Misplaced voter fraud concerns

Aug 24, 2012

Do Rhode Islanders have an unquenchable thirst for campaign nuttiness? From the reaction of   both mainstream media and talk show wacko world to Anthony Gemma’s latest skewed salvo, one might think so.

The talk show babblers are in full throat. The ProJo’s front page Thursday morning ran Gemma’s nonsense as if WW III was imminent. Practically the entire city room was assigned a piece of the story. In the end, the article did very little to advance the issue.

Readers knew no more about the Gemma allegations Thursday morning than they did Wednesday afternoon.

What unspooled was a “he said she said’’ story that left heads scratching from Napatree Point to Woonsocket’s North End.

Contrast that with a Tim White piece on Channel 12 Thursday evening. He expended some shoe leather, went to the city’s South Side and came back with a solid report that showed clearly that several of the instances Gemma reported as fraud were petty nonsense. Does anyone in the ProJo newsroom know the way to Elmwood Avenue?

It’s sad because the paper once did; Katherine Gregg alluded to it in an elliptical manner in the lead of her somewhat overplayed mail ballot story on page one this a.m. After a close mayoral race in the early 1980s won by, surprise, surprise, Buddy Cianci, Projo reporters went deep into Providence’s neighborhoods to document mail ballot abuse in a series that unearthed such ripe revelations as the more than 20 voters registered out of the Beraducci funeral parlor on Federal Hill, a favored pre-cemetery resting place of  bullet-riddled mobsters and the site of Raymond Patriarca’s wake.

Another strange aspect of the ProJo coverage has been the curious absence of any informed analysis/opinion pieces on this issue (where have you gone Charlie Bakst?). Why no editorials/columns?

Rhode Island Public Radio and Samuel Howard at RIFuture.org have at least taken a swing at this; Howard’s piece was good; we will leave it up to listeners to judge RIPR.

There is a larger question here, one that is crucial to both Rhode Island’s civic culture and its always fragile sense of political self. There was a time when voter fraud, and particularly the abuse of absentee balloting, arguably had a tangible impact on who won or lost elections in Providence. Who can forget Joe Paolino’s defeat of Fred Lippitt by 121 mail ballot votes in the 1984 special election that replaced Cianci after Buddy committed a felony assault by beating hi ex-wife’s lover?

Now, everyone needs to take a deep breath. This we know for sure: whatever the veracity or lack thereof of Gemma’s allegations, voter fraud had NOTHING to do with the rise of David Cicilline’s political career. And it will have no impact on the upcoming primary or general election for 1st District Congress.

Cicilline won the 2002 and 2006 Providence mayoral campaigns by huge margins. He won the 2010 Democratic congressional primary by a comfortable margin over three Democrats (including Gemma) and got by Republican John Loughlin to take the seat held for many years by Patrick Kennedy. The deciding votes in Providence elections these days are cast on the East Side, not the South Side. That was true of both the rise of Cicilline and Angel Taveras to the ornate office on City Hall’s second floor.

Yet Gemma and talk show anti-immigrant know-nothings are panting like rats in heat to create the impression that Latino candidates and those who are sympathetic to our state’s newest immigrants can win elections only because they scam the voting process. This is a trope similar to the national Republican nonsense that Barack Obama, (who won the presidency by 8 million votes)  captured the White House only because of ineligible voters driven to the polls by ACORN or Latino and African-American political groups.

If Cicilline and liberal Democrats are stealing elections in Providence, they aren’t doing it on Elmwood Avenue. It’s happening on Elmgrove Avenue. And if you believe that you believe in all sorts of arcane conspiracy theories – is Putin the is the next mayor of Providence?

There is plenty to criticize in David Cicilline’s career. He has a long record in politics, from the General Assembly to City Hall and the U.S. House. Why isn’t Gemma focused on this? Unless Gemma, knowing he is going to lose, is interested only in heaving mud at Cicilline and playing to the fears of ancient white voters who and under the sadly mistaken belief that South Side Latinos are stealing elections to help Cicilline.