Elorza Campaign Says Ex-Advisor Wrote Statement With Borrowed Language

Aug 28, 2014

Elorza (left) and Smiley at last week's news conference.
Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

Jorge Elorza's Providence mayoral campaign says an ex-advisor wrote a recent statement about Elorza's arrest for shoplifting at age 18 that replicates precise parts of a similar statement released in 2012 by Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.

During a news conference at Prospect Park last Friday, Elorza and former candidate Brett Smiley described a state Ethics Commission probe of Elorza's main Democratic rival, City Council president Michael Solomon, in arguing that Elorza is the best hope for defeating twice-convicted felon Buddy Cianci in the November election. Elorza is a law school professor at Roger Williams University and a former Providence Housing Court judge.

Elorza's campaign manager, Marisa O'Gara, says the statement that replicates parts of Diossa's 2012 statement was written by an ex-campaign advisor. She declined to identify the person "out of respect for this person's career and future job prospects."

After firing back earlier this week and defending his handling of the ethics issue, Solomon's campaign was quick to directly blame Elorza for the incident, which was first reported by GoLocalProv

"[I]t certainly looks like Mr. Elorza committed plagiarism here," Solomon's campaign manager, Jake Bissaillon, said in a statement. ".... This is really no different than lying directly to the voters of Providence. And that is troubling. For weeks, Mr. Elorza has attacked Michael Solomon's character over a clerical error on a financial filing, a paper work issue. Plagiarism is a character issue and if Mr. Elorza was honest here, he would say anyone who had done this isn't fit to be mayor."

According to GoLocalProv's story, Elorza used a June 20 letter to about 7,000 likely Providence voters to mention his arrest for shoplifting a shirt at age 18:

"I want to be upfront about a mistake I made years ago as a young man," Elorza wrote, "because I want you to hear the story directly from me. When I was 18 years old, I was caught shoplifting a shirt from a department store. Why did I do it? I don’t have a good answer. Like a lot of teenagers, I wanted to impress my friends. I knew it was the wrong thing to do, and I accepted full responsibility immediately. I faced a judge and served my community service hours … I learned a valuable lesson and I’ve never been in trouble with the law again.”

GoLocal offered this excerpt from a letter sent by Diossa in October 2012:

“Like many people, I have had my share of ups and downs. I want to be upfront about a mistake I made years ago as a young man, because I want you to hear the story directly from me and not from an opponent of mine.  When I was a teenager, I was arrested for shoplifting a bottle of cologne from a store.  Why did I do it?  I don’t have a good answer.  Like a lot of teenagers, I wanted to impress my friends.  I knew it was the wrong thing to do and I accepted full responsibility immediately.  I faced a judge and served my community service hours, grateful that I had caring adults who loved me unconditionally and supported me when I needed it. I learned a lot from that experience.”

O'Gara, Elorza's campaign manager, provided this explanation to Rhode Island Public Radio of the similarity between the two letters:

"A former advisor helped our campaign write the first draft of this letter, and this same advisor had also worked on James Diossa's letter. Jorge relayed his personal story, our advisor presented us with this language, and Jorge felt it accurately described his personal struggle.

"If we had known the language was the same as Mayor Diossa's," O'Gara continued, "we would have immediately corrected it. What was really important to Jorge was disclosing the truth about the mistakes he made as a young man, mistakes about which he has been forthright and upfront."

The race between Solomon and Elorza appears to be the most fluid among many primary races that will be settled by voters September 9. Perennial candidate Chris Young is also running as a Democrat. The winner of the primary will face Cianci and Republican Daniel Harrop in November. Providence's current mayor, Angel Taveras, is running for governor.