Providence public safety retirees back Witman for mayor

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A group that represents more than 1,500 retired Providence police officers and firefighters voted unanimously Monday to endorse independent Dianne “Dee Dee” Witman for mayor over incumbent Democrat Jorge Elorza.

Tom Johnston, who serves as president of the Providence Police and Firefighters’ Retirement Association, said Witman made a presentation to the group shortly before more than 40 members voted to support her.

“She understands the seriousness of having close to 49% of property off the tax roll and how that adversely affects everyone,” Johnston said, referring to buildings and parking lots owned by the city’s nonprofit colleges and hospitals. Witman has pledged to revisit the city’s relationship with its nonprofits.

Witman, a first-time candidate, has also won the endorsement of the city’s police union and is seeking support from the Providence Teachers Union, whose members have been working without a contract for more than 400 days. Other labor groups, like the firefighters’ union, have not endorsed a candidate for mayor.

Elorza has drawn criticism from retirees for not talking to them before suggesting the city will a seek a “grand bargain” with stakeholders to address an unfunded pension liability that is hovering around $1 billion. Johnston said Elorza has never contacted his organization to discuss his vision.

David Allard, Elorza’s campaign manager, confirmed the mayor did not attend the meeting with the retirees Monday evening.

Johnston acknowledged many of his members no longer live in the city, but he said he’s hopeful the organization can still provide a boost to Witman’s campaign

“A good majority of them don’t live in Providence, but a good majority of them have kids and relatives that do live in the city,” he said.

Elorza and Witman are scheduled to debate on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers Friday morning. Jeffrey Lemire, an independent, is also running for mayor.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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