2004: Nellie Gorbea >> State Government

And then there were 10: For four years running, Providence Monthly has identified ten up-and-coming people... in such fields as business, the arts, government, and social service... ten people we believe will be names to be reckoned with in the not too distant future.  Their success is what breathes vitality into our city-state and makes Providence the wonderful Renaissance retreat it is.  We began our search for the ten a few months ago.  We started by contacting some of the current movers and shakers and asking them to identify individuals they felt were on the way up and capable of making significant contributions in their chosen field.  Some of our faithful readers also pitched in.  We're happy to report that energetic leaders-to-be in our community is clearly a growth industry.  We were flooded with nominations.  Here are the ten we picked, a subjective exercise at best.  The face of Providence is indeed changing.  Get to know ten people who are a part of it. 

NELLIE GORBEA >> State Government

Read Nellie Gorbea's resume and you get the impression of a woman on a mission. Princeton graduate. Masters from Columbia. President of the Latino Political Action Committee. Rhode Island's Deputy Secretary of State. And in the last year, she's added a new role: mother.

Gorbea has found a way to balance public service and motherhood. "I just roll with it," she says. "I feel fortunate to be working for the right person. The Secretary [of State Matt Brown] just got married himself. It's a young administration."

Since January 2003, Gorbea has been Director of that administration, running the day-to-day operations of a Secretary of State's office that may be more activist than any of its predecessors. The office is home to a variety of functions, from assembling a central voter registration system to preparing ballots to incorporating businesses. 

"Our goal is to make it the best run state agency in the country, " she says.  "We're getting there.  There are challenges to doing that. In government, you're dealing with everyday concerns and issues that come up that you had no way of foreseeing.  It makes the job fun and exciting."  

Gorbea grew up in Puerto Rico and sees many similarities between Rhode Island and her homeland.  "It's small and everyone seems to know everybody," she says. "Where you went to high school or college can create permanent ties. Also, there's the water and the shoreline to remind me of Puerto Rico."

While working as a program officer at the Rhode Island Foundation, Gorbea got to better know the local Hispanic community.  Many of their discussions centered on helping Hispanic political candidates get elected.  In 2002, she was elected to the volunteer position of president of the Latino Political Action Committee.  The Group helped elect candidates and engaged in an endorsement process that Gorbea describes as "fair and transparent". 

Matt Brown was one of the candidates the committee endorsed.  Once he took office, he approached Gorbea about joining his administration.  "I was flattered," she says.  "I was impressed with what I knew about him.  He really wanted to come in and make a difference."

Gorbea says she is surprised when people choose not to vote. "What keeps people from voting is the disconnect between voting and their everyday lives," she says.  "Government affects a wide part of everyone's lives. What I've really loved is the opportunity to get involved and make a difference."

WHY SHE MADE THE LIST:  Gorbea will continue to impact the public discussion in her role as Deputy Secretary of State and her involvement with the growing Hispanic caucus will bear watching. -Brett Davey

published with permission - copyright: Providence Monthly, November 2004, Issue #96