quickly as before, because of staffing shortages at skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers. Which reporter will be the first to ask the candidates running for Governor in Rhode Island what their solution is to the current health workforce crisis in the state?

PART Three

PROVIDENCE – The mayoral candidate’s forum held on Aug. 4 at the Jim Gillen Teen Center was a remarkable event, at which the three Democratic candidates running to become Mayor of Providence engaged in verbal skirmishes for the soul of the city.

Gonzalo Cuervo, Brett Smiley and Nirva La Fortune answered questions, not from journalists, but from members of the recovery community, who also shared their own narratives as part of the questioning.

It grounded the conversations in what ConvergenceRI described as: “A level of honest dialogue far too often missing from other candidate forums and debates.”

As ConvergenceRI reported: “There was a tangible urgency to many of the questions being asked, which were not focused on abstract inquiries about future policies if elected, or economic worries about inflation and recession, but rather on heartfelt matters, on survival, on challenges where life and death hung in the balance.”

[See links below to ConvergenceRI stories, “A constituency of consequence (Part One)” and “Housing as health care; housing as a human right (Part Two).”]

In PART Three, the story picks up again with the question offered by Tarah Dorsey, a court support navigator at Weber Renew, where the issue of access of recovery housing for a now sober woman had hit a stumbling block that very day.

But before we get to Part Three, it is important to take notice of another mayoral forum held this past week, on Wednesday evening, Aug. 10, coordinated by ONE Neighborhood Builders. The neighborhood-grounded forum appeared to follow the “approach” taken by the Aug. 4 forum, with the questions posed by members of the community. The dialogue was presented in both English and Spanish.

The focus of the ONE Neighborhood Builders’ forum was on health equity, and in particular, the work of the Central Providence Health Equity Zone. UpriseRI’s Steve Ahlquist reported on the forum in his excellent, comprehensive fashion. He also captured the refusal by the Providence Public School District and R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green to allow the use of the Harry Kirzirian Elementary School for the forum.

“After telling ONE Neighborhood Builders they could use the school, the Providence Public School District rescinded permission,” Ahlquist reported. Instead, it was held outside in a public park.

Hawkins, in turn, shared her disappointment with the decision made by the powers that be who are running the Providence schools, as reported by Ahlquist.

They said no,” said Jennifer Hawkins, explaining why the event was taking place outside in a public park rather than in the school building. “I was like, ‘No. It’s not electoral politics; it’s civic engagement.’

Hawkins continued: “There is no better place than opening up school doors for civic engagement, so that residents can learn, meet one another and the candidates. So let it be on the record that I am highly disappointed in their decision.”

Engaged communities, it seems, are disrupting the status quo around what is civic engagement, demanding that the questions to candidates be asked by members of the community – and not by members of the news media.

The move away from the self-declared expertise of political reporters reflects a lack of satisfaction with the way that news stories affecting communities are being covered – and also the way that elected officials may have become too dependent on the traditional news media to uphold the story line that supports the status quo.

Lives in the balance
The questions and follow-ups by Tarah Dorsey offered a glimpse into the daily bureaucratic barriers faced by those in recovery trying to gain access to safe, affordable housing – and the dire consequences played out in domestic violence situations.

TARAH DORSEY: [court support navigator at Weber Renew] I am a person in long-term recovery. In 2013 [at the ACI], I didn’t know what recovery was. [I was introduced to recovery] by two special people: my mentor, Jim Gillen, and my sister, Holly Cekala.

When I was released [in 2014], Jim had said, “Come see me at Anchor Recovery in downtown Pawtucket.” I was released on a Wednesday; I was there on a Thursday. I volunteered for about six months. Holly and Jim [then] hired me part-time.

And then, I will never forget, it was a Tuesday And Jim called, he had cancer, he asked, “How’s that full-time position doing you?” I said, “Full time? I don’t have full time.”

“What do you mean you don’t have full-time? I told them two weeks ago to give you full time.” I got full time. That was on a Tuesday. He passed away that Saturday.

And I always told Jim, I’m going to make you proud. He said. “I know you will.”

I have a question written, but I do want to ask another question.

Today, Kevin Johnson and I went to Rhode Island Housing to advocate for a young lady on her housing appeal. She advocated well for herself.

I spoke to her counselor. Kevin Johnson spoke, and the person from Rhode Island Housing said, “I see some charges here, miss.” He said, “Domestic violence. And, I see you have a drug charge from not even a year ago.”

She explained to him, she has been in recovery. She’s doing well.

She was living in a hotel with her son. Going to work every morning, at her job. Taking two buses to work. Dropping her son off at her mother’s.

The person from RI Housing said: “I can ignore the domestic violence charge. But, on the drug charge, I have to be fair to everyone. So, I cannot ignore that charge. I really can’t let that slide.”

I asked her, how much drugs did you have? She said: The amount was not even enough to use; it was residue. But because it was her third offense, it was charged as a felony.

Kevin and I said: If you [can] pay that domestic charge no mind, why did you have to look at this residue of drug use?

She has a substance use disorder. There’s four parts to recovery, in the recovery cabinet: a safe home, support, purpose, community. She has them all. Please give her a safe home for her and her child.

My question is: Now she and her son may not qualify for housing, despite the fact that she is in recovery and doing well. For a person trying to make a life in recovery, as mayor, can you change that?

SMILEY: We can absolutely fight for a lady like that. And I would fight for a woman like that. The policy change will require the Rhode Island Housing board to change that policy.

Those board members are appointed by the Governor, and the Mayor has political power to make changes like that, not unilateral power. You can’t just decide what needs to be done. But we have the responsibility to advocate for people in our city. The Mayor, in order to be effective, needs to have a working relationship with the Governor, to be able to speak with conviction on issues that are important. Those are his, and maybe in the future, her appointees, to that board, to make that policy change. But, this is where we need a mayor who understands, who is willing to be an advocate, who is willing to use the power of the office to fight for policy changes, and to share real contextual powerful stories, about why policies need to change.

And, I am sorry that that door was closed today, but hopefully, it doesn’t need to be closed for too long. And, I know that the work that RICARES does and others can help lead an effort, and the Mayor should be a part of that, frankly, it shouldn’t wait until the election. The current Mayor should work on that. The three of us should commit to working on that, to make that change. [applause]

BOLOGNA: Is the decision final yet?

DORSEY: Kevin, when should we have an answer [on her case]?

JOHNSON: Within 10 days.

SMILEY: I think you know how to reach all of us, and I hope you will keep us posted.

BOLOGNA: Tarah, that’s a call to action. Jim taught you well.

LaFORTUNE: Tarah, it’s not that we should. We have to. And, I will write a letter of support, to support this process, and ensure that this young person, this young woman, has access to housing.

There are a couple of issues that seem clear. One, the [Governor] is the person who appoints the board members, especially when it comes to housing. We need to create a more equitable process, where community members are also part of the decision-making process. It needs to be more inclusive. Two, we have to break down these barriers.

This is not the first time I have heard stories like this. I’ve shared this story in the past. This woman I met, Sherbert Strawberry Maddox. I met her on Elmwood Avenue. I will never forget. I met her, and we started talking, and I told her I was running for Mayor, and she got really excited, and she told me that she was trying to get her life together, she was trying to get housing, but she was facing various barriers.

And then, about a month or two later, I learned in the news that she had been killed, by her boyfriend, her live-in boyfriend. And he stuck her body in a refrigerator. Like she was an item.

We have to dismantle these policies, because people should not have to relive the traumas that they have experienced. And, also, when you are on the road to recovery, the system has to always offer support back.

And, the system doesn’t do that. So, I am committed to, as a City Council person right now, to figure out how I can support her, but also as Mayor, to figure out how we can dismantle those additional barriers that prevent people from having access to a basic human right, which is housing. If people don’t have access to housing, it can lead to that. And, we have to change that. I am committed to that.

CUERVO: The case that you mentioned, there are two parts to that. The first part are the regulations at Rhode Island Housing that, absolutely anybody who has any sense of leverage or power or authority, should be advocating to change those regulations.

The second part is that the mayor has significant authority and control over the way that misdemeanors are charged and prosecuted by the police. And here in Providence, we have this unique situation where the police will charge folks with misdemeanors and the police [are] also charged with prosecuting the case.

And that, to me, is unconstitutional. It is unacceptable. And, we have had incidents where people are charged with resisting arrest but they were never told what the initial reason for the arrest was. It makes no sense.

And, the Mayor has almost unilateral control over these policies. And, this is something that we have to look at. Because, your friend who was charged with possession for having residue, and because it was the third charge, as you indicated, it rises to the felony level. But there never should have been a third charge.

And, in this particular case, in the city of Providence, the Mayor, has significant power over the policies that determine who gets charged for a misdemeanor, and whether or not it is prosecuted, and how these policies move forward. [applause]

DORSEY: There are significant intersections between behavioral health disorders and the criminal justice system. We see almost daily evidence of discrimination by the police toward people who have problems with alcohol and other substances.

Follow-up question: The R.I. Department of Health surveyed 189 people who witnessed an overdose in the past year. But only 16 people reported police officers using naloxone. How will you address and minimize the situation?

I am going to say it again. In the past year, 189 people were surveyed, who witnessed an overdose. Only 16 people reported police officers using naloxone. How will you address this and minimize this discrimination?

LaFORTUNE: So, this seems like a two-part question. One, we should not be criminalizing anyone who’s suffering from behavioral health disorders. And, that is why I worked to create the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Initiative for nonviolent crises, with these types of crises, so people are not handcuffed, because they are experiencing behavioral health crises, homelessness, or mental health crises. So, that someone – a trained worker – can intervene and implement whatever tool or resources need to be implemented. But also, connect people to the services for continuing care.

Because, many people, particularly those of marginalized communities, historically under-represented groups, rather than get the services that they need, they find themselves in the criminal justice system, and that is something that I want to change.

And, there needs to be some additional training within public safety. Part of the reason why this program is within public safety is, one, we also need to have a mechanism where when someone calls 911, it may be it’s for a police incident, maybe it’s for a fire, but we also should say, if it’s for a behavioral crisis, so that way people can be directed to interventions.

As Mayor I will ensure that this program is expanded and funded, so that we can have 24-hour response services. And also, implement some training within public safety, whether it’s firefighters, EMS, or a police officer. What this does is it frees officers to do their job, and address the crime, the real crime, and then, someone who is trained to address these situations, can go out and do it in an empathetic [manner] but also approach it from an diversity, equity and inclusion lens.

SMILEY: On so many of the topics tonight, I think part of the answer includes the continued work to de-stigmatize addiction. I was proud to be a part of passing the state’s Good Samaritan law, which is a start. I think that it is critical, I think it is important we continue, as I mentioned earlier, the Providence Safe Stations program. And I think the training for our public safety personnel is also vitally critical, not just in the academy but on an ongoing basis. I think that training needs to include a component around recovery.

I know it is uncomfortable for some members of the audience tonight that there are members of our police department here. But I am glad that they are here. So many of the police interactions is when we are in “active” addiction, which is not always a positive experience, for either party. And, they need to also see and build relationships with people in recovery, to see the other side of it, to see that we can recover.

And I think that’s how we tap some of this empathy that keeps being discussed, is to see that recovery is possible, to see people get better, sometimes the same people [where there] may [have been] a previous interaction, to understand the journey of recovery that is available to all of us, and to have that as part of the ongoing training as well, not just with new recruits but throughout their career in law enforcement.

I think that the continued leadership from the Mayor’s office, which [addresses tonight’s]  first question, which is how do you expect to encourage – and what is your commitment to hiring people in recovery as part of your administration – and how do we ensure that this continues.

As a person in long-term recovery myself, if I am there, [my commitment is] to ensure that there are people in long-term recovery in senior leadership positions, so that that continues to be part of the culture of city government, to provide that leadership, that ongoing guiding light, to make sure that everyone who has had interactions with the community knows about recovery and can help with the continued de-stigmatization.

I don’t think that that is ever going to be a destination, that’s a journey that we are just going to stay on, but we need to stay committed to. [applause]

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: All of you have stated you support crisis intervention programs. The solution involves linking people in crisis to our already overburdened social service sand community organizations. Many of them are in the room right now. QUESTION: How will these programs be developed and function? How do you view the role of the Healthy Communities Office and the Providence Behavioral Health Taskforce?

CUERVO: The city has, as we mentioned repeatedly around supportive housing, around a lot of other issues that have been talked about tonight. The city, and particularly the Mayor’s office, have a lot of resources at its disposal. There is everything from community development block grant money that is given to nonprofit organizations that do this kind of work, to funding sources and funding mechanisms and entities, like the Providence Redevelopment agency and Providence Housing Authority, to build supportive housing, but there is also the real soft power of the Mayor’s office, the bully pulpit, the ability to persuade and to lead.

If you really look at executive positions, like the Mayor and the Governor and the President, the power doesn’t lie so much in making decisions as it does in power of persuasion.

Getting phone calls returned… Being able to line up business leaders, civic leaders, cand ommunity leaders, to support initiatives that are important, that otherwise might not get the attention. That’s the significant power – that’s what we call soft power, right.

That soft power is sometimes not used, or sometimes it can be used for the wrong reasons, for reasons that ultimately generate profits for individuals... We need to leverage that soft power to focus on humans, on people. We need to put people first.

The city is not going to have all the answers. None of us have all the answers. We are never going to be flush with cash to write a check for a zillion dollars. That is never going to happen. Ever. Not in our lifetime. But, we have many tools at our disposal to effect change. [applause]

LaFORTUNE: I alluded to that earlier when I mentioned how the crisis response intitiative which connects people to services, for continued support, but a lot of these services and organizations are bursting at the seams.

The city actually does snot have a lot of financial resources. We have a significant pension obligation. Everyone is competing. Almost every single nonprofit is competing for the community block grants.

And, also, there are restrictions with it. I think, we as a city, and what I would do as Mayor, is to prioritize. Make sure we prioritize allocating x amount of dollars to these funds, but also, again, working with public health, elevating healthy communities to be advocates.

And, this is where data plays a role. Because there is the qualitative data which is the [narrative], which everyone who asked a question shared, which is powerful, but we also need to have quantitative data, that shows the impact, the need, so that we get the support from all of the community.

So, for me, as Mayor, I will make sure that I will prioritize it. That there is funding that is directly allocated for these types of services to help organizations expand.

Work with the state to maximize these funds, but also work with Healthy Communities to identify resources that may be outside of the state as well.

And figure out how we can also hold our nonprofits accountable. We have some major nonprofits that are not paying taxes on land, so any non-mission-driven property, they should be paying taxes and also working to help [reduce] some of our disparities that exist within the city.

Which includes health disparities across the board, and mental and behavioral health as well as education, among other things. So, I will commit to doing that work and prioritizing it. And, I think one of the challenges for the city and the state is that we have not prioritized this. And, we need to do a better job. [applause]

SMILEY: So we all have spoken favorably about the behavioral health response teams. And this diversion program.

But it is a pilot. And part of the reason it is a pilot is to see where the gaps are. It breaks down into ensuring that there is someone to call, that there is someone to respond, and that there is someplace to go.

There is now someone to call. Not just 911 but also the new federal government’s 988, which we need to continue to educate people on. And, by the way, as Rhode Islanders, we should be very proud, because what was Rhode Island’s BH/Link is very much embedded in what is now the nationwide 988.

And, we should be proud of that as a policy leader on the national level. There is someone to call. For the most part, there is someone to respond. Through 988, we need to do a better job of making sure that there is someone to respond locally at 911, at all hours.

The gaps are going to come with somewhere to go. And that’s what this pilot is for, to understand where there are gaps in the referral network, where we are short; we know that there are going to be shortfalls. And that is where the resources need to go.

The Mayor needs to be – and this is broader than just the diversion program, but generally speaking, the Mayor of Providence, which has always had resource constraints, a shortage of money, needs to be a master at trying to both maximize getting resources, trying to marshal as many state resources as possible, bring foundations and philanthropies to the table, to, as a community, fill these gaps.

And, some funding may come from the city, and some may come from the state, and some may have to come from the Rhode Island Foundation, to fill these gaps. And so, that’s why this pilot is so important, to see where the gaps exist, and then to triage, like the work that everyone who is working hard as a provider in this room, who is running a nonprofit, is doing on a daily basis. On a city level, in the Mayor’s office, it’s just a bigger scale, but it’s a very similar challenge. And, so, that’s where I’ll be focused. [applause]

BOLOGNA: We have time for one more question.

PAT FORD: Pat Ford, Coalition Radio Network. There is an old-timey cartoon [“Pogo”] which says: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” All of you have spoken provocatively this evening about the need for, not just low-income housing, but workforce housing. At the same time, the state of Rhode Island’s [collaboration] with the city of Providence continues to skew the market by awarding large tax stabilization agreements.

QUESTION: Do any of you pledge to end tax stabilization agreements if you are elected Mayor of Providence?
SMILEY: Thanks, Pat. I know your perspective. I think we all hope that we can continue to talk about the recovery community and the needs of our community, but to answer your question: No, I am not willing to pledge an end to tax stabilization agreements.

We talked about the need for more housing in our community. We need to continue to build more housing in our city. And, because of the uncompetitive nature of our tax structure, it is infeasible to build new housing in our city without subsidies.

What we can do, and what I’m committed to doing, is to respect taxpayers, to make sure that we are subsidizing programs in development where real families can live, and not just college kids, where we incorporate things like workforce and low-income housing. Where we have safeguards in place to make sure when there are cost overruns, that developers are not taking advantage of the city.

And, where we are ensuring that any proposed development with a subsidy never pays less than it pays on day one.

What we are talking about is turning a vacant, abandoned building or an empty piece of land into something new that can create housing or jobs in our community, and they never actually pay less than they would have paid if the project never got built.

I think those are responsible safeguards. I think that is the reality of where we are at, with respect to our taxes in Providence. And that is the only way we are going to grow as a community.

FORD: Right now, the city of Providence, under the current administration, has allegedly agreed to give a very wealthy developer who is the possessor of a historically epically failed real estate investment, the Superman Building, millions of dollars for a city that clearly should have other priorities. Follow-up question: Are any of you willing to walk back that contribution to a failed, private real estate investment, which, in one candidate’s estimation, has no potential whatsoever to add truly affordable housing?

LaFORTUNE: That’s a debate about what the different levels of what is affordable housing – 60 percent, 80 percent, 120 percent AMI [average median income].

I also alluded to this a little earlier, that the AMI a lot of times, when the developers say it’s affordable housing, it’s not truly affordable. An 80 percent AMI – average median income – most people in practice, can’t afford that.

Because, when you think about the average household median income, it’s about $40,000. Most people at 80 percent AMI would bring you to $70,000, something like that.

So, we need to have a truly affordable infrastructure. In terms of the TSA, the tax stabilization agreement is a tool. We have one of the highest commercial tax rates in the nation. It is quite difficult to build affordable housing. Compound that with a zillion policies and how difficult our city and state makes it for investment.

What I have introduced, and what I want to pass in Providence City Council, is a residential tax stabilization agreement.

And, the AMI would be broken down and the length of your incentive would be based on the AMI, the lower that it is, to make it truly affordable. Then you might get maybe a 15- or a 10-year tax stabilization agreement.

And so, it is about prioritizing affordable housing, because you can’t address behavioral health and mental health crises in our city without ensuring that people have a place to live, and that they have services.

So, affordable housing has always been a priority of mine, it will continue to be a priority, but also I will work to support legislation to create more affordable housing opportunities, across the board, from zero- to moderate-income housing.

Finally, I voted against the Fain Tower, because the market didn’t call for that. It wasn’t an equitable and open, transparent [deal].

CUERVO: The TSA, the tax stabilization agreement is along-term agreement between the city and the developer, about how much tax you are going to pay over that period of time.

This is a tool that has been used to spur development all over the United States. The problem is that in Rhode Island, particularly Providence, it’s the only tool that has been used. It has become a crutch. We talk about having an economic development toolbox, [but when] you open it up, the only tool inside is a TSA.

And, that’s what we have to get away from. Because these TSAs have been used to the point where wealthy developers and their well-connected lobbyists know that the first thing they’re going to do, before they open their mouth about any new construction, is to negotiate a TSA.

We have examples on College Hill, right off of Thayer Street, of developments, excellent developments that were built, with zero TSAs. So, it is false that this is the only way that you can build.

The TSA is a tool and we need to get away from using that tool. Yes, there are opportunities [using] TSA models to build affordable housing. Yes, there are opportunities for people to develop in Providence without TSAs

But what we should be doing is figuring out how to reallocate our resources and how to improve the delivery of city services, so that we don’t have to rely on that single crutch that we relied on for the last [few]  years.

Guess what has happened in the past? People who got TSAs 20 years ago, their TSAs were about to expire, so they went back to the city and said, “Oh, poor me, I can’t sustain my business without keeping the taxes at that level,” so the TSA were renewed.

Now that we have gradually reducing TSAs, they come out with a new scheme that says, “Oh, we’re going to turn part of our building into student housing,” and that way they can qualify for a state program that continues to subsidize their taxes while people like you and me, for ownership of a single family house, we get no TSA, we get no tax breaks, we get nothing. We pay the full bill. And that really sucks. [applause]

BOLOGNA: Let’s wrap up the theme of tonight. Question: If you become the next mayor of Providence, how will you support the recovery community?

SMILEY: Thank you. And thanks to everyone who stuck with us, I know its been a little bit long, and a little bit warm in the room. This is so important, and so personal to me, as a person in long-term recovery.

The recovery community will have a champion and an advocate in the mayor’s office. We have an obligation to save lives lives in our community and to ensure that we do everything possible to work with community partners to make sure that a path to recovery is available to all, whenever they might be ready to find that path.

We have talked about a lot of very topical discussions tonight, but I do want to touch on, because you all full-functioning people in the world, and my campaign is about more than just recovery, it includes improvements in our public schools, it includes the development of more affordable housing, and better delivery of city services in our city.

I am proud to have served as Gov. Raimondo’s chief of staff, the state’s director of administration, and the city’s first chief operating officer.

I’ve got experience that prepares me to be ready to lead on day one, and [I am] so excited to get to work in our great city. I am asking for your vote on election day, as Alison pointed out at the beginning, there is table in the back, please register to vote, your vote matters more than ever, [applause]

LaFORTUNE: So, I do not have fancy titles in state or city government. In fact, my role in City Council is the first time I have been involved in government.

But I am the daughter of missionaries, so I was taught from a very young age that you have to do the work, but you also have to understand and learn from the community that the work impacts.

From the time I was a student at Mt. Pleasant High School, I was going into the prisons, , I was going into juvenile detention, talking to our teens who were incarcerated, and figuring out how we can better support them.

I did that throughout my time in college, at Temple University, going into the State Penitentiary.

And, also when I moved back home to Providence to raise my children, evrry semester pre-pandemic I would co-teach a class in Minimum [Security Prison at the ACI], and also the work that I have done to [address] the crisis response for this group.

All of my work has been informed by the community and the people that I have talked to. As Mayor, I am committed to serving the community. I am committed to doing the work, and that’s the type of Mayor we need, someone who has the professional as well as the lived experience – but also [someone] who is going to bring the voices of people to City Hall. Thank you so much for having me. [applause]

CUERVO: Thank you all for coming out today. I am running for Mayor because I want to close the opportunity gap in our city, an opportunity gap that continues to widen and continues to limit the growth of our city and the potential of the people who live in the city at every level.

Our lives that we live, we don’t choose the paths that were taken and we have arrived at this moment through widely diverse paths. And some of us have suffered a lot, and some of us haven’t suffered that much.

But ultimately, we are our brother’s keeper. We are responsible for each other. And, if we are a city and we are a community, and we want to grow together, we need to invest in people; we need to put people first.

And that is what really motivated me to run, and that is why I know, that when I am Mayor, we’re going to put people first, and we’re going to make sure that folks who are on the road to recovery, people who are in long-term recovery, people that need support services in order to succeed, in order to lead fulfilling, happy lives, will receive those services. And they will receive those services because the administration will represent their interests at every level, at every level. Policy makers, people who decide where the money is spent, not just in public relations.

That’s what I propose, that is what I’m going to accomplish as Mayor. Thank you. [applause]

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