Race for CD1 starts to turn nasty


STORY OF THE WEEK: After being dogged for weeks by the signature-gathering controversy, Sabina Matos’s campaign is ramping up its criticism of Aaron Regunberg, buoying the perception that he is the frontrunner in the First Congressional District race. Last Friday, a day after Globe RI reporters Steph Machado and Ed Fitzpatrick questioned the candidates, Matos’ campaign manager Brexton Isaacs issued a memo criticizing Regunberg – and Gabe Amo. A short time later, Team Sabina announced it was filing a Federal Elections Commission complaint against Regunberg, asking the FEC to probe whether there was illegal coordination with the super PAC mostly funded by his father-in-law that has spent more than $100,000 in support of his campaign. (“This is a ridiculous and unserious attack from a desperate candidate whose campaign has been dogged by ethical questions and is currently under criminal investigation,” fired back Regunberg campaign manager Matt DaSilva in a statement.) Where the Matos’ campaign goes from here, and whether it airs negative TV ads, will likely depend on its internal polling. While the signature issue and its persistence has been about as welcome as a root canal, Matos isn’t lacking for outside support, with such groups as EMILY’s List and Elect Democratic Women funding an ad blitz valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. As the crossfire intensifies between Matos and Regunberg, another question is whether other candidates can benefit, potentially sneaking through for a surprise win. Sandra Cano has attracted an array of endorsements across the Democratic spectrum, and her supporters have high hopes for her outcome. Don Carlson is spending heavily on his bid while not drawing much incoming flak. And Amo continues working to bolster his support. Other factors to consider include the relative effectiveness of the candidates’ ground game, fallout from upcoming debates (including televised events on WPRI and WJAR, which are bound to draw more viewers), and even the weather, which could elevate or suppress the relatively low turnout of a special primary election on Sept. 5.

 GINAWORLD: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo returned to the State Room at the State House – the scene of many gubernatorial news conferences during her tenure – for the unveiling of her official portrait last week. It was a celebratory moment for the former governor, emphasizing her place in history as the state’s first female top official. While Rhode Island still faces many of the same familiar problems from when Raimondo took office in 2015, her husband, Andy Moffit, former state Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, and a former aide who still works with her at Commerce, Kevin Gallagher, pointed to a litany of accomplishments, including Raimondo’s leadership during the pandemic and her role in smashing the glass ceiling. As Gallagher recalled, the first girl chosen through a “governor for a day” essay contest, Khatima Bulmer of Newport in 2015, was asked during an impromptu press gaggle at the time whether it was fair that boys were not eligible in the competition. Bulmer, who was 11, responded by noting how boys were depicted in each and every portrait lining the corridors of the Statehouse.

 GENERAL ASSEMBLY: State Rep. Enrique Sanchez (D-Providence), who ousted longtime incumbent Anastasia Williams in 2022, has already drawn a primary opponent for next year. Lesley Bunnell, a grant writer and communications manager who serves on the board of Planned Parenthood and has advocated for the reuse of the Cranston Street Armory, recently announced a run. “Running for state rep is not a springboard for me, but a culmination of years of observation, listening and learning, and most importantly fighting for what’s right,” she said in a statement. “My years of community organizing have taught me that it’s a lot easier to build bridges rather than tear them down. Too often today, politics are polarized, but that is not who I am. I care about ensuring our neighbors are well-represented and advocated for at the State House.” Sanchez scored an impressive victory by ousting Williams, who had been first elected in 1992. More recently, Sanchez has received attention in connection with illegal sip joins, as Globe RI reported. And Williams, who is never at a loss for words, is expected to mount an attempted comeback.

HI NEIGHBOR: When Rumford native Mark Hellendrung acquired Narragansett Brewing with a group of investors in 2005, it raised the question of whether a once-fabled beer could have a second life. After all, Narragansett lager was once the top-selling beer in New England, and the company had been a sponsor of Red Sox baseball. But out-of-town giant Falstaff bought ‘Gansett in 1965, and the Cranston brewery closed in 1981. Resurrecting a measure of this past success seemed like a tall order, but Hellendrung was more than equal to the task. Before long, Narragansett had acquired a hip new reputation in places like New York City, a Fox Point brewery opened in 2021 (although most of the suds are still made in Rochester), and Gansett now ranks as one of the 45 largest U.S. brewers. How did he do it? “I remember very early on I was like, I want to tell 25 people every day about Narragansett Beer and it coming back,” Hellendrung said during a Political Roundtable interview last week. “And I guess it's just been a lot of persistence and perseverance, and just hard work and a great team and an awesome history, and kind of coming from a cool place here in Rhode Island.”

CITY HAUL: We all know that Rhode Island needs more housing, but what happens when a proposal strikes critics as out of character for the neighborhood? That’s the debate playing out on Wickenden Street in Providence. As Olivia Ebertz reports, the proposal won an initial approval this week: “The City Plan Commission voted to give critical first approvals to the project with a list of conditions. It includes two key points that the commission says must be cleared up before the next round of approvals: the city forester must approve the amount of tree coverage, and the developers must submit new designs showing that at the corner of Brook and Wickenden streets the building will appear like a five-story building. Right now, the renderings make the building appear to be six stories at that corner due to an exposed cellar level.”

NEW BEDFORD: UMass-Dartmouth is shuttering its College of Visual and Performing Arts satellite campus in downtown New Bedford, a presence credited with helping to boost the arts downtown over the last 20 years. As Ben Berke reports, “The closure was announced in an email to faculty on Monday, less than two weeks before the start of the school year, after negotiations fell apart between the university, state officials and the private owner of the Star Store, who had a longstanding agreement to eventually transfer ownership to the state for a nominal price of $1.”

TAKES OF THE WEEK – a mix of views from various Rhode Islanders.

RI House GOP Leader MIKE CHIPPENDALE (R-Foster): “For this entire century, the integrity of our elections has been questioned –since the ‘hanging chads’ of 2000. In 2016 it was ‘the Republicans and Russians,’ and in 2020 it was ‘the Democrats and the Election Equipment Industry.’ This single issue has been used to sow unbridgeable division between Americans based solely on party affiliation. It’s reprehensible and has caused deep public distrust which has impacted voter participation. The recent nomination signature scandal here in Rhode Island has only amplified that distrust. The simplest part of winning a campaign – gathering ballot signatures, was rife with verified fraud and is now under criminal investigation. To those who say, ‘This proves the system works’ I say, ‘Just because we hand out speeding tickets, doesn’t prove we’ve eradicated speeding.’ This latest episode has caused Rhode Islanders to question: ‘If the easiest, and most easily verifiable part of the election process is executed fraudulently, then why should we trust any part of it?’ I struggle greatly to rebut that assertion. This blatant disregard for our laws is devastating and has only caused deeper wounds in the political fabric of our state. At this stage – at this fragile point in our republic – I don’t know what needs to happen to restore faith in our elections, but we better figure it out, and fast.”

State Rep. REBECCA KISLAK (D-Providence): “This week is the anniversary of the federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The Act’s climate investments are a crucial step towards addressing our climate crisis, and will help Rhode Island meet our climate goals that we set out in our Act On Climate. Historic improvements to Medicare are another part of the Inflation Reduction Act – these provisions include capping insulin costs at $35/month, enabling Medicare to negotiate for lower drug costs and more. We have worked at the state level for years to address the high costs of medication, and we’ve had some success, but Rhode Island simply doesn’t have the negotiating or purchasing power of the whole United States. The Inflation Reduction Act will ensure the long-term solvency of Medicare and help people afford their medication here in Rhode Island and across the country. Our state needs good federal policy. If you live in CD1, early voting for our next member of congress has begun; find where you vote at vote.ri.gov. Whether you join me in voting for my favorite candidate, Sandra Cano, or someone else, our democracy is stronger when we all vote!”

Secretary of State GREGG AMORE, a former athletic director at East Providence High School: “As I watch our Smithfield Little League hometown heroes bring their talents to the world stage, I am reminded of the power of youth sports to strengthen the social fabric of our communities and teach the values of teamwork, persistence, and civility. My years as an athlete, coach, teacher, and athletic director have showed me time and time again that creating these opportunities helps to ensure our youth grow up with strong community connections, confidence in themselves, and camaraderie with both their teammates and opponents. In politics, I know those same skills are just as valuable, and the lessons of sportsmanship and civility are lessons I take with me into each and every day as an elected official. The Little League World Series has united us as Rhode Islanders, and shows us the strength of our small state when we’re all on the same team. The joy of parents and friends in the stands is matched by the energy and excitement of neighbors and classmates back home – a perfect example of the ways that community pride connects us. Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, there truly is so much more that unites us than divides us. Congratulations, Smithfield Little League, on all of your successes!”

BONUS BASEBALL: Earlier in the week, Secretary Amore shared details about how the coach of Smithfield LL, Eric Gibree, was quite a talented ballplayer, both at LaSalle and Rhode Island College, where he is in the RIC Hall of Fame. “He’s also a really good guy,” Amore said. “I’m not sure how often it happens that a successful collegiate player ends up coaching a Little League team. Usually, it’s an involved dad who played a little. These kids have a guy who really knows what he’s doing.”

KICKER: While The New York Times correctly observes that the signature offering at various New York System outlets in Rhode Island are never called ‘hot dogs,’ “they are also called hot wieners, gaggers and Greek lobsters.” Wieners? Of course. Gaggers? Yes. But ‘Greek lobsters’?!?

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org

politics, political, Donnis


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