How much travel is too much for Providence mayor?

PROVIDENCE MAYOR Jorge O. Elorza has taken at least 60 trips out of state during his first term. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

During his first term, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza has taken at least 60 trips out of state. Is that excessive?

“Absolutely not,” said Elorza, who added that many of the trips are fact-finding missions to bring useful ideas back to Providence.

“We have to get out there and understand and bring all these amazing ideas back to Providence,” the mayor explained. “Every single one of these has been a work trip. … It’s about selling the city and doing what we can to bring more resources.”

Elorza said many of his trips have been to Massachusetts. That included a recent trip to Boston, where the mayor attended a panel discussion on commercial real estate.

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There was no travel cost to the city for the event, his office said, and city funds are not used, in general, for the mayor’s travels.

Elorza has taken some trips outside the country, including to Guatemala, the homeland of his parents who immigrated to Providence. Because of that trip, Elorza said, Providence formed a sister-city agreement with Guatemala City, which led to an international business networking event here.

Independent mayoral candidate Jeff Lemire says some travel is expected from the mayor, but it also raises questions.

“Obviously, he has to go some places,” Lemire said. “Who is paying for the trips? And what are we [as a city] getting out of it?”

Another independent mayoral candidate, Dianne “Dee Dee” Witman, thinks Elorza has spent too much time outside the city.

“We need a leader who is present and ready to deal with the problems facing the city at home,” she said.

Elorza has complied with public reporting requirements for his travels, including when a third party pays for his trips, said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, a nonprofit concerned with government accountability.

“Whether you agree that [Elorza] should be taking these trips or not, he did what he was required to do,” he said.

Elorza has taken about twice as many out-of-state trips as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in recent years, but that isn’t a fair comparison, said June Speakman, a political science professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol.

“The mayor of Boston has an entirely different set of challenges and opportunities than the mayor of Providence,” Speakman said. “Boston is one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest cities in the country, while Providence has struggled over the past 50 years.”

As a result, she said, Boston’s mayor doesn’t have to work nearly as hard to attract business and other opportunities as does Providence’s mayor.

A mayor is like a corporate CEO, she added, his job is to have strong department heads who can take on daily business when the CEO is away representing and promoting the company. She thinks Elorza has done that.

“I don’t have a problem with his frequent travel,” she explained. “If a CEO did it, I wouldn’t have a problem with it [either].”

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.