Their similar profiles, moreover, will only be magnified by the personal story of their rival for the Democratic nomination.
One of three children of Dominican immigrants, Taveras was raised by his mother after his parents divorced. And by the third grade, he was declaring his plans to become a lawyer.
He went on to attend the well-regarded Classical High School and, at the urging of a guidance counselor, sought admission to a math and science summer program for minority students at Philips Andover Academy that helped propel him to Harvard and, later, to Georgetown Law School.
After law school, Taveras went to work at the Providence offices of Brown Rudnick and, later, opened his own practice. “It’s the story of Providence,” he says, of his journey. “It’s the story of Rhode Island. It’s the story of America.”
And it’s a story he leavens, in the midst of a crippling recession, with frequent references to his teenage work at a Star Market. Indeed, the formal announcement of his candidacy came in front of that now-vacant grocery store, with talk of a city “hungry for jobs and opportunity.”
Here Taveras, like any politician with a pulse, attempts to connect his own experience to that of a struggling electorate. And that effort may pay dividends. But observers caution that recession-weary voters will only give so much weight to personal narrative.
Taveras, himself, is clearly aware of the demand for concrete solutions and pledges to release specific economic development proposals in the coming months. But his Democratic rivals are hoping they can do the same with more credibility.
Lombardi, a long-time City Councilman, can claim years of experience with municipal budgets. And Costantino, the chairman of the House finance committee, has been a key player in the development of state budgets.
Indeed, most observers expect Costantino to seek a marquee budget prize for the city in the coming months that could spruce up his campaign flyers and television commercials. And in the meantime, his influential post should produce a steady stream of campaign contributions.
Costantino, whose family owns Venda Ravioli on Federal Hill, can also draw on his personal wealth. He already has — over the last six months, he has poured $225,000 into his account. And his campaign reports that he had some $400,000 on hand at the end of the first quarter of the year, to Taveras’s $115,000.
But Costantino’s source of strength is also a source of weakness. In a recent Brown University poll, only 18 percent of Rhode Island voters said they had a “great deal of confidence” or a “good deal” of confidence in Democratic legislators to make the right decisions for the state’s future. And as a central figure in a series of painful, recessionera budgets, he will make for a particularly inviting target for opponents.
Lombardi, for his part, may be able to avoid some of the pitfalls of long service in public office. Indeed, he can make a credible claim to the mantle of outsider: for the last several years, he has been the most persistent critic of an increasingly unpopular Cicilline administration, dragged down by a battered economy and — more recently — a series of scandals in the police department.
Cicilline’s departure from the race will make it more difficult for Lombardi to capitalize on that record of critique. But the mayor’s shadow remains. And all of his would-be replacements will have to contend with that shadow in one way or another.
Negotiating the proper relationship with the sitting mayor’s legacy will be a particularly tricky — and important — task for the Taveras campaign.
The lawyer’s tie to the administration comes with certain advantages. Cicilline, even after eight years in office, is still a symbol of the post-Buddy “new Providence” — a Providence Taveras hopes to embody.
But the mayor has disappointed some of the progressive voters Taveras is courting. And Cicilline’s plummeting approval numbers could make him something of a liability on the campaign trail. Indeed, Taveras is already offering up a restrained critique of the administration in a bid to create some distance between the two camps.
But don’t expect him to stray too far from the Cicilline model.
Cicilline was one of the first mainstream politicians to recognize the growing force of the Latino vote, racking up big margins on a South Side that accounted for almost a quarter of the vote in the Democratic mayoral primary of 2002.
Cicilline’s big victory in the East Side, which also accounted for about a quarter of the vote, made him virtually unassailable in what turned into a wide-ranging victory. And the map he put together that year endures.
Two years ago, in a presidential primary that could serve as a sort of rough proxy for the coming mayoral tilt — the new candidate, in Barack Obama, versus the more traditional one, in Hillary Clinton — Obama’s strength on the East and South Sides allowed him to eke out a narrow victory in Providence, even as Clinton sailed to a big win statewide.
And the circumstances are, arguably, more favorable for Taveras this fall than they were for Obama in 2008. He is facing two Clinton-like figures instead of one, which could mean a splitting of the more traditional vote. And a Latino electorate leery, in some corners, of a black president would presumably be more open to a Latino mayor.
Of course, Taveras has a long way to go if he is to inspire the devotion of an Obama. He is still a little-known figure. He is affable, but no powerhouse on the stump. He will probably be outspent.