PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gonzalo Cuervo has been working in politics a long time, but he’s never held elective office.

Cuervo is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, along with Brett Smiley and Nirva LaFortune. The winner of their primary contest is all but certain to be the capital city’s next mayor since no Republicans or independents have qualified for the ballot.

A former aide to Mayors Angel Taveras and David Cicilline, as well as former deputy to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Cuervo says his top priority if he wins the election will be closing what he calls the “opportunity gap” in Providence.

“Our city is on two divergent paths,” he said during an interview for this week’s series of Pulse of Providence conversations with all three mayoral candidates. “There’s one Providence where people are upwardly mobile and doing amazing things in the world, and there’s another city for people who are in survival mode and being priced out of their neighborhoods.”

Cuervo trails behind Smiley in fundraising numbers, with $256,000 in the bank as of the last fundraising deadline compared to Smiley’s $615,000. But he’s not overly concerned about catching up.

“The ground game has beat the money game every single time in the 21st century,” Cuervo said of the last three open mayoral races. He said his campaign’s internal polling shows a “heated race” between him and Smiley.

Cuervo said he opposes the proposal to create a half-elected, half-appointed Providence School Board, which the City Council is expected to place on the ballot for voters this fall.

“I think that hybrid proposal would not be effective,” Cuervo said. “I’m for an elected School Board. But this hybrid approach is kind of a wishy-washy solution that doesn’t change anything.”

Cuervo also said he wants to eliminate the job of public safety commissioner, and said it would be a priority to hire a fire chief if elected. (Providence hasn’t had a fire chief since 2015.)

Incumbent Mayor Jorge Elorza hasn’t yet weighed in on the race, and Cuervo said he has not asked for the mayor’s endorsement.

“I have not,” Cuervo said. “We have not had a chance to speak in a very long time.”

He did say he’s supporting Nellie Gorbea, his former boss, for governor this fall.

The mayoral primary is Sept. 13. Early voting at City Hall starts Aug. 24, and those who want to vote by mail must request a mail ballot by Aug. 23.

In the above video, Gonzalo Cuervo talks one-on-one with 12 News reporter Steph Machado on Pulse of Providence about his campaign, the city schools, the proposed pension bond and more. Below is an excerpt from the full interview. Coming up this week: interviews with Nirva LaFortune and Brett Smiley.

Steph Machado ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.