PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has decided not to run for governor next year, in a move that will shake up the outlook for the Democratic primary by taking a well-funded and high-profile potential candidate off the field.
In an email to supporters Wednesday, Elorza cited family obligations and the difficulties of running the city during a statewide campaign. He also said he is not considering running for any other office next year. (He cannot run for re-election as mayor due to term limits.)
“The reality is that it would be impossible to devote myself full-time to a statewide campaign while at the same time giving my full attention to the work of running the city,” Elorza wrote. “There is simply too much to do to keep the city moving forward each day. And second, as a parent of a young child, I must prioritize family. Simply put, committing myself to a statewide campaign while at the same time fulfilling my responsibilities as mayor and as a parent is not possible.”
In an interview with 12 News on Wednesday morning, Elorza said he had been considering whether to run for more than a year and saw a potential path to victory in his private polling, but ultimately determined it was not the right move.
“Running for statewide office really requires a 100% commitment, and I made a commitment to the residents of the city that I was going to be mayor for eight years, and I intend to give it my full attention and my full commitment for that eight years,” he said in the interview. “It’s just impossible to do both at a high level.”
He also acknowledged that exploring the run had already conflicted with his duties as mayor, contributing to the decision not to launch a campaign.
“You could already start to see times where I had campaign activities lined up, but duty called and I had to be pulled into something in the city,” Elorza said. “And that would just be a constant thing.”
While he insisted that the campaign’s internal polling showed a path to victory, he also acknowledged the “reality that this position, historically, has not been a launching pad to the governor’s office.”
Elorza had long been eyeing a run for governor, but appeared in no hurry to jump into the fray as other candidates began announcing their campaigns this year. He had previously said he would decide whether to run by the end of the year, and also ruled out running for any office other than governor.
“What I like about this is just putting a problem-solving hat on and fixing problems,” Elorza said during a June taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “And you can do that best at the executive level.”
Elorza has amassed more than $1 million in his campaign account, and last year hired fundraising consultant Nora Barre, whom his campaign was paying $4,000 a month, according to his campaign finance reports at the R.I. Board of Elections.
His campaign said he would look into a policy to return contributions to donors who wanted them returned. He could also spend the funds to support other candidates, or for a future run for office.
“I’m not ready to shut any doors,” he said of future political runs.
The 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary was already transformed in May by the early departure of Gov. Gina Raimondo for President Biden’s cabinet, elevating then-Lt. Gov. Dan McKee to the governor’s office and making him the incumbent in a race that was previously wide open.
McKee is already being challenged by three other Democrats who have announced campaigns thus far: Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz. McKee has said he will not formally kick off his campaign until next year. Former Secretary of State Matt Brown and former CVS executive Helena Foulkes are also seen as potential Democratic candidates.
Elorza did not immediately throw his support behind any one candidate.
“I’m sure when the time comes I’ll lend my voice to that race, but I haven’t given that more than a moment’s thought,” he said.
Elorza and McKee have clashed on several issues since the latter became governor, further fueling speculation that the mayor would challenge McKee in the primary. The disagreements included a public verbal altercation over the city teachers union contract at a ceremonial lighting of WaterFire in July.
McKee has not formally launched his campaign for his first full term, but said Wednesday he would eventually do so.
“I don’t need to get into a campaign mode at the moment when we have this really important work to do for the state,” he told reporters. “Keeping them safe, keep the economy going, get the kids back to school.”
The other announced Democratic candidates all weighed in on Elorza’s decision not to jump into the race.
“I understand all of the different factors that go in to making the decision to run for higher office,” Gorbea said. “I appreciate Mayor Elorza’s public service and respect his decision to focus on his young family and the City of Providence.”
Magaziner, who just kicked off his campaign on Tuesday, joined 12 News at 4 for a live interview Wednesday.
“It’s a difficult decision, a personal decision that everyone has to make,” he said. “My focus is going to be, over the next year, delivering our message to the people of Rhode Island which is that we need to build strong, robust economy right here in the Ocean State that really works for everyone.”
Asked if he’d seek an endorsement from Elorza, he said he wants the support of all Rhode Islanders.
A spokesperson for Muñoz said in a statement, “Dr. Muñoz is now the only candidate who understands the struggle of working families in Rhode Island, who has been raised up by diverse and marginalized communities, and who has the political courage to end cronyism, and to push back against power structures that have harmed working families and historically disenfranchised communities in Rhode Island. We welcome all support.”
Elorza is the latest in a long line of Providence mayors who have either run for governor or at least contemplated doing so. His predecessor, Angel Taveras, lost the Democratic primary to Raimondo in 2014. David Cicilline considered a bid for governor but eventually ran for Congress instead. Joe Paolino lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1990, and Buddy Cianci lost as the 1980 GOP nominee.
The last Providence mayor to become governor was Dennis Roberts, who won the job in 1950 and led Rhode Island for most of that decade.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.