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RI POLITICS

Mayor Elorza says he will not run for Rhode Island governor

In an email to supporters, Elorza wrote that over the last year, two things have “weighed most heavily” on his mind while considering to run for a statewide office

Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza
Providence Mayor Jorge O. ElorzaAlexa Gagosz/ Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza announced Wednesday that he has decided to not run for governor in 2022.

In an email to supporters, Elorza wrote that over the last year, two things have “weighed most heavily” on his mind while considering to run for a statewide office.

“The reality is that it would be impossible to devote myself full-time to a statewide campaign while at the same time giving my full attention to the work of running the city,” he wrote. “There is simply too much to do to keep the city moving forward each day.

He said secondly, as a parent of a young child, he “must prioritize family.”

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He wrote, “Simply put, committing myself to a statewide campaign while at the same time fulfilling my responsibilities as Mayor and parent is not possible.

Elorza also cannot run for re-election as mayor again due to term limits, but clarified that he is not considering running for any other office “at this time, but perhaps the conditions will be right at some point in the future.”

Elorza’s exit from the race with restructure the potentially crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary.

He said in his email to supporters that he had been thinking of running for more than a year, but did not announce his official campaign as General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz have. Governor Dan McKee previously said that he will formally announce his campaign in early 2022.

Elorza and McKee have had several public disputes, leading some to wonder whether the Mayor was establishing a position in the gubernatorial race.

In late July at a press conference to promote WaterFire, Elorza confronted McKee, taking him to task about the then-newly proposed Providence Teachers Union contract.

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“This is too important for you to play the coward’s role on this,” Elorza said, according to video from WJAR, repeatedly pointing his finger at McKee, who kept his hands in his pockets. “You gotta face the community on this! You gotta face the community. This is too important.”

A plainclothes security officer inserted himself between the two elected officials, and moved the mayor away, telling him to “back off.”

A few days later, a group of ATV and dirt bike riders dragged a woman out of her car and beat her while she was sitting at a traffic light in the Smith Hill neighborhood of Providence. The woman’s 8-year-old daughter, her puppy, and a friend were in the car when the incident occurred.

As lawmakers called for action, Elorza was on vacation in New Hampshire on a pre-planned trip with his family, which drew further scrutiny that he wasn’t in the city while high-profile crimes were occurring this past summer. The Providence City Council moved to bypass Elorza, reaching out directly to McKee to ask him to help stop crime in Providence.

Most recently, Elorza has come under fire for appointing the city’s recreation director, Michael Stephens, who is a civilian, to a police major position within the Providence Police Department, possibly jeopardizing the department’s state and national accreditation.

Despite recent battles, Elorza had been thinking about higher office at the end of 2019 when he still had three years left as Mayor in the state’s capital city. He told the Globe then that he was considering a run for governor, and was weighing his ability to raise the funds necessary to compete in the race. According to the latest filings, Elorza has $1.14 million in his campaign account.

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Elorza, 44, is a former law school professor with a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School, and the son of Guatemalan immigrants.

He had been appointed to the Providence Housing Court in 2010, where he replaced former Providence mayor Angel Taveras, and then entered the mayoral race in 2014 for his first go at elective office.

He was tasked with going up against Buddy Cianci, a two-time felon who had led the city for more than two decades, who was attempting one more political comeback. While Cianci had his share of supporters from when he served as mayor from 1975 to 1984 and again from 1991 to 2002, his critics feared a return of a culture where backroom deals and having to “know a guy” was a pathway to get things done.

Elorza, inexperienced in politics at the time, was seen as the “anti-Cianci” candidate, which ultimately paid off when he defeated Cianci by 52 percent to 45 percent.

In 2018, he easily won re-election for a second term, as mayor.

Several candidates have announced or are expected to announce a run to succeed Elorza as mayor, which include former director of the state department of administration Brett Smiley, City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune, Democratic political operative Gonzalo Cuervo, and former Providence City Council President Michael Solomon.

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Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.