RI Democrats


  The criticism came fast and hard for former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee’s presidential debate performance. Yet RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says this shouldn’t tarnish his family’s political legacy or his reputation for truth-telling.

David Axelrod’s fine and quite well-written new political memoir entitled `Believer: My Forty Years In Politics’ has some interesting insights on Patrick Kennedy’s early career, in which Axelrod had a role.

In 1994, Axelrod, who would later become Barack Obama’s political consigliere, was the media consultant for Kennedy’s first campaign for Congress in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District. Kennedy, just 26, had served five years in the RI House of Representatives as a rep from Providence’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column, recapping another eventful week in Rhode Island. As always, your tips and feedback is welcome, and you can follow me on the twitters. Best wishes to my readers for Easter and Passover. Here we go.

John Bender / RIPR

Former House Speaker Gordon Fox has admitted that he violated the law by converting campaign money to personal use and accepting a bribe to wire a liquor license for a Thayer Street bar that the neighbors weren’t  too keen on having near their homes.

But in Rhode Island political circles, the biggest rule he broke was the iron, if unofficial, Statehouse cliché: Don’t take a dime while you are serving in the General Assembly. Then cash in for as much as you can make later.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

J. Michael Lenihan, the East Greenwich Democratic state senator and tireless advocate for open government causes, died at his home yesterday after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Lenihan was a leader of government reform forces in the aftermath of the credit union collapse of the early 1990s. A burly high school history teacher, he played a crucial role in crafting legislation on lobbyist disclosure, open government records laws and increasing transparency in a state government not known for always being accountable to voters.

Ian Donnis / RIPR

Once again, a Rhode Island General Assembly member has been arrested.Rhode Island Public Radio's political analyst Scott MacKay on why the charges against Rep. Joseph Almeida don’t fit the usual pattern.

The Rhode Island state police have nabbed Providence State Rep. Almeida for allegedly misappropriating about $6,000 in campaign money for personal use.

Continuing the themes of her gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Gina Raimondo took office as Rhode Island’s first female governor this afternoon with a pledge to work diligently to improve the state’s struggling economy.

Raimondo, 43, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard University graduate, projected optimism and a can-do attitude as she delivered her inaugural address under snow flurries and a January chill on the south steps of the State House.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Among the grand ironies of Rhode Island politics is that Providence’s East Side, the neighborhood that vaulted Buddy Cianci into City Hall 40 years ago in his first upset victory for mayor, proved to be the impregnable roadblock to Cianci’s mayoral redemption tour yesterday.

When the returns rolled in last night, it was evident that when the East Side neighborhood votes were tallied, Democrat Jorge Elorza had rolled up such big margins that there was no way Cianci had a chance at an improbable Last Hurrah victory.

Ian Donnis / RIPR

At the Democratic victory party at the Providence Biltmore Hotel late last night, no one had a wider smile than Kate Coyne McCoy, the longtime advocate for electing women to political office in Rhode Island and around the nation.

``Twenty years ago, I was walking up the stairs to this room (the 17th floor ballroom, where media and pols meet on election night) with Myrth York,’’ recalled Coyne McCoy. ``It was an awful night.’’

Buddy Cianci’s steep hill : Results from the Hope High School polling place on Providence’s East Side. The results show a huge landslide for Democrat Jorge Elorza. Elorza had 823 votes in the precinct, Cianci pulled a paltry 163 and Republican Dan Harrop had 31.

The same polling place carried good news for Gina Raimondo, who polled 805 to Allan Fung’s 151 and Bob Healey’s 50. Thanks to Brown super intern Emily Wooldridge for harvesting these results.

As U.S. Senate returns flow in later this evening from around the nation, the Rhode Island politician with the most at stake is U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who is expected to coast to reelection.

First elected in 1996 to the seat held for 36 years by the late Claiborne Pell, Democrat Reed has accumulated enough seniority to become  chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a crucial post for Rhode Island’s defense industry and the U.S. Navy installation in Newport that is anchored by the Naval War College.

John Bender / RIPR

When he visits Rhode Island Friday, President Barack Obama will speak about the improving national economy and the latest Gross Domestic Product data that was released today by the federal government.

Obama is scheduled to arrive at Green State Airport  this evening and stay overnight in Providence. While the White House is not disclosing where the president will stay, sources in Providence say it will be the Omni Hotel downtown, which is attached to the Rhode Island Convention Center.

Anthony Pesaturo, the veteran pollster and political consultant, and Andrew Annaldo, former Democratic city councilman and mayoral candidate, are conducting exit polls today at voting precincts in the Elmhurst and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods of Providence. The neighborhoods are redoubts of old Providence, the city of Italian and Irish Americans, but a smattering of Latinos have moved in recent years. (Mayor Angel Taveras and his family live there, as does City Council President Michael Solomon).It has long been a Democratic Party redoubt.

One of the oldest chestnuts in close political campaigns is that the candidate who has the best last week wins.

That applies to the two elections that appear to be going down to the wire: The Democratic primaries for governor and Providence mayor.

In Providence, the contest between newcomer Jorge Elorza, a former Housing Court judge, and City Council President Michael Solomon looks like a nail-biter at this point.  Solomon advantages:  more money, a track record in City Hall and what ought to be a better get-out-the-vote operation.

As the clock ticks in the Democratic primary election for governor, it is becoming apparent that Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is caught in a left-right pincer movement between newcomer Clay Pell and State General Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

Raimondo tacks right, Pell to the left and Taveras is stuck in the middle, which is not always a great place to be in a primary historically dominated by the liberal, progressive side of the party. The other challenge for Taveras, who has pretty clearly become the underdog, is that he is not nearly as well financed as either Pell or Raimondo.