PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune is hoping to move from the third floor of City Hall to the second, asking voters to elect her mayor this fall.
She faces Gonzalo Cuervo and Brett Smiley in the Democratic primary on Sept. 13, with no Republicans or independents on the ballot in November.
LaFortune may have an uphill battle over the next seven weeks; she’s in third place in fundraising and in the only poll that has been made public thus far.
But she says her personal experience as an immigrant from Haiti and single mother who has experienced homelessness sets her apart from her two competitors.
“I come with a very unique perspective,” LaFortune said during a one-on-one interview as part of a candidate series on Pulse of Providence. “Some of the challenges that our city faces, I’ve lived.”
LaFortune said when she was 19, pregnant and living in Miami, she found herself in between apartments with nowhere to sleep one night.
A coworker saw her flipping through the Yellow Pages looking for a homeless shelter, and invited her to come stay in her efficiency apartment with her daughter.
“That night, the three of us slept in the bed,” LaFortune said. “If it wasn’t for her, I would’ve been at the homeless shelter. I was bouncing from people’s couches, pregnant, without a car, until I could find a place that I could afford to live in.”
LaFortune now owns a home in Providence and works at Brown University, in addition to serving on the City Council. She won the Ward 3 seat on the East Side in a special election in 2017, after the former councilman who held the seat was recalled amid a felony indictment.
LaFortune says education is among her top priorities, and she aims to get control of the Providence schools back to the city.
“There’s been controversy after controversy,” LaFortune said of the state intervention. She didn’t give a timeline for when the schools should be returned.
“As mayor, one of the first thing that I would do is meet with the state, meet with the stakeholders, meet with the parent groups and student groups as well, to create a plan to transition our schools back to local control, but do it responsibly,” LaFortune said.
She supports the plan for a hybrid Providence School Board — half-elected, half-appointed — that’s being proposed as a charter change for voters to consider this fall.
Asked if she wants to keep Col. Hugh Clements on as the city’s police chief, LaFortune said she wants to see more diversity at the top of the department.
“We want to have a qualified police chief who is representing the police department,” LaFortune said. “If he’s not retiring right away, how do we create a pipeline so we can have someone in place to replace him when he retires?”
She noted she would prioritize having a police chief and public safety commissioner who live in Providence.
LaFortune said she has asked Mayor Elorza for his advice, but has not asked for his endorsement.
“It sounded like when we talked, he’s kind of trying to stay out of the race,” LaFortune said. “But now that we’re getting closer, maybe it’s time I push him a little bit.”
LaFortune said she hasn’t decided who to support in the race for governor, but mentioned both Nellie Gorbea and Helena Foulkes as “two women who are highly qualified.”
In the above video, Nirva LaFortune talks one-on-one with 12 News reporter Steph Machado on Pulse of Providence about her campaign, the city schools, the proposed pension bond and more. Below is an excerpt from the full interview. Coming up on Thursday: an interview with candidate Brett Smiley.