By JOHN HOWELL Two Warwick Democratic incumbents lost their bid to appear on the November in last Tuesday's primary, while surely in the most hotly contested seat in the city - Senate District 31 - progressive Democrat Kendra Anderson got out her vote to
Two Warwick Democratic incumbents lost their bid to appear on the November in last Tuesday’s primary, while surely in the most hotly contested seat in the city – Senate District 31 – progressive Democrat Kendra Anderson got out her vote to win.
In Senate District 30, Mark McKenney, who beat Jeanine Calkin in the 2016 primary, lost to her in a rematch.
In City Council Ward 1, Rick Corley, who firefighters targeted because of his opposing vote on their contract, which also put him at odds with the administration, lost to William Foley. Foley now faces Republican Scott Phillips in the general election.
When the mail ballots, which made for about half the votes cast, were tallied and the final count announced late on the afternoon of Sept. 10, it was no surprise Mayor Joseph J. Solomon had won the party’s nomination over challenger Carel Callahan Bainum. Solomon won almost 70 percent of the vote. He now faces independent Frank Picozzi in the general election Nov. 3.
What happened, how the voting system performed in the midst of a pandemic and what might this portend for the Democratic Party were questions asked of winners and losers.
Lines at the polls were not an issue. Poll workers, candidates and the voters wore masks. The city’s polls were consolidated into 11 voting centers that, according to at least one account, discouraged some voters who gravitated to their familiar poll to find they had to travel to a new location. While there were signs at the former polls, it’s likely some people gave up.
Yet overall, the candidates found the emphasis on mail ballots and early voting successful. Candidates were provided access to those who had applied for and received mail ballots. They followed up with visits to those voters. They also promoted early voting that started 20 days prior to the primary and will occur again for the general election. Early votes can be cast in City Hall. Voters must provide identification just as they would on Election Day at their poll. They are then given a ballot, which after voting is fed into a machine. For the primary, 607 chose this method of voting.
Winners said they were successful in getting out their vote and that their message resonated with voters.
“At 5:02 (the time the final count was posted by the Board of Elections on Thursday) there was whopping and hollering,” relates Anderson. Anderson declared her candidacy prior to incumbent Erin Lynch-Prata’s announcement she would not seek reelection, as she is a candidate for the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
“It’s been a winding road for the last year,” said Anderson. She said she spent many hours talking to people. She said she was most interested in hearing their aspirations and that should she win the seat in November – she faces Republican Scott Zambarano, who easily won his primary with John Silvaggio – “that’s not going to change.”
Anderson does not see the progressive label as working against her. “If it [progressive] is progress then sign me up.”
Anderson considers herself an independent Democrat. While she feels Lynch-Prata has worked on issues she espouses, Anderson said she could have done more for climate change and social justice. “They [party leadership] don’t take it seriously … let’s do better.”
Anderson was in a four-way contest. She was up against two first-time candidates for public office, Brian Dunckley and Michael Mita, and longtime Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla. Merolla had the party’s endorsement, which was reaffirmed after being contested in a lawsuit by Dunkley.
Merolla, who placed second in the contest, said he and Mita have many of the same friends. They attend the same church and circulated in the same groups.
He said he was told by some friends they didn’t know who to vote for. But the district is larger than the ward Merolla has served for two decades. He needed to reach other voters, however, the pandemic made that difficult.
“You really couldn’t walk,” said Merolla.
Mita called the Anderson campaign “very professional, well organized, they got out the vote in major way, they got supporters in a major way.”
Mita said, “The district is pining for a change and a different profile from the very politically connected.” He feels Anderson fit that bill, yet also notes Merolla has a reputation for breaking from conformity.
“He’s willing to go against the tide when he has to do so,” said Mita.
Mita said he would consider running for an elective office again if he was unhappy with the representation he is getting.
“I feel a little guilty toward the people who put in the time and money, I feel I let them down a little bit,” he said of his loss.
“I never wanted to run to just be there,” he adds.
McKenney said he didn’t start walking the district until June, when the governor went into the next phase of reopening. Looking at the numbers, McKenney said Calkin got close to the same number of votes she did in their last contest, but his votes were appreciably down. In part he attributes that to his base of support that are generally is older voters. He believes many were afraid of getting out and potential exposure to the virus.
Calkin said her campaign concentrated on mail ballots as a “nice, safe way to do it.” Her workers provided mail ballot applications to those requesting them and followed up to ensure they received and cast them.
Asked whether the progressive label hurt or helped her, Calkin said she considers herself an “FDR Democrat.” She said the party is a “big tent” that covers people from conservative to liberal Democrats.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean there’s unity within the tent. Asked if she would support Dominick Ruggerio for reelection as Senate president, Calkin said she has no intention of doing so. She no opponent in the general election..
The youngest of the candidates on the Warwick ballot, 21-year-old Zachary Colon, who was paired with endorsed candidate Vincent Gebhart for the party nomination for the Ward 9 council seat being vacated by Merolla, didn’t hide his progressive leanings. He said he worked with Anderson. He launched his campaign more than a year ago, long before Merolla said he would be leaving the council to run for the senate.
Colon said he has no regrets about his bid for office and said he has plenty of time should he decide to run for public office again. A senior at Rhode Island College, he wants to finish and then there’s something else on his mind. The day after the election he became engaged to marry Zoe Pitts. A wedding date hasn’t been set.
Gebhart now faces a contest with two independents, Aaron Mackisey and Sean Henry and Republican Armand Lusi.
Assuring his reelection in Ward 8, Anthony Sinapi beat Dan Elliott. Having survived a challenge from Stuart Wilson for the party’s nomination, Rep. Joseph McNamara now faces independent Patrick Maloney on Nov. 3.
In Senate District 29, Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey overcame a committed challenge from Jennifer Rourke. A progressive, Rourke worked with Calkin and Anderson staging a campaign that questioned the party’s leadership and hold on power. McCaffrey now faces Republican Jean Trafford in the general election.