PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Angel Taveras became the first Hispanic mayor of Rhode Island's capital city on Monday and called for shared sacrifice to pull Providence out its financial mess during an inaugural speech in which he alternated between English and Spanish.
"In the face of all these challenges, and in the midst of this storm, I am confident," he said. "Confident that together, we will overcome these challenges, weather this storm and strengthen our city and our state.
"This confidence comes from a man who believes in the American Dream, because he has experienced the fulfillment of that dream in his own lifetime."
Taveras, 40, a Democrat, is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He grew up poor on the city's South Side and went on to Harvard and the law school at Georgetown University. He was a lawyer in private practice who specialized in election law before being elected mayor in November.
He carried 49 percent of the vote in the city's Democratic primary against two well-known local politicians, with support from all over the city. But his election was particularly significant to the Spanish-speaking community, said 38-year-old city resident Ivan Rivera, who is Puerto Rican.
"I feel good," he said. "It means a lot, not just to me. For everyone who's Spanish."
He sat near Ramon Luna, 82, who worked on Taveras' campaign and who is Dominican. He speaks limited English, but enough to say he was proud to be there to see a fellow Dominican become the city's 37th mayor.
Taveras was officially sworn in at 12:01 a.m. in a ceremony at his home, surrounded by family and friends. A public ceremony was held on the steps of Providence City Hall on Monday afternoon and attended by dignitaries including outgoing Mayor David Cicilline, who was elected to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, and several other state officials including Gov.-elect Lincoln Chafee.
Chafee, an independent who is scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday, said the city and state must work together to achieve prosperity.
"As the seat of our government and our state's largest city, the well-being of Providence is intimately related to the success of Rhode Island as a whole," Chafee said during the public ceremony.
Taveras said during his speech that Providence faces serious financial challenges and has been especially hard hit by the global recession. He said the city faces a serious budget deficit and an unfunded pension liability of $800 million, just as state and federal funds are drying up.
"Let me be clear: The time for Providence to take control of its financial future is now," he said.
He said he'd run a leaner executive branch, and called for consolidation in city departments and for city workers to help address the money problems. He also called on the city's many universities and hospitals to invest in the city.
On public schools, Taveras said more than half of students are not proficient in reading and more than three quarters are not proficient in math. He said too many students are not graduating from high school.
"Justice demands that we fix our schools and ensure their long-term success," he said.
Luis Rivera, 30, a Providence resident who attended the public ceremony, said Taveras inherited big problems, but he was hopeful the new mayor could make a difference.
"The city itself is in financial ruins right now," he said. "Let's see what he can do with the limited resources, money, he has."