Mario Méndez is running for the District 13 (Providence, Johnston) House seat currently held by Ramon Perez, and before that by John Carnevale. I spoke to Méndez by phone. We started by talking about the letter from Carnevale to some of his former constituents that indicated the former Representative was interested in running for his old seat.
“It’s a half-hearted letter to me,” said Méndez, “It seems like, ‘Hey, you know I’m running, let’s see what you think about this.’ It doesn’t have a lot of conviction behind it, in my opinion. I don’t know if that’s purposeful, if he’s just testing the waters…”
In light of the #metoo movement, and the changes at the Rhode Island State House since Representative Teresa Tanzi‘s sexual harassment allegation and subsequent House Commission, I asked Méndez how he thinks Carnevale’s campaign will go.
“I’m interested to see how that would play out. I don’t know if he’s necessarily factored all this into his decision to run,” said Méndez, “I hear from those in political circles about how big Carnevale was or about how cemented his position was in the district – and I have not found that whatsoever while walking the district. I don’t know if it was because he was never challenged that he had this aura of omnipotence around him, or if it’s the way he left office, but people in the district aren’t thinking about him like that.”
As for the current Representative from District 13, Ramon Perez, “Frankly, as a resident, I’m embarrassed to say that’s my representative,” said Méndez.
“The reason I’m running is that this district is extremely special to me. All my memories reside there,” continued Méndez. “I’m a 25-year resident of the district. I grew up off Plainfield Street on Lowell Avenue. I went to the district’s public schools, I went to Laurel Hill, now Spaziano Elementary School, went to Del Sesto, so I’m pretty much homegrown product, I think.
“I work for a non-profit. We have clients in the food service industry who we provide unconscious bias training, cultural intelligence training, how to manage a diverse workforce. I do content creation, billing, a little bit of everything. We’re a small organization.”
Méndez is unmarried and has no children, but has been with his girlfriend for 14 years.
“I’m first generation American. My parents are immigrants. This area has changed quite a bit. It’s mostly first generation families like mine in the district now. Even though I’m an American, I was born here, I’m very much in touch with the plight of first generation families and being an immigrant.”
His father is Guatemalan and his mother is Salvadoran. “Make sure you get both sides in your piece,” said Méndez. “I’m 28 but I was raised old school. You do what you say. You keep your word. Your word is your bond. That’s something that very much defines me and given the history of the district, our residents need that kind of leadership.
“Another part of the equation is that District 13 is fractured. There are two different worlds along the Providence/Johnston line. The district covers both of those. Being both an American and a child of immigrants gives me a unique perspective as to what people want in both worlds. On one end you have you have people who are second and third generation who pretty much have their basic needs taken care of and can move on to loftier goals than the other segment of the district, who are working families scraping together rent every month and trying to have their kids go to school and seek a better life for them,” continued Méndez.
“In speaking to people, our residents aren’t asking for much from their government. Our campaign is about taking care of the basics, really. It’s understandable. You step out out of your house and you see dirty streets and you see potholes. You want your children to go to schools where they can get an adequate education and have a good shot at upward social mobility.
“Those are the themes of my campaign.”
Méndez describes himself as pragmatic.
“I’m looking for legislation that will protect my constituents, a lower middle class demographic. That’s where my heart will always be,” said Méndez. For instance, “On guns I definitely support universal background checks. I definitely support the banning of bump stocks and military style assault weapons. Those don’t belong on our streets. I wouldn’t think that arming teachers is a solution. I’ve spoken to plenty of parents that feel it would make them more apprehensive about the environment that their children would be learning in. We definitely do need security in our schools. We’ve seen how the lack of security can be devastating, but I don’t think the solution is arming teachers.”
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