Joseph A. Doorley, Jr., was inaugurated as the mayor of the city of Providence on January 4, 1965. At that time, Doorley was both youngest mayor in the history of the city of Providence as well as the youngest mayor of any major city in the United States. His tenure as mayor was marked by a series of political, racial, and fiscal tensions and offers insight into the dynamics of politics – both local and national – in the latter part of the twentieth century. Doorley was a product of the Providence Democratic “machine” that dominated Providence politics from 1936 until his defeat in the Providence mayoral election of 1974. Democratic politicians in Providence started to build this machine in 1936 and, beginning in 1940, under a revised Home Rule Charter, were successful in electing mayors who were able to govern with substantial authority. The study provides a look at the rise of the Providence Democratic machine which operated on the premise of providing jobs and services in exchange for votes. During the Doorley era, 1965-1974, Doorley displayed his strength as mayor, and many times he and his administration were more interested in maintaining power than solving the problems of a declining industrial city.
This study also analyzes the many problems of the city of Providence during this era. Doorley and his administration dealt with a declining tax base, a decline in the population in the city, racial tensions, the battle for fair housing and school desegregation. Doorley tried to respond to the many problems of his era by working on urban renewal projects, clearing slums, and bringing funds from the federal government to Providence. He attempted to breathe new life into an old industrial city by using a combination of machine politics, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” legislation, and the power he enjoyed as the head of the Democratic ‘machine’ in Providence. The Doorley administration was a continuation of the old-style political machine and focused on assisting groups within the city that had high numbers of loyal Democrats with the premise of providing jobs and political favors. Doorley dealt with the financial crises during his terms by being fiscally conservative while attempting to balance the budgets and hold the tax rate.