R.I.’s East Providence (WPRI) — In their lone live televised debate, the three Democratic candidates for mayor of Providence on Tuesday night discussed their positions on taxation, the state’s takeover of the city’s public schools, and the severely underfunded pension system.

The incumbent mayor, Democrat Jorge Elorza, is leaving office due to term limits. Gonzalo Cuervo, Nirva LaFortune, and Brett Smiley are the three candidates running to replace him. Since neither a Republican nor an independent has declared their candidacy for mayor, the Democratic primary winner will almost certainly take office as mayor of the nation’s capital in January.

WATCH: Complete Mayoral Debate in Providence
The three candidates took turns defending themselves against allegations related to ethics, likeability, and opportunism during the hour-long live discussion on 12 News.

Cuervo and LaFortune attacked Smiley for breaking the state’s code of ethics last year in one of the debate’s more heated exchanges. He admitted it at the time, while still serving in a key cabinet post for the then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, that he had accepted campaign donations from state contractors.

According to Target 12, the contentious gifts were first made public.

Cuervo described Smiley, who spent several years managing a private company that specialised in campaign finance compliance, as “an expert in campaign finance.”

Cuervo, who most recently served as Nellie Gorbea’s deputy secretary of state, continued, “When he sought for advice, he turned around and did exactly what he told the Rhode Island Ethics Commission he was not going to do.”

With a campaign account that is four times larger than his rivals’, Smiley has a significant financial advantage over his competitors. He said that he accepted full responsibility for the ethical transgression and that he had already paid the $4,500 fine. Additionally, he made the case that public employees ought to confess their errors more frequently.

I swiftly refunded any contributions I had received from people whose contracts with the state I was unaware of, according to Smiley, and I then properly complied with the Ethics Commission.

Not only Smiley, who remarkably avoided attacking either of his two opponents during the debate, found himself in the hot seat. Cuervo also came under fire for admitting he left Providence in 2013 and spent six years in Cranston before moving back to the nation’s capital ahead of the current mayoral election. (In 2020, he sold his Cranston residence.)

LaFortune stated, “I think moving back in 2019 only to run for office says a lot about you as a person.”