During the Democratic National Convention’s roll call, Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair and state representative Joseph McNamara presented the delegate counts in the most Rhode Island way possible: next to Iggy’s Boardwalk’s executive chef holding a plate of calamari at Oakland Beach.
The virtual convention featured each state presenting their delegate counts through short prerecorded videos. The counts would confirm former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. president. Biden will face President Donald Trump on Nov. 3.
While other states emphasized their commitment to issues such as social justice, economic development, healthcare or stopping climate change, McNamara shared Rhode Island’s seafood and dining industries in a way no other state can.
“Rhode Island, the Ocean State, where our restaurant and fishing industry have been decimated by this pandemic, are lucky to have a governor, Gina Raimondo, whose program lets our fishermen sell their catches directly to the public,” McNamara said in the video, while Iggy’s chef John Bordieri stood silently holding the calamari. “And our state appetizer calamari is available in all 50 states. The calamari comeback state of Rhode Island casts one vote for Bernie Sanders and 24 votes for the next president, Joe Biden.”
The 30-second clip quickly went viral on social media nationwide. Residents of the other 49 states wrote Facebook posts asking what calamari is. Twitter users quickly made memes about the video, causing it to trend on the platform. Even national outlets from the Washington Post and the New York Times to Fox News and CNN wrote stories about Rhode Island’s 30 seconds of fame. Bordieri was described as “a ninja” by some social media spectators, as he wore black clothes, a black hat and a black face mask. The term “calamari comeback state” became an online rallying cry.
Bordieri told the Warwick Beacon that McNamara wanted his video to reflect Rhode Island’s top industries and exports. It took over 30 takes to get the video right, according to Bordieri.
“We got called by someone from Mr. McNamara’s office, saying that they wanted to create something fishing-related,” Bordieri said. “And we’re a calamari state, so what better place to go than Iggy’s Boardwalk?”
McNamara explained that these industries have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting economic downturn, which encouraged him to highlight it during the convention. He added that the legislation he mentioned in his video that lets fishermen sell directly to consumers helps the industry grow.
“Our restaurants have not recovered fully due to CDC regulations,” McNamara said. “Many of them are still operating at 50 percent capacity. So we want to do everything we can for that industry, and for our fishing industry.”
Bordieri did not expect to go viral, but is taking it in stride.
“Last night my girlfriend said, ‘You are trending, boardwalk is trending, calamari is trending,’” Bordieri said. “And I'm like ‘What is trending?’ And apparently she's creating a Twitter account for me right now. It’s kind of fun to get these 15 minutes of fame.”
Iggy’s makes calamari in several different ways. The traditional version, as shown in the convention video, features fried squid, spices and cherry peppers. Other variations include Mediterranean style, Thai chili style and Bordieri’s personal favorite, buffalo style.
When asked why McNamara opted for calamari instead of quahogs, as Warwick was declared “the Quahog Capital of the World” several weeks ago, McNamara said that both were important to Rhode Island’s small businesses.
“Well this is the state appetizer, and we have been able to do more so far with the fishing industry than we have with quahogs,” McNamara said. “And believe me, they are just as important. They’re small business people that are iconic to the state of Rhode Island, as are our fishermen, very important to our culture.