Politics: Rhode Island Primary Review


Originally Appeared at Rhode Island's Future in September, 2010

Promising to serve with an open heart, an open mind and an open door, Angel Taveras accepted the Democratic nomination for mayor of Providence late Tuesday night. His victory in the four-way primary all but guarantees the city will elect its first Latino mayor in November’s general election, where he’ll face Independent candidate Jonathan Scott.

It will be interesting to see how Taveras handles life as the overwhelming favorite in a race after effectively playing the role of the little-known outsider against his veteran opponents in the primary. His team seemed to relish its underdog role so much that I expected Mr. Taveras to kick his victory speech off by yelling, “We shocked the world.”

But did they really?

Taveras clearly didn’t have same name recognition as Steven Costantino or John Lombardi at the start of the race, but he had the blueprint for success from the very beginning. From the outset, Taveras had all the right people and resources in his corner: Myrth York’s financial support; Lauren Nocera’s talent as a campaign manager; energetic young leader Meg Grady and her vast reach among Young Democrats; and yes, Jerzyk behind the scenes. When you combine his dynamic team with the fact that his opponents were fighting for the same vote from a dwindling population, it becomes easier to see why Taveras won by such a decisive margin.

Just as many pundits predicted when he entered the race (before backing off near the end), Taveras built the same east side/south side coalition that made Mayor David Cicilline so difficult to defeat in 2002 and 2006. I know, I know. He claimed victories in other parts of the city as well. But that was simply icing on the cake.

And by Tuesday evening, when everyone was fretting about low turnout, we now know the underdog was just running up the score.

Scott’s Ideal Opponent
Jonathan Scott would have to shock the world in order to win the Providence mayor’s race, but as I’ve mentioned before, a faceoff with Taveras was his best bet. The sad reality is that there are a lot Lombardi/Costantino supporters who will find it very difficult to vote for a Latino in November. And they will turn out, because they’ll have a governor’s race to vote in.

That’s not to say that all of Scott’s supporters are just racists who hate Taveras. I actually like Scott a lot and think if nothing else, he’ll add to the discussion over the next two months. To become a serious contender, he’ll need to raise a lot of money in a hurry and find a way to separate himself from his opponent, which was a struggle in some of the primary debates.

The City Committee’s Relevance
On a warm June evening at the Rosario Society Hall in Silver Lake, Steven Costantino won the Democratic City Committee’s endorsement for mayor of Providence. This came just days after rumors started to circulate that Costantino might run as an independent, leaving Taveras and Lombardi to battle it out in the primary. That night, he told me those rumors were completely fictitious and that he never considered running as anything other than a Democrat.

It became clear that he was simply using a different strategy than his opponents. While Lombardi was running around to every birthday party, bar mitzvah and book club meeting throughout the city and Taveras was building the foundation of his campaign, Costantino was winning over ward committee members in hopes that support from the Democratic machine might carry him to city hall.

You have to wonder if he’s kicking himself for taking that route today. At one time, support from the City Committee may have meant a great deal, but it hard to imagine it meant much more than the 80 or so votes he picked up that evening. Neighborhoods no longer vote as one. I don’t know a single member of my ward committee and I highly doubt they helped rock the vote for their candidate on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Best Story?
How about 21 year old Davian Sanchez winning the Democratic primary in the 11th Ward? It will be interesting to see how he’ll fare against Independent Carrie Marsh, who considered running for mayor, in November. Sabina Matos also warrants a mention for unseating Josephine DiRuzzo in the 15th. Thank god.

Monday Morning Quarterback In CD 1
The most oft-uttered phrase by candidates in the 1st Congressional District in the months leading up to the primary was, “if the election were to happen today, Undecided would win.”

That may have been true, but I think they were giving Undecided a little too much credit. I find it hard to believe the majority of undecided voters throughout the district were undecided because the candidates were all so strong and appealing. Chances are they were undecided because a race between four white guys they’d never met all promising to help them was the last thing they cared about. In the end, Undecided probably went with the name they recognized – Cicilline – or they were among the many no-shows on Tuesday.

David Segal deserves a lot of credit for earning 20 percent of the vote. I guarantee no candidate had more organization than he had on Election Day; but he would have needed to broaden his support base to have had a shot at defeating Cicilline. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do next, but everyone seems to agree that it’s not a matter of if he’ll run for office again, it’s when.

Bill Lynch wound up being the major disappointment of this race. I found it strange that someone who comes from a family of politicians had so little organization within his campaign. He was nowhere on the internet. His television ad was well done but came too late. And you can’t make term limits the number one issue of your campaign when the majority of voters couldn’t tell you how long one term in the House lasts.

Anthony Gemma was the wild card in CD 1 and he ended up doing pretty well. His jobs plan was actually quite impressive and he ran an aggressive campaign. Of course, in doing so, he might have helped hand the seat over to Republican John Loughlin. Something tells me Cicilline won’t be asking him to help over the next month.

You have to wonder just how big Cicilline’s victory would have been if not for all the mudslinging over the past few weeks. To still get 37 percent of the vote despite all the accusations and bumps that popped up along the way shows what strong name recognition and solid organization within a campaign can do for a candidate. Eric Hyers deserves a lot of credit.


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