Angel Taveras's bold politics

Until now, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has been defined by his response to the budget crisis he inherited when he took office. And if the polling numbers are any indication, Rhode Islanders like what they've seen.

But listen closely to the mayor, and it's clear that his passion lies elsewhere - in education.

I spoke with him for my new cover story on the push to turn around Providence's failing schools. And he suggested that the very future of the city is at stake - economic development, public safety, you name it.

For Taveras, who grew up poor in the Providence Public Schools, there is a personal resonance, too. "These kids are me," he said. "I go into the classroom and I see a lot of little Angels."

With the budget crisis subsiding, it only seems a matter of time before the public understands that education is Taveras's top priority.

That could have major implications for Rhode Island politics. The mayor, one of the most popular politicians in the state, is weighing a run for governor next year. And owning the flailing school district comes with real risk.

It is hard to imagine the city making substantial gains on standardized tests by the 2014 election. And that could be a problem, especially with popular and well-financed Treasurer Gina Raimondo - unburdened by a sagging school system or any of the other baggage that comes with running a large, poor city - likely to make a run.

There is, no doubt, some poltical upside for the mayor. His public schools embrace should burnish his reputation - forged in the budget crisis - for boldly confronting the city's biggest problems.

But it is much easier to look decisive - and to claim success - cutting lines in a budget than turning around a complex and deeply troubled school system.

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