Over two dozen young men and women from the club were in attendance for the gathering, which lasted for roughly an hour and included an informative question and answer session between the students and the mayor. A handful of EPHS administrators and teachers, including the club’s co-advisors Richard Martin and Gregg Amore, a state representative from District 64 in the city, were also on hand.
“We’re doing this to expose the students to the different candidates and their thoughts on the issues,” said Mr. Martin, like Mr. Amore, an EPHS Social Studies teacher. “We’re also trying to show them the difference between Democrats and Republicans. We have a Young Republican Club at the school and hopefully they’ll be doing something similar. It’s good for the kids to see the differences in the parties and to hear the views of the candidates for themselves.”
Mayor Taveras, a first-generation United States citizen of Dominican-born parents and the first Hispanic to be elected as the chief executive in the Capital City back in 2010, told the group the reason why he is a Democrat, explaining in his opinion his party helps “all” people while the opposition is concerned mainly about the few.
“Republicans tend to focus much more on themselves. They say, ‘We’ve made it. Everyone else should, too.’,” That’s not what I believe and that’s not what Democrats believe,” he said, while later reading a lengthy excerpt from former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s 1984 Democratic Convention speech as a further example.
The mayor answered a wide array of student queries, ranging from education issues to the economy to marijuana legalization and the settlement with state retirees.
Mayor Taveras, a Head Start recipient who went on to graduate Harvard and later Georgetown Law, said he will shortly release an education plan he calls “From the cradle to career.” Part of plan includes universal pre-kindergarten programs throughout the state as well as all-day Kindergarten in schools.
In response to a question about student loan debt, the mayor said he will shortly propose a scholarship plan, which will help students graduate with lower costs while also enticing them to remain in the state once they graduate.
On another school-related inquiry, the mayor said officials must do a better job to curb bullying and in identifying students with mental health issues as a means of making schools safer. He voiced his support of an assault weapons ban and on high caliber bullet magazines.
“(School violence) shakes me because I’m responsible for the kids,” Mayor Taveras said, noting he did not support metal detectors in schools but does agree with posting police officers there where necessary.
The mayor said he was in favor of giving undocumented residents driver’s licenses, noting 11 other states have done so, as well as comprehensive immigration reform. In the same vain, Mayor Taveras said he was opposed to the state’s voter identification law, saying studies show it “disproportionally affects older voters and minorities.”
The mayor, who was able to gain pension reform in Providence, said while he didn’t approve of the process the end result of the agreement reached statewide was good for taxpayers.
“I pushed for a settlement, but I’m concerned with how cities and towns are going to pay for it,” Mayor Taveras said. “But if the savings are correct, then it’s probably a good thing.”
As for the economy, the mayor said the state needs to have a targeted job training program in an attempt to fill available positions. He would do more with infrastructure in terms of rebuilding roads, bridges and schools. He said he would also seek out “advanced” manufacturing firms who specialize in unique and emerging technologies.
Mayor Taveras told a questioner he was in favor of raising the minimum wage. While no specific amount was stated, he compared the increase to the Bush-era tax rebates. “The more money people have to spend, the better it is for the economy.”
The mayor said he would be in favor of reducing the state’s sales tax, which is currently being considered by the General Assembly, but has yet to hear where cuts in spending would come if revenue declines.
On other topics, the mayor said he supported medicinal marijuana use and the decriminalization of possession for lesser amounts, but said “I’m not quite there” when it comes to all out legalization.
Mayor Taveras concluded the session by answering a question in regard to his successes and failures to date in political life.
His greatest accomplishment was building a consensus on pension reform in Providence. “We were able to get people together to bring the city back from the brink of bankruptcy.”
He said his greatest failure was in the manner in which he terminated all Providence teachers back in February 2011. “It’s my biggest regret,” he said. “It hurt my relationship with teaches in a way I’m still trying to make better.” He added, “It was very disrespectful and I regret it. But I can’t change it. I have to live with it.”
Asked what she gleaned from the experience, EPHS senior and Advanced Placement student Ally Maroto said she found the Q&A with the Mayor Taveras to be quite informative.
“I actually gained a lot,” said Miss Maroto, who will be attending Assumption College in the fall where she plans to study speech language pathology. “I got to know where he stands on issues and his views. I definitely gained a new perspective.”
The two other major Democratic candidates in the race for Governor, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell, have also committed to attend similar sessions with the EPHS Young Democrats. Those appearances are expected to take place in May.