PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Polls opened at 7 a.m. for the special election primary in Providence’s Ward 10, where four Democrats are vying for the City Council seat left open following the resignation of longtime Councilman Luis Aponte.
Orlando Correa, Pedro Espinal, Monica Huertas and Natalia Rosa Sosa are competing in the Democratic primary. The winner will take on independent Jeffrey Lemire in the general election on Nov. 5. (There are no Republicans running).
The competitive race has been marked by rival endorsements, allegations of mail ballot impropriety and outside influences from stakeholders who have interests in Washington Park and Lower South Providence.
The ward includes the Providence port, along with the industrial area of Allens Avenue where the chairman of the Providence Board of Licenses recently floated the idea of concentrating nightclubs.
- WATCH: Meet the primary candidates for the Ward 10 council race
- MORE: Ward 10 candidates debate the issues
- VOTERS: Find your polling place
Huertas, a social worker, has focused her campaign on cleaning up the port, along with other environmental issues, earning her the endorsement of progressives and the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus. She describes herself as an activist, and has spoken about being a teenage mother and briefly homeless before ultimately graduating college.
Espinal, a real estate investor, has touted his business experience and longevity in the ward on the campaign trail. He was endorsed by the Young Democrats of Rhode Island, who cited Espinal’s decision to challenge the incumbent Aponte in last year’s election rather than wait for the seat to be open. (Espinal lost with 49% of the vote).
The Providence Republicans also said they were supporting Espinal, which he immediately denounced.
Rosa Sosa, a law assistant, has said she caught the bug for civic life when she marched in Washington with her mother as a child. She is a former member of the Providence School Board and has said she is focusing on affordable housing, better schools and infrastructure.
Correa, a union iron worker, has been endorsed by numerous unions including the IAFF Local 799 Providence Firefighters, the UNAP Local 5098 nurses union and the Rhode Island Building Trades Council. He’s the only candidate from the Lower South Providence section of the ward, and argues that neighborhood is due for better representation, since Aponte was from Washington Park.
Correa has also raised the most money in the race, in part thanks to that union backing.
The race has become heated at times, particularly between Espinal and Rosa Sosa, with both campaigns accusing the other of bad mail ballot behavior at the same apartment complex where they were canvassing for votes.
Rosa Sosa has well-known political operative Luis Estrada as her field director, who is known for his get-out-the-vote ground game.
Espinal has also been criticized for having $93,000 in back taxes owed to the city, while Rosa Sosa had unpaid ethics fines at the beginning of her campaign that she has now paid off.
Turnout, including the number of mail ballots returned, could be a major factor in a race that typically garners fewer than 1,500 votes.
In the 2018 Democratic primary between Aponte and Espinal, 1212 voters cast ballots, including 80 mail ballots.
City spokesperson Emily Crowell said 155 mail ballots have been received by the Board of Canvassers for Thursday’s primary.
The polls are open until 8 p.m. Thursday. The two polling places are Washington Park Community Center at 42 Jilllson St. and the John H. Rollins Rec Center at 325 Ocean St.