On Sunday at the Portuguese Club in Cranston there was the “annual” Rhode Island Democratic Party Meeting. I put “annual” in quotes because in 2015 there was no meeting at all. The catalyst for the meeting was the very untimely death of National Committeeman Frank Montanaro.
The committee members were gathered to elect their new representative to the Democratic National Committee. But I would not call it much of an election when there was only one choice: former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino.
Unfortunately, just two days prior, my choice dropped out. Senator Joshua Miller, a Bernie Sanders-supporting party leader/elected official, had put his name into the hat, but ended his campaign on Friday. Needless to say I was disappointed. Okay, I was crushed.
I estimated about 175 of the 244 members of the party were in attendance, including all the head honchos of the party – including, Governor Gina Raimondo, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Representative James Langevin, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, the LT Governor (whoever that is!), Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello and the head of the party, state Representative Joe McNamara, and others. The meeting started off with the Good Ole Boys and Girls congratulating themselves on doing such an incredible job. We all know how great the RI Democratic Party is, right? Well, listening to them we are all one big happy party with just a few mild disagreements.
Even before the official vote, Langevin was congratulating Paolino on becoming the new DNC member. I did find that to be a bit odd. Generally speaking, the election of an officer comes before the congratulations. Soon after Paolino was appointed, I mean elected. Since there was no opposition, Paolino was approved by unanimous consent. Not having any competition was a blow to the progressive movement as now there is no way to distinguish who may not think that a corporatist insider like Paolino actually represents the changing demographics of the party.
Paolino’s acceptance speech encompassed many centrists themes. Party unity, Trump is bad, and the one liner ‘Main Street before Wall Street.’ I thought this to be incredulous as Paolino’s picture of Main Street seems more about rich millionaires, businesses and none of those pesky people who take public transportation or are sadly homeless and on the streets. Mr. Paolino is also very much a party insider. In 2015 he raised, with the help of others, more than $300,000 for then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He was also previously an ambassador under President Bill Clinton to Malta. Of course, as was brought up in the meeting, Joe has a great resume – a former mayor, a state rep, a successful businessman.
Paolino is a well connected, amicable person who does want to bring people in to have a conversation. In the end however, I fear the message will be in support of businesses, real estate and the wealthy of Providence and Rhode Island.
And that is exactly why I didn’t support him. In Rhode Island we have a changing and dynamic electorate. Bernie of course won the primary in 2016, much to the chagrin of Paolino who had anticipated a Clinton victory. Trump did way better than he should have in the state in both the primary and the general election. And we have 40 percent of our voters designated as unaffiliated.
Joe Paolino was the last thing the party needed to generate energy and show that they are in tune with the Democrats of the state who weren’t at the meeting. We needed someone to represent the Berniecrats and the progressives and someone without the elitist history. Instead we got more of the same. A party regular who will likely support and not challenge the National DNC including the 2020 presidential pick. As a DNC member, Paolino will get to cast a vote as a superdelegate and regardless if the party does certify the superdelegate changes that were updated July 2016. Paolino will be able to vote for whomever he pleases regardless of how the citizens of the state vote.
Joseph Delorenzo highlights the Democrats’ division
The ‘we are all united’ soundbites did not even last until the end of the night. In the RI Democratic Party there is definitely still the Us vs Them mantra going on. According to the Providence Journal from October 15th:
The Second Vice Chair of the party Former State Rep. Joseph Delorenzo “Two years ago they took out [then-Rhode Island House Majority Leader] John DeSimone with a very progressive candidate. … I just don’t like where we are going.”
DeLorenzo recalled a recent conversation with a fellow Democrat, who told him: “If I didn’t have a job, I would abandon the Democratic Party.” (Presumably he meant a patronage job.) “I hear this everywhere,” he said. “All these left-wing whack jobs.”
A petition has been started requesting the resignation of Delorenzo by Jordan Hevenor of Wakefield.
Most Democrats believe in women’s reproductive freedom, a single-payer healthcare system, $15.00 as a minimum (barely-livable) minimum wage, voting rights vs. voter ID, a clean environment (that does not include a 1 billion dollar fracked gas power plant), housing that is affordable, criminal justice reform, and eliminating corporate welfare. Maybe it’s the Party that needs to embrace these left wing Democratic socialist initiatives to really unite Democrats and like-minded independents, rather than rubber stamping the status quo.
The Democratic Party here and across the country are going through an identity crisis. Old school Democrats are facing challenges and primaries at all levels of government. Millennials are becoming more and more anxious about their quality of life and freedoms and whether they like it or not the party establishment has to respond to the new reality. Democrats can have the great message. We can unite. We are making strides in RI and elsewhere with progressive initiatives including free community college, paid sick days, and more. But until we get new life into the party, elect younger people, more people of color, more members of marginalized communities then the innerworks of the party will remain the same and gains in 2018 and 2020 could be jeopardized.