The surprise resignation of Representative Shelby Maldonado (Democrat-C, District 56, Central Falls) puts an important General Assembly seat into play, but the election for the open seat has just one declared candidate, Joshua Giraldo, who currently serves as Central Falls Mayor James Diossa’s chief of staff.
As a result, Giraldo is almost guaranteed to be sworn in to the General Assembly in March, where he will serve for about three months before having to run for the same office again in November. Although most of the important votes taken by the General Assembly happen later in the session, Giraldo will be weighing in on some important legislation and the 2021 budget.
Giraldo was the campaign manager for James Diossa’s successful city council and mayoral campaigns in Central Falls. A former schoolteacher at Blackstone Valley Prep, Giraldo left teaching to be Diossa’s director of Parks and Recreation before becoming the mayor’s chief of staff in 2015.
Under Diossa, Central Falls has been recovering from its bankruptcy, and the schools in the city, still under state control, are seriously underfunded. Central Falls is the only majority-minority city in Rhode Island, with more than 60% identifying as hispanic/Latino per the 2010 census. A recent survey by the Rhode Island Immigrant Coalition indicated that more than half the population lives in fear of ICE. These include not only undocumented people, but people from mixed status families. Nearly 30% of those surveyed said that they cannot receive public services because of this fear.
Central Falls is also the location of the controversial Wyatt Detention Facility, which houses ICE detainees. More than 98% of Central Falls residents surveyed had negative comments on the prison and its contract with ICE.
“When Mayor Diossa and Shelby suggested that I run, I gave them the usual answer… which is, no way, that sort of thing is not for me,” said Giraldo to a room full of supporters at a fundraiser held at La Casona Restaurant in Central Falls late in December.
“But after a while, I committed to thinking about it. I told them I’d think about it because I knew that when I got home and spoke to my wife, Maite, that she was going to advise against it, considering we were looking to purchase a new home, I was supposed to finish getting my master’s and we have a ton of other life plans in the works. And to be honest, I was looking forward to her telling me that I was crazy and that this was too much, too quick. But when I spoke to her about it, her response caught me by surprise. It was short, simple and blunt,” continued Giraldo.
“She said, ‘Yes, of course you should do it.'”
Giraldo not only has Mayor Diossa’s support, he has the support of most of the Central Falls City Council. In addition to Diossa, Giraldo’s fundraiser host committee consisted of six of the seven sitting members of the city council and Central Falls State Senator Elizabeth Crowley (Democrat-Conservative, District 16).
Crowley enthusiastically sang Giraldo’s praises in a press release announcing her support.
The person Giraldo seeks to replace, Shelby Maldonado, was a close ally to the conservative Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat-Conservative, District 15, Cranston). Senator Crowley is an equally close ally to the conservative Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat-Conservative, District 4, Providence). But complicating Giraldo’s political support are city councilors Jonathon Acosta (Ward 1) and Jessica Vega (Ward 5), who are part of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, a group of progressive Democrats. Acosta has announced plans to challenge Crowley for her Senate seat in November.
Also making appearances at the fundraiser were state representatives Jean Philippe Barros (Democrat-Conservative, District 59, Pawtucket) and Raymond Johnston (Democrat-Conservative, District 61, Pawtucket), as well as former Burrillville representative Cale Keable. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza attended, as did Heiny Maldonado, executive director of Fuerza Laboral, a workers’ rights organization in Central Falls.
Giraldo spent few words at his fundraiser talking about his positions on policy, and has so far declined an interview with Motif.
“As a former teacher, I know the importance of a good education and will fight for more youth opportunities and fair funding and resources for our schools,” said Giraldo to supporters. “As the former director of Parks and Rec, I led the fight to grow youth sports and to build brand new parks all over the city and will continue to advocate for a high quality of life for our children, our families and our seniors. And as Mayor Diossa’s chief of staff, I understand the importance of state support and will be a strong voice at the State House for lower taxes and increased economic development.”
With no opponents declared in the race, Giraldo and Central Falls voters will skip a primary and proceed to the March 3 special election.