A friend has an ad in one of those sites where you seek dates. He notes that the most important quality he values in another person is honesty. He then lists his age as 55. (He’s 73.)


A considerably younger friend takes his seat in Congress tomorrow, a freshman from Rhode Island elected to fill the retiring Patrick Kennedy’s seat.

Until moments ago, he was the two-term Mayor of Providence, reelected in 2006 with more than 80% of the vote – not bad for an openly gay mayor, I’d add – and then elected president of the association of all the Democratic mayors.

He sent supporters this exit memo of sorts, which made me even prouder to know him.

I offer it not because you likely have Providence top of mind, but because it suggests that – for all its limitations – government really can work:

Passing the Baton in Providence
Mayor David N. Cicilline

It’s funny. When you look back in time, you can see every single mile you’ve traveled, all the peaks and valleys, all the wonderful vistas you’ve enjoyed, and all of the storms you’ve weathered. When you look to the future, though, it’s natural to see blue sky, the limitless horizon, and the promise of everything that’s possible.

Eight years ago, I stood on the steps of City Hall taking the oath of office as Mayor of the City of Providence and I saw so clearly what was possible for this great city. It has been the honor of my life to serve the residents of this city as mayor. The two terms I had the privilege of leading city government spanned the most rapid progress our city has seen in generations as well as an extremely deep and painful national recession. They also coincided with the era of severe cuts to cities and towns by state government. I am extremely proud of the way our city responded to both prosperity and adversity, and remain very confident about the future of Providence as a new administration prepares to take office.

My administration arrived at City Hall at a time when the City faced many basic, structural challenges that required long-term fixes. Coming in after Operation Plunder Dome, we had to begin to change the culture of government to make it work for all residents again and not just a small number of insiders. Additionally, the 2000 Census revealed that Providence had the third highest child poverty rate in the nation, so we made the healthy development of children a critical priority. Also, a longtime focus on downtown had come at the expense of our neighborhoods, and they needed major investment and attention.

Fundamental to achieving all of these priorities was an effective police department, so we restructured the Providence Police Department based on the successful New York City community policing model. We gave our officers the tools and latitude to deepen relationships with longtime neighborhood residents who were invested in a stable community. The men and women of the department embraced this strategy and made it work. According to the Providence Journal, the crime rate in Providence is now at its lowest level in 40 years.

As part of our youth development effort, we identified middle-school-aged children and the hours after school as the area of opportunity for the greatest impact. This was the time of day when we began to “lose” young people to violence or teen pregnancy, adding to the vicious cycle of urban poverty. We pulled together the youth services community to re-imagine how we could better organize around kids’ needs and wants, resulting in “campuses” of after-school offerings we call AfterZones. Now, we not only enroll fully half of the city’s middle-school-aged children, we also offer top quality programming that helps supplement school learning. Nashville, Buffalo, New Orleans, and Omaha are all replicating our AfterZone system.

Improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods was the mission of nearly every department and policy. We helped steer billions of dollars in both private and public direct investment. Some of this was new, high-quality, affordable housing stock, which has made a profound impact in our neighborhoods. We eradicated the notorious trash and rat problems with the Big Green Can. We supported neighborhood merchants by launching “Neighborhood Markets” and new loan and assistance programs. We created the graffiti task force. We expanded our parks system. And after years of planning for expanded public transportation, this work is bearing fruit.

If I could take visitors to one place that epitomizes our comprehensive approach to neighborhood improvement, I’d take them to the Riverside Park area in Olneyville. Once it was so lost to crime and violence that it was the one place our police were afraid to go. Now, families stroll down from high quality affordable housing to the streamside park for family cookouts or community gardening.

These are some of the initiatives my administration took before the recession I’m most proud of. But there were many others, too, including facilitating the downtown building boom and attraction of new corporate headquarters, helping to launch the knowledge economy effort, implementing ProvStat to measure the effectiveness of city departments, developing a resident-based planning process with Providence Tomorrow, professionalizing finances and earning straight A bond ratings, closing the annual pension deficit, reforming labor contracts, cutting permitting process time in half, building 21st-century schools like the Career and Technical Academy, keeping the branch libraries open and more. I am especially proud that all of these were achieved despite steady and severe cuts to our city budget.

When the recession and foreclosure crisis came and brought devastating unemployment with it, we had to make a major shift in focus. Our longer-term, structural efforts to ensure that Providence was poised for success in the coming decades had to yield to more immediate demands. City government was mobilized like never before to create employment and give residents job-ready skills. We brought banks and distressed home owners to the table to help prevent foreclosures. We not only fought for and received help from the federal government to support our most hurting residents, we also worked around the clock to ensure the funds passed through the bureaucratic pipeline as quickly as possible.

Times are still extraordinarily difficult for many of our residents, but Providence is going to move forward. This city will overcome this recession and be stronger than ever. The foundation is strong and the emergence of a Providence poised for greatness in the 21st century will continue. As I hand the reins to a new mayor, I feel nothing but optimism for this city, the same blue-sky feeling I felt eight years ago. I am deeply proud of the City of Providence and honored to have devoted to it eight years of my life. Finally, I have tremendous confidence that the talented new leader of our city, Angel Taveras, and his administration will do great things for our magnificent city and I wish them well.

For a public transition document detailing some of the city’s achievements over the last eight years, please visit:


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