You should probably learn its name because 1) It’s the polite thing to do. 2) Her daughter doesn’t understand why, after more than four years on the board, people still can’t say her mother’s name correctly. And 3) She has a legitimate chance of winning the Democratic primary next September.
That’s not to say that she’s a lock to replace limited-time mayor Jorge Elorza. The race will have several good candidates, including Brett Smiley, Gonzalo Cuervo and former city council chairman Michael Solomon.
But LaFortune qualifies as a top contender in this crowded race because she has a message that will likely resonate in a very blue city and a realistic path to victory.
“I introduce myself as Nirva, the product of our public schools, the kid who grew up here, someone who understands the needs of our city,” LaFortune, 38, told me Monday.
His personal story is compelling. She came to the country illegally from Haiti at the age of three (she became a citizen in 2006) and attended Pleasant View Elementary School, Nathan Bishop Middle School and Mount Pleasant High School. She went to the University of Philadelphia and went on to earn a Masters degree from Brown University, where she is currently working as the deputy director from the Peer Counseling Educational Resource Center.
In the countryside, she is at her best when speaks with passion on the loss of her boyfriend when he was killed by a stray bullet in New York City. You’ll also hear her talk about the urgency she feels to fix a failing school system, which her daughter still attends (her son recently graduated from classical high school). And you will hear him point out that Providence will not reach its potential without a serious conversation about how to settle your finances once and for all.
Each candidate will have their own talking points on key issues – public safety, education, pensions. LaFortune’s perspective – as a mother, black woman, and board member – is about to stand out.
Yet, as a politician, LaFortune is truly a work in progress.
She’s been on the radar since winning a special election to represent Ward 3 on council in 2017, and she garnered more votes than any of her colleagues while running unopposed the following year. But her record on the board is unremarkable and she has struggled to form coalitions, especially during an unsuccessful bid for the board chair three years ago.
We are only in the early days of the race, but LaFortune has yet to fully clarify its positions on key issues. When I pressed her on how many police the town needs – it’s currently around 400 and Chief Col. Hugh Clements said the number should be closer to 450 – she declined to offer a number.
When it comes to schools, LaFortune knows she wants Providence to take back control of the system and its 24,000 students, but she is not ready to come up with a plan to get there. And addressing the city’s underfunded pension system, she said she was open to new employees moving to a 401 (k) type pension plan, but again she didn’t. no concrete details yet.
“Right now the most important thing is to meet people from all over town in every neighborhood,” LaFortune said.
To be fair to her, Smiley, Cuervo, and Solomon also don’t release political documents every week. But they also did not hold press conferences to officially launch their campaigns.
At this point, one year into elementary school, all applicants have three main goals: to raise funds, find validators in the form of supporters or volunteers, and take as many selfies as possible at events across town to show that you are in touch with people.
LaFortune is following the others in fundraising, but she still had $ 130,000 in her campaign account as of June 30. While no one ever turns down money, it only costs around $ 500,000 to run a competitive race for mayor of Providence, so she’s still on the right track.
Regarding the lockdown of support, LaFortune has hired a talented campaign manager in Jordan Hevenor, who was part of last year’s census campaign that helped Rhode Island retain its two seats in Congress.
The consensus right now is that LaFortune and Smiley are going to take advantage of the same East Side fan pie, but LaFortune must also be concerned about Cuervo, who has spent the last six months convincing progressive activists who have might have been inclined to support her if she had entered the race earlier.
Solomon remains somewhat of a wild card as he was last in the poll in 2014, when he lost a tight Democratic primary for mayor to Elorza. But he is quitting his job of overseeing the city’s economic development this week and has already loaned $ 250,000 to his campaign.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Solomon reminded me last week.
On this point, LaFortune, passionate about running, agrees. And when it comes to getting her name out to voters, she has one thing going for her. There are still many voters who call Elorza “Elorzo” and the last mayor, Angel Taveras, “Tavarez”.
So maybe history will be on his side.