Ignoring the will of the Middletown and Portsmouth town Democratic committees, the Rhode Island state Democratic Party endorsed James J. Cawley for the District 72 House seat instead of former representative Linda Finn.
Both the Middletown and Portsmouth town committees had voted to endorse Finn.
“I want you to immediately withdraw your endorsement and honor the Middletown and Portsmouth, committee endorsements of Linda Finn,” wrote Robert J. Silvia, chair of the Middletown Democratic Town Committee and president of the Town Council, in a letter to to Joseph McNamara, chair of the state Democratic Party and a Warwick representative who served with Finn. “I personally will not accept anything less.”
Silvia wrote, “I feel side stepped, over-looked and highly offended that YOU and the State Democratic Party have, without seeking local input, endorsed representative candidate Jamie Cawley. Your State Party actions, by doing this without the Middletown and Portsmouth Party, is classless and unprofessional. This shows me that you have no respect for the local troops who do the grunt work.”
Len Katzmann, chair of the Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee said, “The state party never consulted us — back in April, our committee voted unanimously to support Linda Finn for State Representative in District 72. She worked diligently with our elected officials when she held the District 72 seat, and has come to many of our committee meetings and events. Our Town Committee has literally never met the person who has been endorsed as the Democrat from Portsmouth in this race. Our committee works hard to elect Democrats in Portsmouth and, indeed, statewide, and some members feel that the lack of consultation of a proposed endorsement shows a lack of respect for our efforts.”
The endorsement in question is important because this is the endorsement that follows a candidate’s name in the primary. Cawley is listed on the Secretary of State’s website as the endorsed Democratic candidate, despite the recommendations and objections of local Democrats.
The process for becoming the endorsed candidate is pretty straightforward. Democratic Party bylaws call for Representative Committees (associated with each representative district) to make the endorsement for their respective candidate. These are wholly separate from the town committees and often are populated with close friends or relatives of the incumbent.
There are two ways you can appoint members to the representative committees: the incumbent representative may do so at anytime (assuming they are of the same party, as was not the case in House District 72), or the chairman of the party, in this case Joseph McNamara, may appoint anyone.
Because there was no active committee, the Finn campaign asked and the chairs of the Middletown and Portsmouth Democratic town committees to each sent messages to the chairman asking that he appoint members so they might endorse Finn.
Instead of following the committee’s recommendations, McNamara endorsed Cawley.