In Boon for Caprio, History Shows Rhode Island Voters are Forgiving

May 8, 2013

Former treasurer Frank Caprio continues his comeback tour with the obligatory denunciation of his "shove it" remark during the 2010 gubernatorial race, courtesy of a Wednesday column by ProJo political columnist Ed Fitzpatrick. As Caprio gears up in an attempt to retake the treasurer's office, he might appreciate how Rhode Island voters have proven to be a forgiving lot; the state's recent history is full of examples of candidates who've successfully battled back from big defeats and seemingly debilitating political wounds.

Three cases in point:

1. Buddy Cianci's 1983 assault on Raymond DeLeo in the then-Providence mayor's Power Street home is the stuff of legend in Rhode Island and far beyond. A comeback appeared extremely unlikely when Cianci later resigned and pleaded nolo. Yet Cianci was ascendant in 1990, winning a three-way race over Democrat Andrew Annaldo and independent Frederick Lippitt -- famously twitted by Cianci during a debate as the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper. Cianci rode high for more than a decade, presiding over the nationally ballyhooed Providence renaissance, before landing back in hot water, and ultimately federal prison. The question now is whether Cianci could stage an improbable third political comeback, as a candidate for mayor, if Angel Taveras moves on next year.

2. Sheldon Whitehouse suffered a crushing political defeat when liberal favorite Myrth York squeezed past him in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary. It was a bitter pill for a guy with a very strong political resume, as a former aide to Bruce Sundlun, Rhode Island's former US Attorney, and, from 1998 to 2003, attorney general. Being AG here can be a political minefield, and Whitehouse faced criticism in two high-profile cases. Yet after recovering from the loss in 2002, Whitehouse emerged as a better, wiser candidate in 2006, when he (helped by a backlash against George W. Bush) decisively beat Lincoln Chafee to win a US Senate seat.

3. Political obituaries were being written far and wide for Congressman David Cicilline when he faced abysmal sub-25 percent approval ratings in the early part of 2012. Critics of the former Providence mayor delighted in forecasting a comeuppance for the fiscal problems that came to light after Cicilline left City Hall in early 2011, months after he called the outlook "excellent." There was an overstated element to most of the predictions for the congressman's political future. Still, few could have predicted that Cicilline would beat Republican Brendan Doherty by a staggering margin of slightly more than 12 points. Rather than being vanquished, the hardworking Democrat emerged as a savvy political survivor whose seat looks quite secure for years to come.