CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — Maria Rivera was sworn in as the mayor of Central Falls on Monday, making history as the first Latina mayor in Rhode Island.
During a ceremony at Central Falls High School, livestreamed to viewers because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s hit this city especially hard, Rivera took a deep breath and reflected on the significance of the moment.
”I have hope because the incredible people in Central Falls have helped me recognize what’s important to fight for,” Rivera said.
Rivera is assuming leadership of the city as its residents and businesses struggle to navigate the coronavirus crisis. Stemming the impact of COVID-19, improving access to testing, and vaccine distribution are priorities for her new administration.
Rivera said she intends to seek more support for struggling businesses, more affordable housing and opportunities for home ownership, improvement in public schools and services that work with seniors, and to make city government more accessible and transparent to the people it serves.
Rivera had already broken barriers as the first woman and Latina to serve as City Council president. Her emphasis on diversity in her administration led her to tap Anthony Roberson, a police sergeant in Providence with two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education, as the city’s first Black police chief. Roberson was sworn in earlier on Monday.
Rivera also appointed Municipal Court Judge Joseph Molina Flynn, the first gay and first previously undocumented immigrant to hold the seat. Molina Flynn, who has an immigration and family law practice, fills the vacancy from Judge Elizabeth Ortiz, who was recently appointed as the first Latina to Rhode Island Family Court. The City Council confirmed Molina Flynn’s appointment Monday evening.
The city had come a long way since its past history of corruption and bankruptcy. Central Falls is beginning to rise, she said, with its Central Falls Landing project, new sports fields, and plans for a new commuter rail station.
”It’s a place of dreams,” Rivera said.
She admitted that she hadn’t always seen herself in this role, as the first woman to lead the city.
Rivera said she came from “humble beginnings.” Her parents came from Puerto Rico in search of a better life, she said. She learned English at school, like many students in Rhode Island. She worked part-time jobs in high school, also like many local teenagers, and kept up with her academics, she said. “All that hard work is a true blessing,” she said.
She received an associate’s degree from Community College of Rhode Island and a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Roger Williams University. She had worked as a senior eligibility technician at the state Department of Human Services.
The Central Falls City Council members were also sworn in Monday. They areMeaghan Levasseur, Ward 1; Adamaris Villar, Ward 2; incumbent Hugo Figueroa, Ward 3; incumbent Franklin Solano, Ward 4; incumbent Jessica Vega, Ward 5; Glendaliz Colon, Council-At-Large; and Tatiana Baena, Council-At-Large.
The mix of incumbent and newly elected City Council members also reflect the diversity in this city that has always been a home for waves of immigrants, said Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.
“Here we are, at an open, transparent passing of the baton, and it’s inspiring to see that energy in the incoming mayor, in her positive approach to diversity in the community,” Gorbea said. “Government should reflect the city it serves.”
In his invocation, the Rev. Eliseo Nogueras prayed for Rivera’s new administration to help Central Falls to become the “shining light up on a hill,” to be an example for the rest of the state.
“This administration will be new, and perhaps without too much experience,” Nogueras said, “but let them demonstrate when the well-being of the people we serve is at the heart of its leaders, all things are possible.”