David Caprio Wins Dem Chairmanship, Takes Aim at Republicans

Oct 3, 2013

David Caprio (right) chats with Frank Anzeveno, chief of staff for House Speaker Gordon Fox
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

David Caprio warmed to the task of scorning Republicans following his unanimous election Thursday night as the new chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. Speaking before a few hundred party insiders at the Portuguese Club in Cranston, he offered a series of comparison-contrast points to highlight how, as he described it, Democrats remain the party of working families.

Caprio blamed Republicans for the partial closure of the federal government, while Democrats, he said, have promoted affordable health care. The GOP got castigated for tax breaks to big oil, while Dems were praised for boosting renewable energy. Caprio invoked the RI GOP's now-famous flap involving the fundraising raffle of an assault rifle, while saying Team Blue works to get guns off the street.

But Caprio seemed a bit less ready when asked later how much responsibility ruling legislative Democrats (who've held power since 1935) bear for Rhode Island's high unemployment. "I'm really not going to comment on that tonight," he told me. "Democrats do a great job leading our state. The voters have consistently re-elected Democrats at every level of our government, to a vast majority, and they're responsive to their constituents."

Caprio, a member of one of Rhode Island's leading political families, remained relentlessly on-message in addressing potential party fissures during next year's likely bruising gubernatorial primary between state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. In addressing the state committee meeting, Caprio euphemistically noted how primaries can be "spirited." Later, he added that he's not worried about an intra-party clash because Democrats, he says, are fortunate to have so many qualified candidates.

Caprio gave a shout-out to his parents, Providence Chief Municipal Judge Frank Caprio and his wife, Joyce. Caprio's brother, Frank, the former treasurer and 2010 gubernatorial candidate who hopes to regain the treasurer's post next year, wasn't seen at the Democratic gathering. Asked whether Frank Caprio will run as a Democrat, David Caprio said, "You have to ask him."

I asked David Caprio whether he was concerned about the possibility of Frank Caprio leveling some sharp criticism, as part of his campaign for treasurer, of Gina Raimondo's performance in that job. He responded, "Frank's going to run his own campaign. I'm the chair of the Democratic Party, and I'm going to support the Democrats."

Caprio succeeds Ed Pacheco, who stepped down as Democratic Party chairman in April to run for secretary of state. His job will consist mostly of preserving the status quo, since Republicans are locked out of RI's four-member congressional delegation, the five state general offices, and they have only 11 of 113 members in the General Assembly.

Back in 2006, Frank and David Caprio were on the political rise. They both faced a setback in 2010, when Frank's gubernatorial campaign didn't catch on with rank and file Democrats, and David was upset by liberal Teresa Tanzi in a primary for his Narragansett-based state rep seat.

Now, though, David Caprio has a highly visible post within the Democratic Party, and Frank, if he wins his bid for treasurer (Democrats Ernest Almonte and Seth Magaziner are also in the hunt), could potentially set his sights on the governor's office once again.

In some ways, David Caprio's rise as party chairman is a bit ironic, since he was at the center of efforts by former Republican governor Don Carcieri to split the ruling legislative Democrats. As I recounted in 2006:

When [then-Speaker John] Harwood and Democratic Party chief Bill Lynch moved to punish Caprio by replacing the members of his district committee (and the new committee endorsed a challenger, George F. Lenihan), some people would have skirted away from it, but “he ran right at it,” recalls [Phil] West [of Common Cause], transforming the heavy-handed tactics into a cudgel to clobber his opponents and cruising to a big reelection

David Caprio rebuilt his support, as seen by how he emerged as House Judiciary chairman, before his loss in 2010, and House Speaker Gordon Fox has remained a key supporter. Thanks to Fox's blessing last month, Caprio's election Thursday night had all the suspense of a Moscow show trial.