Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 3

Angel Taveras, Former Mayor of Providence

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Show notes

Angel Taveras is a lawyer and former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. He is currently an adjunct professor and partner at Womble Bond Dickinson LLP, a transatlantic law firm serving corporate, individual, and nonprofit clients across every business sector. You can connect to Angel through his LinkedIn profile or social media profiles.


Key points include:

  • 11:05: Managing a city – an overview
  • 20:02: How Angel’s perspective has changed on how things work
  • 35:19: How he negotiated budget cuts
  • 43:54: What would most surprise his college self

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92-3. Angel Taveras


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And it is a real honor to be here today with Mayor Angele Taveras, who was the mayor of Providence? Mayor. Welcome to the show.


Angel Taveras  00:21

Oh, well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the invitation.


Will Bachman  00:24

So it’s really a thrill to have you on. I want to start by asking you bring us inside the life of being a mayor and help us maybe first what was surprising to you about being mayor? What did you not expect? How was the role different than you expected it to be from the outside?


Angel Taveras  00:50

Wow, that’s a great question. I mean, I think being married and wonderful, wonderful job. And that’s because you’re very close to your community, you’re very close to your constituents. And so I really enjoyed that part of it. It is not fun when it’s snowing. So I will tell you that and that I am enjoying now the weather and the snow falls a lot more than when I was mayor because you’re always focused on making sure that you are prepared that the streets are cleared and that people can get around. So So that part is not is different. And what I what I learned, would


Will Bachman  01:27

you say a little bit more about that. So beyond just you know, being the person who gives the, you know, speaks in front of the news cameras, like oh, yeah, we’re prepared, we got lined up. What are you actually doing as the mayor when there’s a snow coming? I mean, other than just calling the head of sanitation, say get your trucks ready? I mean, what what are you practically doing? Well, shoveling the snow yourself? Right. So?


Angel Taveras  01:49

Well, actually, no, actually, I did. I wrote in the truck. Okay. At least my personal story I wrote in the trucks and we were plowing streets, I rode with the, with the plow driver, my senior staff with on trucks as well, we were out there seeing exactly what they did, we went through the preparation, there’s a lot that you have to do. I mean, first and foremost, you need a good forecast, you need to know when the snow is coming, and how much is coming. So that’s the first thing you need to make a decision on parking ban whether or not you’re gonna have a parking ban or not, because it’s a lot harder to plow snow, if you have cars parked on the street, you need to get give enough notice to people to move their cars. If there’s an overnight parking ban, you need to let people know that too, because they have to figure out where they’re going to put their car, you need to pretreat. So you need to pretreat the roads. And that makes it easy, a little bit easier to plow. So you’ll see that there are trucks out sometimes, and they are pre treating roads, even before it starts to snow, you need to make sure that all of your trucks are ready and that you have most places certainly Providence has private contractors, in addition to city trucks. So you need to make sure that you have sufficient number of trucks ready for the amount of snow that you are expecting. And make sure that they are prepared to go. If they’re school, you need to make a determination about whether there’s going to be school is going to be like go early. Or if there’s going to be school the next day, you need to try to do that in a way that gives parents enough time, right, because parents need to make decisions based on whether the kids are going to school or not. So that’s something else that you need to focus on as well. So there’s a lot of preparation. And there’s also communication to the public as well so that they know what’s going on and what to expect. And quite frankly, the best time for snowstorm, if has the best time is probably overnight, you know, or starting early evening after the rush hour overnight because a lot of people want home. That weekend is good too, because a lot of people you don’t have to worry about school buses and other things out there. Listen, I even pushed a school bus to get them out of a way they were stuck one time. So you know the the job of the mayor is a full service, very active. And the snow piece is very important because most people don’t worry about the snow budget. But they what they remember is whether or not they can get out of their house. And their expectations change to the first day when there’s a lot of snow the first day, they only just want to be able to get out of the house, get onto the street and do get around. But by the second day, they want the streets to be you know, pavement, right? They want everything to be clear. And so those expectations are can can change as the time goes on. And now with social media and everything else. You can do a wonderful, wonderful job, but it only takes one picture to to be to go viral. Right and and folks will will let you know about that as well. So there’s a lot that goes into it. And a lot of preparation and trying to make decisions in a smart way. And we’re also working with the business community in case they’re going to let their folks out from work early and doing it on a staggered basis because we in the past, we’ve had some issues where it wasn’t done on a staggered basis and it really caused gridlock in the city. Unfortunately, I wasn’t mayor at the time, but I certainly learned from it.


Will Bachman  05:13

What are some of the calculations you go through? I mean, every kid loves a snow day. But what are some of the calculations are going through his Mayor about whether to make that call to cancel school? I imagine there’s a problem with both a false positive and false negative if you cancel school, and then it doesn’t snow that much. everybody complains, like oh, my gosh, why they canceled school. But if you don’t cancel school, and there is a big snowstorm that everybody complains, so how are you? How are you thinking through that that decision?


Angel Taveras  05:42

Well, from my perspective, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. And you have to remember that kids are going to be waiting at bus stops, a lot of kids will be waiting at bus stops, that you have big buses that aren’t necessarily the best vehicles in the snow, they have to get around, they have to maneuver your city. And in our city, we have a lot of streets, it’s, you know, very dense in that sense. And so you know, you have a lot of corners, other things that you’ve got to work through. So you need to know, have a good forecast and understand the likelihood of this now, when it’s kind of hit. Is it going to be safe for kids to be out on the corners? Waiting for school buses, school buses going to be able to, to travel? Okay, can you do it with a delay, sometimes you can do it with a an hour two hour delay, that gives a little bit more time to clear the snow, it makes a little bit easier to get around. But in the end, from my perspective, when in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So that’s kind of what what the way that I looked at it, mayor’s looking at it differently. But that’s the the perspective that I had. And also, we worked very closely, obviously, with the superintendent of schools to make sure that we’re okay there. And we also have to worry about staff coming in, right, making sure that the staff can get from wherever they live to the school. And also that we’re able to clear the school sidewalks that were able to clear the school grounds so that kids can get in and out and parents can bring them in, in and out easily. So again, a lot of a lot of different factors go into it. But you try to make the very best decision that you can. And, you know, sometimes you might get it wrong. But as I said, I’d rather get it wrong on the side of being safe than get it wrong. And God forbid something happening


Will Bachman  07:32

for something like snowstorms. Did you kind of have some drills or some checklists or kind of practice or walkthroughs in the summer, the fall like that to prepare for it?


Angel Taveras  07:48

Yeah. Well, we were lucky. I mean, we had Peter gainer, who actually was the head of the Providence Emergency Management Agency, and he’s a former colonel in the US Marines. And he went on to become FEMA Administrator in DC, probably the best appointment that President Trump ever made. But Peter gainer was our Emergency Management Agency Director in Providence when I got here. And I could see that he was he’s a brilliant man. We were thrilled when he agreed to stay with us and serve, continue to serve as emergency management administrator. And he was our point person, he actually, we would have a conference call with all folks from the city from DPW, from operations in the city from the school department for Emergency Management Agency. All of us on a call to make sure that we went over everything we had a a meteorologist on on staff or maybe not staff, but on call, we paid them to be on call. So he would provide us the very best forecast, give us the best insight. And Peter gainer was the really the leader, the person in charge of all of this, in my job in that case, was very good. Because I could listen to him and basically follow his lead. But as I said, he went on to do great things and was FEMA Administrator and, and didn’t outstanding job had bipartisan support, which didn’t surprise me because I know the man. So. So the answer is yeah, we would have it would be the emergency team meetings. And that would be a conference call, sometimes a meeting, some people would be on the phone, and we would prepare for emergencies. That way. He was excellent at helping us prepare and also having a decision tree. There’s by certain times, you have to have make decisions, and he would keep us on that on that schedule to make sure we made decisions with enough time to execute them. And to make sure we didn’t fall behind because things can really forget my pun but they can snowball very quickly. So, so we were very fortunate have a great team and great leader and Peter Gaynor.


Will Bachman  10:06

Another question I have is often with politicians who are elected to roles in the executive branch, they come in and meet you tell me if I’m, I’m not sure about your background before you’re a mayor. But often they come in, and maybe they were a legislator, or they’ve had experiences and attorney. But they come in, and then all of a sudden, you’re managing a large bureaucracy. I mean, if you’re elected president in the US, it’s, you know, 2 million I don’t know, civilian employees. Yeah. In your case, you I think you had at least what about, I think when you came in, there was 18 112, full time city employees. That’s a large. You know, that’s a large group of people to manage what what was it like, coming into that role as, as not necessarily a leader but as a manager of just, you know, tracking so many is such a large group of people in so many different functions?


Angel Taveras  11:05

Well, that’s an excellent question. And I tell you, one of the things I tell folks is, I think that, for me, I had not been in elected office before I was a lawyer. And I have not managed anything nearly as big as the city of Providence. As you mentioned, we had 1800 or so employees on the city side, school side was another like 3001 of the things I’ve told folks is, I think you have to do a real honest self assessment of yourself and know what your strengths and what your weaknesses are. And for me, I’m recognize it, I didn’t have a lot of management experience. And so the first thing I do is try to put people around me who did, one of my first hires is one of my oldest friends who was a fantastic manager, and we had just reunited at our 20th reunion, high school reunion, he had gone, he went to Penn into one, and I’ve done a lot in the business community. And I was able to attract him to come back home, because of the time in his life and things that that were working out. And he was able to take a huge pay cut to do that, to come back home. But he had great management experience, he had run large organizations, he had done labor negotiations with the steelworkers union. And so he was my very first hire my very first appointment. And the reason was, is I want I trusted him, which is very important to public service, because especially mayors, you can get yourself into trouble or other folks getting into trouble. And too, I knew that he had a great management experience. My second hire was, as Commissioner of Public Safety was the former colonel of the state police, the Parian. And he actually still Public Safety Commissioner in the city of Providence. But he was my second hire, he had retired as the colonel of the state police, and he was in the private sector as well, we had been old friends, and because he had been working on diversifying the state police, and that’s how we first met. And he had been very helpful to me in terms of public safety. And I was able to convince him to leave the private sector to come back to the city and work as Public Safety Commissioner. And that was because he had a lot of experience. And I wanted to have that. Another key hire that we had was our superintendent of schools who had been a superintendent someplace else, Susan Lucy, and was fantastic. And I thought, again, someone who had that experience, who had run a large organization, she had also been involved in the product school department in the past. So for me, a big part of that was recognizing that management was not a strength for me, and that I needed to put people around me who had management experience, and then going around and being able to persuade people to leave more lucrative jobs to come and work in the city. And fortunate for me that they accepted and helped me run the city. But I think that you’re absolutely right, you know, there is a change, and people have to get used to that. I’ll tell you one funny story. You know, it’s early on in my administration, and I’m in, we’re in the mayor’s conference room, which is a side room to the mayor’s office. And we’re all we’re all around the table, everyone goes around, we’re talking about an issue, even remember what the issue was that we were talking about an issue everyone gives their opinion. You know, it comes to a point, there’s just silence in the room, everyone has given their opinion this silent. And I figured out after about 10 or 15 seconds, whoa, they’re waiting for me to decide. And it just it kind of clicked in my mind. Like they’re waiting for me to make a decision. You know, and so you have to learn that I do think that being an executive is something that people have to learn. And I think that folks who come from the legislature to be an executive, it takes time for them to make that adjust adjustment because it’s a very different role. You’ve got to make decisions and usually, and I’ve heard someone say this, I don’t know if it was President Obama said that by the time something gets to him. It’s like a tough decision might someone be below him wasn’t able to make decision is something that needs to come to him and he has to make a decision. So There is a lot of decision making. And the other thing about it is, you’re going to upset some people because the choice, right is you’re picking, or you’re picking something out, you’re typically picking between something. And so you just got to get used to that. And I used to tell our staff, you know, listen, we got to get criticized no matter what we do. So let’s get criticized for doing the right thing. Let’s just do the right thing. And, and not worry about where you know, the chips are gonna fall, let’s just do the right thing. And so we were very fortunate to be able to do that and, and leave the city a lot stronger. So very proud of that, you


Will Bachman  15:32

know, some of the big decisions that you make, as mayor are going to make the newspaper, give us an example of some tough decisions that you made, that were maybe just a little bit below the radar that didn’t necessarily get a lot of press attention, but were tough. Nevertheless.


Angel Taveras  15:48

I’ll give you two examples, if you want. I mean, one is, I think, very, very timely, because it’s about redistricting. And during 10 years ago, when I was mayor, we had to redress strict, the city council Ward boundaries, and there was a big divide and the city council, and I think it was actually ended up being like an eight to seven vote. And one group wanted me to, you know, to veto it, which would have made them negotiate because that’s not they wouldn’t have had enough to overcome the veto another group wanted support. And through the process, what I did was, I worked very hard to make sure I was fair. And I also something a lot of people didn’t notice, but we increased the number of majority minority districts awards, in that. And that ultimately made the difference for me. And I signed the redistricting because I thought that was good, I thought that the city had changed a lot. We were a majority minority city, we should increase the number of majority minority districts, I wasn’t worried about who the actual council person was, but about making sure that people have a chance to represent to choose someone to represent them. And to have their voices heard. And so we made sure that number of districts, the awards increase, so. So I’m very proud of that. And that was something that was below the radar. I don’t think a lot of people notice that. But if people go back and look at it, I can tell you without hesitation, that we absolutely did that. And we thought it was fair, it wasn’t to protect any incumbent or anything else. It was really to give make sure that people had an opportunity to select people like them to be the council person. So that was one decision that we made. The other was not so much below the radar, but something I’m very proud of, you know, we opened up a charter school here a mural Academy by a five to four of the state board that needs to get approval. And a lot of people told me not to do it, because I was going to anger unions. And I was, you know, it was not a good political decision. And I didn’t worry about that I worried about making sure that kids have an opportunity to succeed. And I wanted to show that they had a longer school day, if you have a longer school year, if you give the principal, the ability to pick his or her staff, you have a strong school culture and curriculum that kids can achieve. And that’s exactly what they’ve done. They’ve done unbelievably well. And some of our tests that we’ve had the there’s a huge wait list for the school. The school is growing, which is excellent, as well. And I hope that it forces more of a dialogue of what we need to do to make sure that our kids learn. It was a decision that a lot of people still don’t aren’t happy about in particularly unions, teachers unions, but it was the right decision, I believe, then I believe it now. And I’m proud of what the schools have done the charter schools, there’s two elementary schools as middle school, and there’s doing the high school as well. And, and I know that that was my advocacy that helped us get it started. And I had some allies as well, there were some other mayors who were part of that effort. But the application went on under city of Providence in my my request and proud of that five to four vote. And I’m very happy about that.


Will Bachman  19:09

One of the reasons I started this podcast was to understand how other professionals have had their, their thinking shaped by by their professional experience. So when I walk around the city or just throughout my day, I know that I’m been shaped by 20 years as a management consultant. Just the way I frame problems. I’m curious for you, Mayor. How do you feel that your thinking has been shaped in terms of just your intuitions or your instincts or how you think about problems? Now, now that you’ve spent time as a mayor, how do you kind of frame problems are just if you’re walking around a city, you know, seeing a street sign or seeing the garbage or seeing a decision about about schools? How has it changed your perspective on how things work?


Angel Taveras  20:02

That’s a great question. I mean, I think there are a couple of things. I mean, one, as a lawyer, I think you understand the power of the law, and how to make it work for people. But you also have to understand that you have to get a law passed, you need to build support for it, you need to get allies, you need to push it through, you need to know how to persuade as well. So that’s something that’s important to your, you know, you’re the mayor, but you still answer to the people, the voters, and you also have usually a council city council that has power or some type of power, right. And you also deal with state legislature, and the, and the elected officials. And so I think that one is being dispassionate enough to understand that the law can be very powerful, and can make changes that are positive, to understand that you need to advocate and be able to persuade people, and understanding how they, how they think, I think negotiations is very important as well, and then being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand what it is that they’re looking for, to make sure that you can get to that point, because there are when you want to make change. Usually, you need to build a team, so to speak, to make it happen. It is not so easy, just making the decision. And that’s it, there are some things that you certainly have plenary power over, but a lot of things, you need to either change an ordinance or change a law, change the policy. You know, so I think that my profession as as a lawyer was very helpful in terms of understanding the legal system understanding of different levers, understanding the changes that needed to be made. And, you know, I learned that very early on as mayor where we had a big issue. And I realized that there was a statutory power that being given to someone and, and, and I know if they gave it by statute, they can take it away by statute. And, and we got that done. And we addressed an issue that we needed to address. So you learn those things early on. And you use what you like your background and your experience in a way to to help you achieve your goals. And so I was very fortunate in that sense, to have that background.


Will Bachman  22:44

Walk me through a typical day as mayor. And I’m particularly you can sort of just pick, you know, any day or sort of synthesize an example one, but I’m particularly interested in, you know, calls from major donors calls from key constituencies, meetings decisions. What What would a sort of a typical weekday look like for you?


Angel Taveras  23:08

Oh, I don’t think there’s any typical day as mayor because you never know what can happen, you know? In other words, you don’t know what happened last night, you know, you could have been something, God forbid something happened in your city. So you never know what can happen. But I’ll give you a sense, okay. First of all, the typical day, really stuff the night before when I go to my briefing book. Okay. So my staff will prepare a briefing book that lets me know what my schedule is for the next day. And we’ll have information on everything that I’m doing, who I’m meeting with what’s going on why I’m meeting with that person. You know, if I’m speaking somewhere, where I’m speaking, who I need to recognize who I need, you know, what my talking points are? You know, so it starts with, with a briefing book the night before and being prepared for that. I like to say, and this is true, I felt like my life as mayor was like 15 minute intervals. I mean, it was just, you know, here for 15 minutes there for 15 minutes here for 15 minutes. And so I could be doing all sorts of things in a day. And one of the things I did try to do is to find a little bit of time, you know, maybe an hour half hour, we went out that’s a lot of a lot of time, where I can simply just kind of don’t want to call it relax, but just kind of think, right, think about a lot of the different things that are going on, because when you have 15 minutes of you’re doing everything, there’s 10 minute intervals, you don’t have a lot of time to think things through. So I would have tried to put a little bit of time in my schedule. That would just be kind of executive time and thinking time. Certainly, in terms of some of the political aspect of it. Yeah, throughout my term. I would leave the mayor’s office and go to a campaign consultants office where I would call and raise money because you do that all the time, and you’ve got to continue to raise money. So that would be done not from the mayor’s office. But it would be done from a private office of consultant that I would pay to do that, you know, people will reach out to me, anywhere that I go, and a lot of folks, they’re not shy to come up and tell you what’s going on. And we always try to, I had a staff person with me at all times, and always try to make sure to get their information, find out what their problem is, and try to address it, we also had something that is called my time with the mayor. And what that is, was every month, we would have a time that people could come and meet with me directly. They don’t need an appointment, they just need to sign in. So they sign in, you know, when they get there as first come first serve. But if you’re there, by a certain time, I will see you and no matter how long it is, and that people took advantage of that. And we would have a my staff would have a card. So he can’t if I couldn’t talk to them that particular day, for whatever reason. Or I wanted to follow up with let them know, listen, we’re going to have my time with the mayor, here is the card. And it’s going to be at this time at this place, please come you don’t need an appointment just come and you’ll meet with them directly. And they would folks would meet with me directly. And we’d have staff there as well. So that if there was a DPW problem, we call the DPW if there was a parks problem called parks, you know, whatever the problem might be, we have someone there, we have public safety folks there, you know, and we could make sure to address those issues, as well. And so, so that’s another aspect of it. But there’s, there’s no typical day because, you know, in the middle of the day, you know, you could have something come up that you didn’t expect would come up, and you have to deal with it. And you know, I remember I’ll give you an example. I remember I was at I remember exactly where I was where the circus acrobats from Ringling Brothers had that horrible accident at the Dunkin donut center. You may have remembered they, they fell and several of them hurt themselves very badly. And I was speaking and someone came up to me and let me know Mayor this has happened. And we’re responding. I purposely on that day did not go to the civic center, because I knew that the mergency personnel would be dealing with this issue. And I didn’t want to be in the way. I didn’t want to be in the way of them responding to this crisis. I was very proud when the ringmaster is said subsequently, that he fell off first responders were lifesavers. They were just lifesavers. And they got the all of the the acrobats to the hospital, in tough shape. But there was a mass response. And very proud of the work that the fire department, police department, everyone did. And I let them know about that let the fire department police department know how proud I was of the work that they did to help them in that crisis. And to to address that and that no one lost their lives as a result, even though they sustained very serious injuries. So but, you know, that happened in the middle of the day. I remember like, I don’t remember exactly where I was at the it was armenian church I was at where when that came in. You never know what can happen. And you you know, you address that. You know, I remember where I was when we lost a police officer Maxwell duallie. I was in Boston when I got the call that he had been in an accident on duty. And it was, you know, we rushed back from Boston as soon as we heard. And I said we had a driver. The mayor in Providence has a security detail. So we got back here as soon as we could and got to the hospital. And unfortunately, we lost them. And it was a very traumatic for our city for our police officers for our whole city and you know, so but that has, you know, you have to address it, and you just try to make the best decisions you can and on that occasion, of course, I felt the right decision was to get back as soon as I possibly could to be with with with all of our residents and without police department. And so you remember those things and you just never know what can happen.


Will Bachman  29:24

What kind of advice did you get from other mayors or did you did you work to establish relationships with with other big city mayors to you know, just get some get get some get some advice?


Angel Taveras  29:39

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I think you know, especially when you haven’t done the job, you want to learn as much as you can and, you know, remember me? I’m Tanya Vieira gosa from Los Angeles who we were very friendly through the US Conference of Mayors and he gave me some advice early on in my administration that I’ve always remembered And I’d passed on to others. And he told me that if something’s going on in your city, no matter what it is, and even if you can’t do anything about it, be there, be in your city, be there. And he told me about some some different issues and experiences he had had. And he wanted to emphasize even if I thought I couldn’t do anything about it, it was really important to be there. And so that’s something that I kept with me a lot. You know, I spoke with with Mayor Menino when we were dealing with occupiers and, and dealing, how to deal with that issue. Someone and we took a little bit path, but But you listen, you learn. And I remember meeting with him on December 23. And he said to me, Why was I met with him in Boston City? All he says to me, Why was I working on December 23? And I looked at him as a mayor, if you’re working on December 23, I should definitely be working on December 23. I mean, you know, he’s a legend, right. And I’m like, a first year mayor, and I’m thinking myself, you know, I definitely should be working on December 23. But he was very kind with his time with me. So I really appreciate that. Appreciate it, that Mayor Bloomberg in New York, who was just a leader from mayor’s from around the country, and being involved at Bloomberg Philanthropies and learning what other mayors were doing, and, and trying to take good things and bring them back to our city. And we want Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayor’s Challenge beat out 304 Other cities to win that prize. Very proud of that, as well. So out Oh, absolutely. You work with other mayors, and you learned, and there’s a I think there’s also a certain level of respect that we have for each other because we know how difficult the job is. And we know that in some ways, it’s just varying degrees, even though Providence is only 180,000 People in Los Angeles is, you know, a couple of million, you know, it’s just we deal with similar issues. The extent of them might be a little bit broader. Right. So, so we were I was very fortunate to have a chance to, to speak with with mayors, and how generous they were with me with with their time. So and and I tried to learn as much as I could from from what they were doing. It seems


Will Bachman  32:20

like the role of mayor is less partisan and some other, you know, roles that politicians get elected to because, you know, to your point earlier, no matter what if you’re Republican, Democrat, you still have to get the snow plowed. Right. Would you agree with that? What does it feel like? You could you could talk to Republican mayors, Democratic mayors, and you know, they all facing kind of similar, similar she’s in held to account in a way that maybe legislatures are a little bit less?


Angel Taveras  32:51

Well, without a doubt, I mean, look, there’s no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole, there’s no Republican or Democratic way to plow snow. You know, and, and so I think the issues that you’re facing, again, depends on where you are, and how big the city is. And some people will have more of one problem or another. But, but there’s no doubt that it’s about results, you’ve got to pick up the trash, it’s real simple people, people expect you to be able to do the fundamentals, right. They want clean streets, safe streets, they want a good education system, good infrastructure, they want to be able to, to have a good job. And they really expect you to do the real basics in terms of, you know, making sure that that trash is picked up making sure the snow was plowed, making sure the streets are for your potholes, making sure that things are in working order. And they expect that from you. And the decisions that you make, have a real impact on them. And you know, a lot of folks, you asked me early on about you know what surprised me. You know, people know, their mayor, and the kids know that Mayor, I have got pictures of kids. And I was so amazed at their reaction. To me as mayor. They may not know their congressman, they may not know their senator, they may not even know that Governor. Okay. But they know their mayor. And so, you know, part of that is because you are so much there, you know, you’re so present in their lives in so many different ways. And so I agree that this, you know, it’s less partisan in that sense that a lot of the issues that you face, are very real issues that need immediate attention. And you’ve got to be able to execute. And if you’re not able to do that, you’re not going to be mayor for a long time. I can tell you that without a doubt.


Will Bachman  34:52

Now, you did one of the less pleasant things that a mayor might do, which is actually reduced the size of the city budget and The number of a city employees and city employees went from 1812 to at one point down to something like 1600. While you were mayor, what was? What did it take to to make those cuts? And how did you negotiate that process?


Angel Taveras  35:19

Well, it probably cost me about 20 pounds. Because I’ll tell you that it wasn’t easy. I mean, what what happened with me is in my administration was when we came in, we did a real deep dive into the city finances and saw that we were in big trouble financially. And we were facing in the next fiscal year $110 million structural deficit budget of a projected budget of about $680 million if we didn’t do anything, so a lot of what I did was, we had to do, I mean, it’s just, we had no choice. And I did not want to go into a chapter nine bankruptcy, because I thought it would be devastating for the city of Providence and for the state of Rhode Island. I know that other cities have done it. Some cities have done it, Detroit did it. But we’re not Detroit. And it’s a very different situation here. And Rhode Island in many ways as a city state. So that was very important to me. The other aspects for me, it was more more personal. I mean, I was the first mayor of color in the city’s history, first Latino mayor. And I didn’t want that to be my legacy of having pushed the city into bankruptcy, because we weren’t able to balance our budget. So we made all these decisions, everything that we could to make sure to avoid that. And it started in the mayor’s office, the biggest pay cut was the mayor of the city of Providence, during my administration 10% pay cut, reduced my Mayor’s budget office by 13%. And went about and said and people and that helped. It was It helped me in the sense of it was symbolic. And I think people understood, I said, No, you know, we’re all in this together. And we need to work together to get this done. And I wanted them to know, no one was exempt from like some of the sacrifices that needed to be made. And certainly, I wasn’t exempt as mayor from those sacrifices. And it helped because I think they saw that I was serious about it. And that, that I was paying attention to my own house. Right. And that helped. And it was step by step by you start with dealing with, with the folks that you can, you can let go. And that’s some of the non union employees the deal and work with the unions to to address the issue. You work with a tax exemption, we did that. as well. We worked with the General Assembly to get some legislation passed to get us some help as well. It was step by step. And it wasn’t easy. And a lot of people didn’t think we could do it. But we did. And and I’m proud of the work that we that we did. You know a lot of the jobs by the way, you should know, we had early retirements and some other things. And we didn’t fill the jobs, we did lay off some non non union employees. But we were able to work with our unions to cut the expenses in their budgets. One of the units took a pay cut and actual pay cut as well. Other unions, they fall, they they gave up their raises, they pay more. And in healthcare, they do all sorts of different things to help us close that gap. And after we made those changes, the two fiscal years after that, while I was still mayor, we had small operating surpluses, and we were moving in the right direction, the outlook on our city by the rating agencies was changed. And I felt good about the city I was leading to the next mayor. It wasn’t perfect and no city is. But I knew it was better than the city that I had. When I first became mayor and so I worked real hard to do that. And believe me when I say to you, no man wants to cut jobs because it is there’s still a lot of patronage that goes on in cities. And and certainly the more jobs you have, the more ability you have to, to address some issues and gain supporters. But we did what we had to do to make sure that the city was able to survive and, and thrive. And I feel I feel very good about the progress we made and the progress the city has made since then.


Will Bachman  39:17

Let’s fast forward to today. So you’re currently a practicing attorney, and you’re also teaching a leadership class. For that you’ve done for a number of years. What are some of the stories that you share in the leadership class? What are some of the lessons that you really hope to convey in that class?


Angel Taveras  39:38

Well, you know, one of the things we do in the leadership class, which I really enjoy, I have been teaching it for years now since I left the mayor’s office at Providence College is something I learned at Harvard. And one of the books that we read is Robert F Kennedy’s 13 days about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now when I was at Harvard, I didn’t that was part of The Government course. But if you read 13 days, there are so many leadership lessons in there. That it’s it’s just a wonderful book. And it’s something that I actually used what I learned from 30 days while I was mayor. And it’s something I want to make sure that the students have a chance to read and to learn to think about, because there are a lot of leadership lessons in there from, you know, the team that President Kennedy put together how important a teamwork is, the fact that President Kennedy would not go to the XCOM meetings, because he understood that when the President was in the room, people would speak differently than when he wasn’t the need for discussion and free and open discussion. And also for changing directions when the facts change. And doing that, not backing Khrushchev into a corner, and giving him the ability to save face, so that you don’t end up in a situation and confrontation, when you back someone into a corner, owes remembering that. So there’s just so many lessons in 13 days that I think were so important, helped me a lot as mayor and thinking about how to negotiate with different parties, and try to give them an opportunity to save face, not backing them into a corner, you know, building my team. And I try to make sure that the students know and see it for themselves how important some of these, these issues are. So so that’s something that for me, it was really helpful, and something that I hope that the students come away with as well. The other thing I do is I bring in speakers from, from the business world, from the government world, from the athletic world, to come in and speak to the students to share their view. And I tell the students, I think leadership is an art, not a science, right? You know, some people do it some way some people do it other ways. And so you need to know that you need to take what works for you, and figure out what works for you best, and build your own leadership style.


Will Bachman  42:00

You mentioned Harvard. And that brings us to the next segment of the show, which is to be about any courses that you took at Harvard, that have impacted you with the lessons have stayed with you. Doesn’t need to be something that affected you, as a mayor could have been a liberal arts course that expanded your your kind of range of vision, but what courses have any sort of stuck with you over the years?


Angel Taveras  42:26

Well, I would say two, I mean, one I don’t know which costs I took the the government costs that had 13 days in it. But I thought that that was one that really stayed with me. And as I said, I still teach about it now. So that was something that was important. The other was actually a classics course that I took. And I took with classic majors, which probably was a mistake, but that’s okay. But I love Ancient Greece. And I love Greek history. And I think that there’s so much to learn from the Greeks. And so I really enjoyed reading acidities and reading about different stories. And so it was that that was something that was very helpful and, and stayed with me and learning site, some of the Peloponnesian War and how we ended up there, the Greeks ended up there and learning some different things. And so that one stayed with me. And so I still kind of look to history to continue to learn, and to realize that people have gone through similar things in the past, and you can learn from that.


Will Bachman  43:46

What would you surprise your college age self the most about your journey?


Angel Taveras  43:54

Oh, wow, great question. I, you know, I never, I never planned on being mayor. I plan on doing public service, figuring out ways to serve. After I left, Harvard, I was an Echoing Green Public Service fellow for a year. And then I went off to law school. I was very involved with Phillips Brooks House while I was at Harvard. So service was important. And the opportunity to be mayor was kind of an extension of that mindset of wanting to serve and find ways to make a difference. I think, you know, a kid from the inner city, I’m the son of Dominican immigrants. My mom and dad didn’t go to school beyond beyond like grade school. My mom and dad divorced when I was young. So my mom raised three kids working in factories, lived in public housing. And a lot of the my journey to Harvard is probably not not like many of other students. And I think it was it was kind of a situation of Learning, finding your place, right. And I think Phillips Brooks House was a place for me. But what I’ve learned since then, and surprises me is that my place can be anywhere, that I have the ability to communicate with folks that come from totally different walks of life, that may not, you know, have grown up the way that I did who have different life experiences, who have different career experiences, and I have an opportunity to communicate with them, if you’re very comfortable doing it, very comfortable talking with them or dealing with different issues. And so that I think probably what surprised me, I don’t know that when I was at Harvard, I would think that, you know, I would be so comfortable doing that, and talking with folks who have done extraordinarily well, and some of the very wealthy some folks that are super successful. And so I think that probably surprised me, I think, Hobert, I think I was just trying to find my find my way, as I’m sure many of us were. And along the way, I found some comfort, and just feel much more comfortable dealing with people now than I would have when I was in hospital without a doubt.


Will Bachman  46:14

So where did that come from? So, you know, Malcolm Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours? Where did you get the equivalent of the 10,000 hours of interacting with people of all different walks of life to be able to establish rapport and be comfortable? Was there a period where, you know, some job got you to do that? Or some extra curricular or some public service? Or how does that How did you develop that?


Angel Taveras  46:44

Well, I don’t know, I would say to you that I think it’s just some of it comes with age, and time and experience, I think being mayor was helpful as well, because I worked with and dealt with folks, from CEOs of some, you know, fortune 500, companies and folks all from a broad spectrum, and dealing with folks, just across the country. And so I think that that gave me an opportunity. And I think with time and experience, you get a little bit more comfortable when you’re leading an organization like the city of Providence, which is an outstanding city. And I was proud that I think was Architectural Digest that we were the best small city in America, Travel Leisure, said that we were America’s favorite city, according to its readers. And that was while I was mayor, and you’re working to garner attention for the city, and you’re meeting mayors from all across the folks all across the spectrum. And folks who you you’ve seen and you’ve admired for a long time, like Mayor Villaraigosa, or Mayor Bloomberg, and you start dealing with them and you realize that, you know, they are the regular people in many ways. And as you get more comfortable, so I think for me, is some of it probably has to do with my experience as a lawyer. Some of it definitely has to do with my time as mayor, addressing all such a broad range of folks from around the country, dealing with executives and companies around the country. And those things really helped me, I think, get more comfortable with myself and being able to relate to folks. So it just builds on itself to some degree.


Will Bachman  48:41

Last section of the show is Department of books and culture. You’ve already mentioned 13 days, and you mentioned to acidities What other books, movies, films, other cultural artifacts have been important to you or that you’ve regular, gifted or regularly recommended to others.


Angel Taveras  49:01

Well, let me just say, I mean from us from a music standpoint, I mean, one of the things that I really do, I’m writing into Dominican music and which has made angeI and something that I really enjoy very, very much. And when we had my inauguration, we had the equivalent of Bruce Springsteen, in fact, his nickname is the boss from the Dominican Republic, come and, and sing at the inauguration. And so I was glad I’m always happy to be able to spread my anger wherever we go. And he he also made a song for my campaign, which is really from one of his biggest hits, which is you can imagine having your favorite singer make a song about you. I’m still it’s, if you look at my top played songs on my iPhone, it’s the number one. So that’s something that’s important. I enjoy


Will Bachman  49:55

kinosol Hefa here who is the boss? Not


Angel Taveras  49:59

the boss is versus the nundle visa, Lorna Fernando visa Alona is the boss. They call them Ilma gene Bay, Mr. Ma in Spanish, his boss. So that’s something that that is that is great. The other thing that we, that I do give to people, and I can even have it here is WaterFire, Providence Wodify. A Providence did not stop during my administration. But we certainly were supportive of it. It is a installation where the artist burns wood on the water throughout the river. And it has grown to become one of the biggest attractions in the city of Providence. And it brings people from all around the world, here to the city of Providence, one of the things we did, which was amazing was we actually did it in in Rome, and I couldn’t believe it, I actually went to do it in Rome. And I couldn’t believe the number of Italians who came out to see this. You think about Rome, the you know, the Eternal City, right? It’s everything that it’s seen, yet they came out to see it. And so I love to talk to folks about the the city of Providence and WaterFire, because so many people know it, and it’s a way to bring people together. And they’ve done water fires to honor first responders to honor our teachers, to honor different groups, there’s a lot of fire to honor, breast cancer survivors. There’s so much that goes on here. And what I learned is that a city needs a successful city needs art and culture and music and food needs, green spaces needs good theater. There’s a lot that goes into a city that’s those are the cities that I think are truly successful cities where you can have a wonderful dinner and enjoy a show or go out to a park and enjoy the greenery and the view. And so those things are very important. And that’s what really shapes a city and what makes it distinct. One of the things I did when I was mayor was I was very supportive of Federal Hill hill here, Federal Hill was really is one of the places most people go to eat. It’s history is very tied to Italian American heritage here. And I understood how important it was for us to make sure that it’s successful and that it continues to attract people. And that people can go and enjoy a dinner. Enjoy show downtown. So I’ve learned along the way from different things. And it’s good, it’s good because it helps shape you and helps around you. So So those are some things that I would say.


Will Bachman  52:52

Fabulous. Mayor, where would you point people if they want to find out more about your your work and what you’re doing now?


Angel Taveras  53:03

Well, folks, I am now at Womble bond Dickinson. So if you Google Angel Tavares, Womble, who and BLE, you should find my LinkedIn my, my bio on firms website. I’m also on Twitter, Angel divaris on Twitter, I’m also on Facebook, and Instagram as well. Those are more I think Twitter, I expressed some my political views, personal views, overall, but I managed all of that I no longer have a staff. So I manage all that. So. So certainly there are ways to connect with me through Twitter or Facebook as well. And I’m also part of the Facebook page for our reunion class. So I’m looking forward to 3030 later this year,


Will Bachman  53:58

fantastic. And we will include those links in the show notes and listeners. You can find a transcript of this episode. And all the other episodes at 92. Report calm. That’s nine to Mayor, thank you so much. This was a fabulous episode. I learned a ton it was a really pleasure speaking with you.


Angel Taveras  54:19

Well, thank you for the opportunity. It’s an honor to be to be on your podcast and to be able to share some of my views with fellow class of 92 classmates