State Rep. Edie Ajello, D-Providence, a veteran Democratic East Side lawmaker, says that former Democratic Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr., was behind recruiting a candidate to run against her in the September 9 Democratic primary.
Ajello challenged signatures that Paolino gathered on nominating papers for her opponent, Nathanael Hanna. She took her case to the state Board of Elections, which denied her challenge. Ajello asserted that six signatures gather by Paolino for Hanna should have been invalidated because the former mayor signed, witnessed and notarized all six signatures in a process that made ``a mockery’’ of the signature gathering process, because a single person should not be permitted to serve in all those roles.
Candidates for state representative are required under state election law to submit petitions with the signatures of at least 50 valid, eligible voters to state election officials in order to qualify for the ballot. Ajello lost her challenge because the election panel found that even without the six signatures gathered by Paolino, Hanna had the required 50 valid signatures. (Hanna ended up with 52 valid signatures even without the six harvested by Paolino, so Ajello’s challenge was rendered moot).
Ajello said she would not have taken the case to the state election board had Paolino not been involved in the signatures. ``Ordinarily I wouldn’t have challenged the nomination papers but Mr. Paolino has asserted himself in this race and we are very concerned about his influence in the General Assembly already. We are also concerned about Mr. Paolino’s support of other candidates, particularly his support of Vincent Cianci.’’ (Paolino has been a vocal backer of Cianci’s independent candidacy for Providence mayor).
Paolino says there isn’t much to Ajello’s assertions. He said he hasn’t been much involved in Hanna’s campaign.
``The only thing I did is get six signatures; me, Lianne’s (his spouse, Lianne Paolino) and our four kids,’’ said Paolino. Hanna, Paolino said, is a longtime family friend who worked for his late father, Joseph R. Paolino Sr., at Paolino Properties, the family real estate and development business.
``My father loved him (Hanna) and thought he was a very good guy, and so do I ’’ said Paolino. ``He’s an old family friend.’’
Paolino said he has nothing against Ajello, but mentioned that she should not have voted for the 38 Studios enabling legislation. (Ajello had lots of company on that ill-fated measure; every House lawmaker save one, former Republican Leader Robert Watson of East Greenwich, cast their votes for it).
``I’m not anti her (Ajello) and I’ve never been, until she tried to make me a campaign issue,’’ said Paolino.
Ajello, who lives on Benefit Street, has represented an East Side district since her first election in 1992. A former House Judiciary Committee chairwomen, she has a long record of leading on issues dear to voters in the neighborhood, including protecting abortion rights, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and advocating for Providence schools. She has also been a strong advocate for open government records legislation and the Homeless Bill of Rights law. Ajello also was among the General Assembly’s earliest advocates for gay rights, including the marriage equality law enacted two years ago that legalized same sex marriage in Rhode Island. She won’t be an easy primary mark.