After brief dive into New London politics, candidate running for mayor of Providence

Do you remember Robert DeRobbio’s run for the New London Board of Education last year?

I didn’t think so.

Even politically involved city residents reacted with a, “Who’s that?” when DeRobbio’s name showed up on the list of Democratic candidates. His candidacy only lasted a few weeks. Endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee on July 25, DeRobbio dropped off the ballot by early September.

Now he is running to be the mayor of Providence, R.I.

So how did that happen? DeRobbio was happy to talk about it when I was able to track down his cell number.

DeRobbio, 72, was not thinking New London politics when he bought a home at 16 Jerome Road, a street located between Ocean and Pequot Avenues. He was thinking grandchildren. He and his wife have 11 of them, the products of six children, and they wanted a place for them to visit in the summer. After looking in Westerly and South Kingstown, Stonington and Groton, the couple settled on the Jerome home, closing in April 2017.

It didn’t take long for some Democratic leaders to discover they had a potential candidate in their midst. DeRobbio is the former executive director of business operations for the Providence school district, and spent time serving as interim superintendent.

He has a solid progressive record, a good political fit for New London. In Providence, DeRobbio has spent time as treasurer and an executive board member of the city’s NAACP chapter. He is past chairman of the Urban League there and spent time on the R.I. Ethics Board.

Putting that experience to work on the New London school board made sense. But after initially saying yes to running, DeRobbio had second thoughts, concerned that his part-time status and brief residency could become an issue. He withdrew.

A long-time Providence resident, DeRobbio’s heart lies with that city, as much as he may enjoy his weekend opportunities in New London.

So he is running for mayor, collecting the signatures that will be necessary to complete in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. To win, he would have to unseat incumbent Democratic Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, seeking a second four-year term.

DeRobbio pointed to several issues that make Elorza vulnerable. The incumbent got the bright idea to install speed cameras in neighborhoods near city schools. They worked too good, producing more than 12,000, $95 tickets in the first month.

Residents flooded the city’s traffic court and the judge proceeded to toss out hundreds of the tickets on technicalities. The speed-ticket crackdown also gave rise to a class-action lawsuit. DeRobbio, if elected, vowed to shut the cameras off.

“It hit the people who could least afford to pay,” DeRobbio told me.

Elorza faces criticism for taking 59 trips while mayor.

“There is no reason for Jorge Elorza to be leaving Providence 59 times,” DeRobbio told the Providence Journal. “Providence’s mayor should be working at City Hall solving problems, not working toward his Platinum frequent-flyer status.”

Which makes you wonder how much time DeRobbio would have for his New London summer home if he becomes “his honor” of Providence.

DeRobbio reeled off a list other issues, common to many cities — parking policy, crime, deteriorating schools and labor disputes. Negotiations with the teachers union are at an impasse.

“I believe that I have the ability to work with unions and to sit down and discuss and reach mutual agreement,” he said.

Having downsized, DeRobbio now lives in an apartment at Providence Place, part of an area revitalized under the leadership of the city’s most famous and infamous mayor, the departed Buddy Cianci.

He never ran for New London school board.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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