PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Gov. Dan McKee criticized Mayor Jorge Elorza for confronting him about the Providence teachers contract during what was supposed to be a celebratory event Wednesday night.
Elorza and McKee were both attending a ceremonial lighting of the WaterFire basins along the Providence River as the organization announced the downtown art installation’s return to the capital city.
“I think his behavior was inappropriate,” McKee said Thursday. “We were celebrating WaterFire … I think that’s where my focus was.”
12 News cameras captured the moment Elorza approached the governor prior to the start of the event. The mayor was seen pointing in McKee’s direction and yelling, “You’ve got to face the community on this.”
The mayor was eventually separated from the governor by a member of McKee’s R.I. State Police detail. Elorza later confirmed he was trying to discuss the impending Providence teachers contract with McKee.
During a virtual media briefing Thursday afternoon, Elorza expressed his concerns regarding the lack of transparency in the process.
“I feel it is disrespectful to the entire community to not engage them on something that is going to impact them so deeply and to instead tell folks they will be engaged once all is said and done,” he said. “That’s not the way it should be and they don’t have to do it this way.”
Elorza did not answer directly when asked whether he regrets his decision to approach the governor at the WaterFire event, but said time is of the essence, especially with the Providence Teachers Union expected to vote on whether to ratify the contract Friday.
“His security detail intervened to prevent him from having this conversation,” Elorza said. “But he can’t be shielded forever. He can’t hide from this conversation … if there were different circumstances where these conversations could be had in private … then that would be it, but he’s been hiding.”
WaterFire Providence CEO Peter Mello was standing next to McKee as the confrontation occurred, and said it did not overshadow their celebration.
“I guess that’s politics,” Mello said. “To be honest with you, it was a small part of an extraordinary night for us.”
But not everyone is taking the exchange so lightly.
In a social media post, Providence FOP Lodge #3, the city’s police union, criticized the mayor and said he “doesn’t practice what he preaches.”
“It’s appalling to see an elected official having to be physically held back while he verbally berates the governor of our state,” the union said. “Perhaps Mayor Elorza should sit in on the de-escalation training that the Providence Police mandates all officers attend.”
The union said the city is “deeply embarrassed” by the mayor’s actions.
“He has brought disgrace upon our city,” the union continued. “His conduct is an awful example to our children and youth. He is clearly not fit to lead our city.”
McKee and Elorza are expected to be potential opponents in the Democratic primary for governor next year. Tensions between the two have escalated over the past couple of weeks, especially when it comes to the state takeover of Providence schools.