PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence Teachers Union has endorsed Nirva LaFortune’s candidacy for mayor, providing a boost to the Providence public school graduate who has pitched herself as the “education mayor.”
The endorsement from the union representing the city’s nearly 2,000 teachers comes shortly after LaFortune, a Providence city councilor, released a new education plan with two weeks to go until the Sept. 13 primary. She proposed a teacher residency academy, student apprenticeship program and other measures.
Calling her “one of the most ardent supporters of Providence public schools,” the union cited the fact that LaFortune is a graduate of Mount Pleasant High School, has a degree in education policy and sent her own children to the city schools. (LaFortune’s daughter currently attends Nathan Bishop Middle School.)
“Nirva’s impressive qualifications, her unique connection with our schools and the right ideas to take our public schools to the next level after the state takeover ends, make her the clear choice for mayor,” union vice president Jeremy Sencer said in a statement.
LaFortune is running against Gonzalo Cuervo and Brett Smiley in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary for mayor, which will effectively decide the race since there are no Republicans or independents running. The teachers union also considered Cuervo for the endorsement, but did not interview Smiley.
Each of the candidates now has the backing of one of Providence’s municipal employee unions; Cuervo is endorsed by the Providence Firefighters Local 799, and Smiley is endorsed by the Local 1033 union that represents city workers and some non-teacher school employees. The union representing Providence police officers, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3, has not endorsed a candidate in the race.
The teachers union has had an icy relationship with the current mayor, Jorge Elorza, who has blasted the teachers contract as an impediment to change. When the city still controlled the schools, the teachers protested outside Elorza’s events during contentious contract negotiations.
“With Nirva LaFortune as the next mayor of Providence, we will truly have a partner at City Hall, instead of an adversary,” Sencer wrote.
The union has also lambasted the state takeover of the public school system, led by state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. LaFortune referred to the takeover as “disastrous” in her education plan and said the schools should return to city control, though she hasn’t said exactly when she thinks it should end.
The union cited that promise in their endorsement of LaFortune, while also listing a series of actions – from pushing to replace an elementary school roof to serving on a high school design team — they say she has taken to directly impact the public schools.
“As a proud Providence Public Schools graduate, I am so incredibly honored to have the support of Providence’s teachers, my teachers, and my children’s teachers,” LaFortune said. “We need a mayor who knows that collaboration and consensus-building are critical to ensuring our children receive the quality of education that they deserve.”
Early voting has already begun in the primary election, with 379 voters casting ballots in Providence so far. Another 750 voters have returned mail ballots to the Board of Elections.
Sencer said the union would campaign for LaFortune by making calls and knocking on voters’ doors.