PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — President Barack Obama is taking the rare step of getting involved in a mayor's race, endorsing Democrat Jorge Elorza in Providence on Monday over ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci, an independent forced from office twice due to felony convictions.
Obama said Elorza had a passion for struggling communities, and he highlighted Elorza's focus on ethics in the race, which has dealt heavily with widespread corruption in City Hall during Cianci's two previous administrations.
"He will bring honest leadership to Providence and fight to grow the local economy, improve public safety, expand affordable education and create a transparent and friendly government and business climate to spur innovation and entrepreneurship," Obama said of Elorza in a written endorsement.
A recent Brown University poll shows Elorza leading Cianci. Republican Daniel Harrop trails them.
Still, the race is viewed as extremely close, and the state's Democratic establishment has been working hard to ensure Elorza wins — and Cianci doesn't. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed campaigned with Elorza over the weekend, and Rep. David Cicilline, a former Providence mayor, also has done several events with Elorza.
Obama also endorsed the Democratic candidate for mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser.
But Darrell West, of the Brookings Institution, said it's unusual for a president to get involved in municipal elections and it's unlikely Obama would have done it unless high-ranking Democrats asked for his help.
Across the country, few Democrats running this year have publicly accepted the president's endorsement, but West said it still carries a lot of weight in Providence, which typically votes heavily Democratic. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 12-1 ratio in the city, although unaffiliated voters represent around 35 percent of the electorate. Cianci won office twice as a Republican, starting in 1974. He won four other elections as an independent.
Obama and Elorza graduated from Harvard Law School. Elorza, a former municipal housing court judge, is a law school professor, Obama's profession before he got into politics.
Elorza said he was honored by the endorsement and looked forward to working with the Obama administration.
Obama is arriving in Providence on Thursday night for a planned Friday morning speech on the economy at Rhode Island College. It was unclear whether he would make any political appearances during the visit.