Johnston Democratic Town Committee Chairman Richard DelFino Jr. was unanimously elected president of the Rhode Island Association of Democratic City and Town Chairpersons during the group’s biennial meeting on March 23.
DelFino told the Sun Rise in a phone call Monday that the mission of the organization is to “create a forum so that the cities’ and towns’ chairs can be supportive to each other, share ideas, strategies and whatnot in order to enhance the principles of the Democratic Party.”
He said the crew travels to cities and towns across the state throughout the year, visiting local restaurants and understanding the community.
“The idea is to find common ground and to support Democratic candidates that are in support of Democratic principles, but more so reflect the communities that we are a part of,” DelFino said. “You take issues that are on the forefront of the Democratic Party and the hopes are that you can find the common ground to be supportive. Perhaps what’s most important is you identify those Democratic candidates that are consistent with the principles you support.”
DelFino opined on the state of the party in Johnston, where every notable elected position is filled by a Democrat. In November, few of the statewide and Town Council battles were close at the ballot boxes and several candidates ran unopposed in the general election.
He said the candidates the JDTC promotes are “reflective of the principles of our town.”
“So for example, the Democratic Party in the town, I think, is very strong and very influential because we identify candidates that are again very consistent with the principles and values of the people we represent … We’re very supportive of working families, things like supporting veterans’ issues and supporting first responders, we support quality education. That’s a value system in play that is reflective of the people of this town.”
The closest race in town last fall, DelFino said, was a direct result of the JDTC’s lack of endorsement of the party’s candidate. Edward Cardillo Jr. edged out Republican challenger Frank Ricci for former Rep. Stephen Ucci’s open District 42 seat, with the vote going to a recount that eventually certified Cardillo as the victor.
The JDTC did not endorse Cardillo as a candidate, and Ricci was able to nearly flip the seat. DelFino said he wasn’t pleased with the lack of discussion on issues in District 42 from both Cardillo and Ricci.
“I could tell you a number of issues if you wanted to talk about that race,” DelFino said. “I think that Cardillo indicated that the only issue he thought affected the district was speed limit on Hartford Avenue. I could name about 20 issues that I think are important to the people of District 42. Frank Ricci, I’m not sure what his agenda was other than to support Donald Trump … In that situation, the voters had no choice because of the literally last-minute decision of Rep. Ucci to pull out of the race.”
DelFino said the JDTC wasn’t able to offer its input on a potential replacement for Ucci, since he removed his name from the ballot shortly before the deadline close and Cardillo was the only other candidate with papers filed.
“I think that race was as close as it was because the JDTC did not support Cardillo,” DelFino said. “It’s important that we choose candidates and we support candidates that are closely aligned with our values and principles, and we would have chosen another candidate to run against Frank Ricci.
He added: “I think that the people in this town are smart enough to realize that if you’re going to be a representative either in the State House, on the Town Council, on the School Committee, you need to show a commitment to this community, and if you have that then I think that you become suspect.”
One future race is bound to become the buzz of the JDTC over the next year. Mayor Joseph Polisena is finishing out his last term in office and, after 16 years, DelFino predicted the committee will be “extremely influential” in determining a candidate to replace him.
He said he would like to see a successor whose “values and principles [are] closely aligned” with Polisena, under whose leadership he said the town has “done extremely well.”
“When we establish the process for choosing candidates, we not only look at qualifications or commitments, but we look at how well that candidate will work with the team to promote the agenda that the people of this town are looking for,” DelFino said. “You’ll see in other cities and towns, where there’s lots of confrontation and disagreement, and I think that impacts negatively the ability of the city and town leadership to promote the agenda of the community.”