Primary Winners & Losers

Primary day here in Rhode Island produced no real upsets or surprises and was pretty much an establishment (read: incumbent) reconfirmation, with one exception. Angel Taveras’ win in Providence pretty much assures him the mayorship come January and brings the first non-Irish/Italian mayor to city hall in decades. Taveras beat old pols John Lombardi of the Providence City Council and Steven Constantino of the General Assembly, and his win, as has been duly noted, is recognition of the city’s growing Hispanic community.

In the Democratic race to succeed Patrick Kennedy, Anthony Gemma, a newcomer to politics, did pretty well to come in second behind Providence’s current mayor David Cicilline. I expect Gemma, bitten by the political bug, will try again in two years’ time. Good for him. Beyond all the marketing savvy, he’s a fresh new face on the political scene.

An upset of David Cicilline would have been major news of course but Democratic party boss Bill Lynch and legislator David Segal, an attractive candidate also with a political future, just didn’t have the organizations, funding, and name recognition against the Mayor of Providence, a man after all who succeeded Buddy Cianci and put the city back on the right path again (although Providence residents are cursing their new property tax rates).

It will be interesting indeed to see how Cicilline fares against John Loughlin, the Republican candidate. If history is any judge, mayors of Providence don’t do well in their appeal to voters statewide. Cicilline may be the exception, although his father’s legal representations of past mob figures and his brother’s troubles and the prison time for shaking down a drug dealer will certainly come up again.

John Loughlin has gone from being a dark horse candidate against Patrick Kennedy to a Republican with an actual chance of winning the First Congressional District. That chance has real legs because this time around voters are not so apathetic, and we know that they’re fed up with things and politics as usual. It remains to be seen if the RNC (Republic National Committee) feels he has a chance at winning and provides him with the funding and assistance it will take to mount a decisive effort against Mayor Cicilline.

In the race for governor, Frank Caprio, who apparently dithered a bit on running as a Democrat, will face a strong opponent in Lincoln Chafee. Both have a lot of money at their disposal – Chafee’s all his own – and neither is a dyed-in-the-wool candidate. Caprio can appeal to Independents as much as to Democrats. Significantly, he favors pension reform – a top issue. Chafee, hoping to attract public employee union Democrats wary of Caprio on this issue, has been less straightforward on what he thinks needs to be done to reform the public pension system that will kill this state’s fiscal future if not significantly reformed – and soon. Many Rhode Islanders like Linc, and the fact that he’s an independent is a strong pull this election.

Have you seen the TV ad in which Caprio takes on Chafee’s controversial call to broaden the sales tax? It’s a new twist on the attack ad formula because Caprio only appears at the very end of the ad, and then in postage stamp size endorsing the ad. If you miss that, you wouldn’t know where the ad was coming from. Chafee’s call to broaden the sales tax was a risky move in a deep recession and strong anti-tax environment. I have previously lauded him for his candor but this may emerge to doom him in the end.

When you have elected representatives at the federal level now running away from raising even millionaire’s taxes, calling for everyone here in hard-hit Rhode Island to pay more for their consumption of largely everyday purchases is a tough stance to defend, especially when the issue has become clear that the real problem is excessive government spending. Linc’s got a lot of explaining to do on this issue, and it doesn’t help that he’s an inheritance millionaire himself.