Myrth York, who made three unsuccessful Democratic attempts to become governor, threw her support to Gina Raimondo Wednesday morning as Raimondo tries to become Rhode Island's first woman chief executive.
York outlined her backing during an event at the Rue de L'Espoir restaurant on Hope Street in Providence, featuring Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts and about two-doxzen predominantly female supporters.
York was an early supporter of Angel Taveras' 2010 mayoral campaign in Providence, wound up chairing his run, and remains a behind-the-scenes player in local politics.
York says she endorsed Raimondo because she considers the treasurer the best candidate to lead Rhode Island out of its persistent economic problems. Although York was a pioneer as the first female major party candidate to win a gubernatorial primary in Rhode Island, she says gender politics doesn't explain her decision.
“I am not supporting Gina because she’s woman. That is not the reason," York said. "I believe that she has the skills, the talent, the determination, the drive, the smarts to be a fabulous governor and lead this state forward.”
Besides Taveras and Raimondo, Clay Pell is the other major Democrat running for governor. Taveras' campaign declined comment on York's endorsement of Raimondo.
Raimondo is set to open her campaign office at 909 North Main Street in Providence at 4 pm Sunday -- precisely six months before the Democratic primary for governor.
A longtime East Sider, York won primaries for governor in 1994, 1998, and 2002, but was never able to pull off a general election victory. Her narrow victory over Sheldon Whitehouse during her last run set the stage for Whitehouse to make a comeback with 2006 election to the US Senate. In an interview, York said she would have preferred for Taveras to seek re-election as mayor.
Raimondo's chief of staff in her role as state treasurer, Andrew Roos, worked on York's 2002 campaign for governor. The political director of York's first campaign for governor, in 1994, Kate Coyne-McCoy, last year launched a pro-Raimondo super PAC. York is also close to Congressman David Cicilline.
After the speaking program featuring York's endorsement, Raimondo led a brief dialogue with her predominantly female audience about the hurdles facing female entrepreneurs and job growth in Rhode Island. As governor, Raimondo said, "I would like to set a tone of urgency and possibility." Those in attendance for the event included state Senator Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) and state Representative Grace Diaz (D-Providence).
On the economy, Raimondo called for supporting existing businesses, trying to bolster advance manufacturing, and more closely aligning businesses with local universities. She described being told by an executive with Amgen that the company would expand in Rhode Island, as opposed to another state, if it had a closer relationship with the University of Rhode Island and was able to influence URI's science curriculum.
Speaking with reporters after the event, Raimondo elaborated on how she's highlighted through social media images of herself cooking with her children at their home. Jeff Britt, the campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block, tweeted back his irritation when Raimondo recently raised a question about what she called Italian meatloaf. Britt responded, "ur killing me with the pot roast meatloaf conversation. Come on tell the consultants that it's ok to [be] a smart person."
Raimondo defended her "food talk" on social media as something "that's important to me." It helps to show, she says, "who are you? What motivates you?" while offering "a window into who I really am."
Raimondo said consultants have not advised her that she soften her image with domestic-themed messages on social media. But she readily acknowledged that women form roughly half of the voters in Rhode Island.