Nirva LaFortune MA ’19 is running to be the next mayor of Providence in the Nov. 8 general election, following a Sep. 13 primary. Term limits prevent the current mayor of Providence, Jorge Elorza, from retaining his post.
LaFortune currently represents Ward 3 on the Providence City Council, serving on the Committee on Claims and Pending Suits, the Committee on the Charles V. Chapin Memorial Award and the City of Providence COVID-19 Recovery and Resiliency Task Force, according to her profile on the Providence City Council website. She is also assistant director of the Curricular Resource Center for Peer Advising.
LaFortune was born in Haiti but immigrated to the United States at the age of three to escape the Duvalier dictatorship, she told The Herald. Elected in 2017 to serve on the Providence City Council, LaFortune is the first Haitian American to hold elected office in Rhode Island, according to the Providence City Council website.
“Providence is really important to me. I grew up here, graduated from the city’s public schools and am now raising my children here,” LaFortune said. “I know what it means to not have access to certain things and the many barriers that exist for low-income families. I want to eliminate those barriers and create a more equitable city so that everyone can thrive.”
As a former undocumented immigrant who attended Pleasant View Elementary School, Nathanael Greene Middle School and Mount Pleasant High School, LaFortune aims to improve educational opportunities in the city.
“Education has been at the center of my journey. All our kids need to have a quality education, but most people in Providence can’t afford to send their children to private school,” she said.
LaFortune has made ending the state takeover of the local public school system a key part of her platform, she said, which would increase community representation on the Providence School Board, expand access to high-quality after-school programs and recruit a more diverse group of teachers for the district.
“Nirva has been a higher education administrator for more than fifteen years now. Her love for Providence is deep and real,” said R.I. State Representative Rebecca Kislak ’94 (D - Providence), who has endorsed LaFortune’s campaign. “I trust her leadership and her vision for how our public schools should be run.”
The councilwoman’s platform is also centered around making Providence more secure and lowering crime rates. LaFortune emphasized the importance of hiring officers who grew up and now live in Providence, repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and creating a diversion unit to respond to mental health crises around the city.
“As a single parent who lost someone to gun violence, I want to make sure that our city has a public safety infrastructure that is rooted in the community and reflects its diversity,” LaFortune said.
LaFortune also spoke about Rhode Island’s housing affordability crisis, noting that, as mayor, she would adopt a multi-layered approach toward reducing housing prices throughout the city.
“I still remember moving here and having to share a one-bedroom apartment with the rest of my family. I had to share a bed with my grandmother and two sisters,” she said. “Housing should be affordable for everyone in Providence — regardless of their income.”
If elected, LaFortune would look to increase access to safety shelters, use tax credits to incentivize building low-income housing units and improve protection for tenants to lower eviction rates.
“Over 40% of Providence residents are renters. We need to pass legislation that creates more pathways for home ownership and reduces income discrimination,” LaFortune added. “To make sure that our families feel secure, we need to make sure that they’re not being displaced as well.”
According to Matt Rauschenbach ’23, LaFortune’s campaign manager, her mayoral campaign is a historic opportunity to change the face of leadership in both Providence and Rhode Island. “Nirva is uniquely qualified to meet the needs of this city’s working families,” he said. “We have the chance to elect the city’s first woman and first Black mayor and to truly reshape politics in the state.”
“We need to continue raising money, meeting with small business owners and community leaders and keep knocking on as many doors as possible before the elections,” Rauschenbach added. “I’m excited and I think we have a good chance here,”
LaFortune underscored that she, or whoever serves as Providence’s next mayor, must “work collaboratively with the city council.”
“We don’t always have to agree, but the priority is the city of Providence,” she said. “If we can work toward the common goal, which is the people, we can get a lot of things done.”