"Gracias a todos," Angel Taveras, who will be Providence's first Latino mayor, greeted his supporters last night. "This is a historic victory for our team."
Speaking at the Rhode Island Democratic party's election-night event on the 17th floor of the Providence Biltmore, he praised the party for permitting the son of a Dominican immigrant family to triumph in the race.
But Taveras struck a more somber tone discussing the problems looming over Rhode Island's capital city, which faces budget shortfalls, high unemployment and a struggling school system. "As goes Providence, so goes Rhode Island," he said. "Together, we can make our great city of Providence even greater."
Among his supporters, optimism about his ability to rally the city's diverse population and overcome challenges prevailed.
"I'm very proud --- we as Latinos are organizing ourselves to be competent in the political process," said Marilyn Sanchez, a fellow Dominican-American who grew up near Taveras.
"He was always quiet and disciplined," added Sanchez, who campaigned for Taveras in the primary. "If you have a vision, you can be anything you want."
Later, Taveras' victory party at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel was marked by an atmosphere of excitement.
Speaking to a crowd of hundreds at the concert hall, he thanked his supporters and volunteers in both English and Spanish and especially acknowledged the support of his mother, who is currently visiting her native Dominican Republic. At the end of his speech, Taveras spoke to her on a cell phone as he leaned down from the stage to shake hands with members of the audience.
"A year ago today, who would have imagined that any of this was even possible, that this son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic would become the mayor of Providence?" Taveras said.
"Thanks to your unwavering support, dedication and talent, we assembled the greatest volunteer organization this city has ever seen," he added.
Those in attendance called him "an inspiration," "a role model" and "a champion of the people."
"I'm just so glad to be able to see history in the making," said long-time supporter Jim Vincent. "Angel Taveras is going to be the first mayor of color in Providence history."
Vincent said that much of Taveras' appeal derives from his being a Providence native and from his life story, characterized by success in the face of imposing challenges — "from Head Start to Harvard," as Vincent put it.
Taveras, an attorney and former housing court judge, was raised by his single mother in south Providence and went on to attend Harvard as an undergraduate. He earned his law degree at Georgetown University.
"It's the American dream," said supporter Tony Vasquez, a Dominican-American. But he went on to add that Taveras will face more tough challenges as mayor.
"It's going to be hard for Angel. He's in the spotlight. He's Dominican!" Vasquez said.
In an interview with The Herald, Taveras said his first projects as mayor will be fiscal ones. "First thing we've got to do is get a budget. ... We also have to address the tax increase that was recently passed by the city council," he said.
For those in attendance, improving Providence's education system and bringing more jobs to the city were top priorities.
Vasquez said that though he has a job with the city, the number of jobs in Providence is a major issue among voters. But "as long as he improves education and brings honesty, that's enough for me," he said.
In the interview, Taveras said that if the public education system can succeed for students in Harlem, it should be able to succeed in Providence as well.
"We want to make Providence a children's zone," he said.
"With respect to jobs, we're going to focus on retaining the jobs that we have, and recruiting jobs and businesses from all over the state and all over the region, and reforming the way we do business here in the state and in the city," Taveras told The Herald.
Rachel Peterson '13 volunteered for Taveras' campaign this summer. She said she was attracted to his environmental policies as well as his personality.
"I'm really happy to be having him as a mayor," she said.
–With additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer