Sergio Rodriguez, left, works as an interpreter with mayoral candidates Gonzalo Cuervo, Nirva LaFortune, and Brett Smiley
at Wednesday’s Candidate Conversations forum in Providence. Photo Steve Ide/ONE|NB
PROVIDENCE—About 65 people turned out Wednesday evening at Father Lennon Park to hear the three candidates for mayor of Providence during “Candidate Conversations,” a ONE Neighborhood Builders hosted forum in the heart of the city.
Three residents asked mayoral candidates Gonzalo Cuervo, Nirva LaFortune, and Brett Smiley a series of questions, ranging from health care, public safety and policing, affordable housing, education, to child care.
Jennifer Hawkins, Executive Director of ONE|NB, introduced the candidates and explained how important issues are to everyone in the city, particularly in the 02908 and 02909 zip codes, where ONE|NB serves as the backbone of the Central Providence Opportunities: A Health Equity Zone.
“If you live in Smith Hill, your life expectancy is 6 years less than if you live in College Hill, and that has nothing to do with whether you see your doctor or take your medication,” she said. “It’s because of issues in the neighborhood whether you have access to affordable housing and quality jobs and good education. These are things that are not only important, but they actually impact your ability to live. Those are the issues that we care deeply about.”
“The most important thing we can do as residents to address these issues is to vote and be civically engaged,” she added, pointing out that voter registration was available at Wednesday’s forum.
Hawkins also railed against the Providence Public Schools Department, noting that the forum was forced to be held outside and not inside Harry Kizirian Elementary School as originally planned because the schools felt the forum was a political event. “This is not electoral politics; it’s civic engagement,” she said, “and there is no better place than by opening up school doors for civic engagement so that residents can learn and meet one another… I’m highly disappointed in their decision.”
The candidates waited for questions to be asked by residents, including Emma Villa, Karen Zuniga (from ONE|NB), and from Odys Duran, before each taking a turn and presenting their positions. At the end of the event, Hawkins asked each of the candidates to give one word to define what “community” means to them. She prompted them with her one word: Perseverance. The candidates each gave their own: Solidarity (Cuervo), Roots (LaFortune), family (Smiley).
In addition to the forum, ONE Neighborhood Builders distributed information about various resources to interested residents. Voter registration was offered, along with dinner for anyone who attended. Interpreter Sergio Rodriguez translated between English and Spanish for the residents who attended.