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Facing term limits as Providence mayor, Elorza eyeing run for R.I. governor

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza toured Roger Williams Middle School following a recent report calling the Rhode Island's capitol city schools some of the worst in the country. (Ryan T. Conaty for the Boston Globe/File)
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza toured Roger Williams Middle School following a recent report calling the Rhode Island's capitol city schools some of the worst in the country. (Ryan T. Conaty for the Boston Globe/File)Ryan T. Conaty

PROVIDENCE – He still has three years left running Rhode Island’s capital city, but Mayor Jorge Elorza is beginning to think about life after City Hall.

In a wide-ranging interview to discuss his plans for Providence in the coming years, the second-term Democrat confirmed he is considering a run for governor in 2022 and said he’ll likely make a decision about whether to jump in the race by the end of next year.

Elorza, 43, said there are a number of factors he still has to consider, including his ability to raise the funds necessary to compete in what will likely be a crowded Democratic primary field. Incumbent Governor Gina Raimondo, also a Democrat, is term-limited in 2022.

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“I’m going to sprint to the finish line here as mayor, do everything that I can to make sure the city continues the path that it’s on,” Elorza said. “And if that door is open and I see a path by this time next year, then I’ll probably jump in.”

A former law professor at Roger Williams University, Elorza rose to prominence by defeating controversial former Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. in 2014, and then easily won a second term in office last year.

His tenure in City Hall has been marked by an ongoing effort to stabilize Providence’s finances – he’s grown the rainy day fund to its largest amount since 2008, but he’s also warned the city could face bankruptcy in 10 years if it doesn’t improve the health of its pension system – while crafting the city’s first capital improvement plan in a generation in order to map out a strategy for repairs to schools, roads and sidewalks.

Elorza spent much of his first term in office locked in bitter contract disputes with the city’s firefighters and teachers, two powerful unions that would be unlikely to support him in a run for higher office. While he identifies as a progressive Democrat who supports public employee unions, he defends his battles with city unions as an effort to find efficiencies and savings in tight budgets.

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And then there are the schools.

The Rhode Island Department of Education took control of Providence schools in November, months after a scathing report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University details widespread dysfunction in the district. At some middle schools in the district, fewer than 10 percent students are reading or doing math at grade level, according to standardized test scores.

Elorza supported the state’s intervention, but he has acknowledged he doesn’t know whether it will lead to improved outcomes for students. He has repeatedly said that there are few examples of state takeovers in the United States that have been successful over the long term.

If he does run for governor, he’ll join a long line of city leaders who have run for higher office.

The last Providence mayor to be elected to the state’s top job was Dennis J. Roberts in 1950. Cianci and former Mayors Joseph Paolino and Angel Taveras all ran unsuccessfully for governor over the last 70 years. U.S. Representative David Cicilline was elected to Congress in 2010 after serving two terms leading the capital city.

When it comes to fund-raising, Elorza is off to a strong head start on most of his peers. He already has $616,000 in his campaign account, trailing only Raimondo, state Treasurer Seth Magaziner and House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi among those who currently hold office in Rhode Island.

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Magaziner, Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea are all widely expected to run in the Democratic primary for governor in 2022.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.