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Mayor Leads RI Capital City Out Of Financial Peril

A similar public retirement system overhaul, led by state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and approved by the General Assembly in 2011, unfolded much differently: It's tied up in legal wrangling, with unions and retired government workers calling the changes unconstitutional, unfair and a breach of contract.

The son of Dominican immigrants and Providence's first Latino mayor, Taveras finds himself one of the best-liked politicians in the state, with a difficult choice to make later this year â¿¿ whether to seek the governor's office. That could pit him against Raimondo in what would be a hard-fought Democratic primary.

Taveras' relatively limited national profile got a boost recently when Providence bested more than 300 other cities to win the $5 million top prize in a Bloomberg Philanthropies contest with a plan to improve poor children's language skills. He has made improving schools a signature issue, holding himself up as an example of how education is the way out of poverty. He likes to say he went from Head Start to Harvard.

Last year, Taveras helped President Barack Obama with outreach to Latino voters during the re-election campaign, making trips to New Hampshire and doing interviews on Spanish-language radio in Florida, California and Colorado.

With his slight frame and soft manner, Taveras, who has a 15-month-old daughter, comes off as bookish. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who went to high school with him and is a friend, said some misinterpret the mayor's tendency to do things quietly.

"A lot of people can mistake his outward demeanor as a lack of toughness, but that's not it at all," Fung said. "He really takes a methodical approach on issues."

Reflecting on his time in office, Taveras says he regrets how he handled the issuance of firing notices to nearly all of Providence's almost 2,000 teachers two years ago â¿¿ a move that earned him bad national press and the ire of teachers and their union leaders, who dubbed the move "insane." While he said at the time most would not be fired, he insisted he had to take the step to give the city financial flexibility and because of a state-imposed deadline for layoff notifications.

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