Voter Fraud in Providence: Did Gemma Live Up to the Hype?
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Democratic Congressional candidate Anthony Gemma on Wednesday accused incumbent Congressman David Cicilline of being involved in an extensive voter fraud scheme dating back to 2002 that includes payoffs, bussing in people from out-of-state to vote and finding ways for deceased people to vote.
Gemma, who has hired the private firm TRP Associates to help investigate voter fraud, said he met with State Police Superintendent Steven O’Donnell as recently as Tuesday to discuss what his investigation has uncovered so far. Gemma claims the information he has goes beyond voter fraud, but he refused to release further details.
An Outrageous Political Stunt
Gemma also read portions of five sworn statements from individuals who claim they witnessed firsthand efforts by Cicilline allies to commit voter fraud, including one person who said they watched “runners picking up individuals to impersonate voters.”
Some of the claims date back to 2002, when Cicilline first ran for Mayor of Providence. But Cicilline’s campaign manager, Eric Hyers, fired back following Gemma’s press conference, suggesting that the candidate did not provide a “shred of evidence” that the Congressman has done anything wrong.
"This was nothing more than another bizarre and outrageous political stunt,” Hyers said.
Several political observers agreed with Hyers. Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. said Gemma needed to be more specific with the information he has to attempt to tie Cicilline to criminal activity.
“If you are making a charge of criminal misconduct, you should have much stronger evidence than Gemma provided,” West said. “He raised expectations for this press conference well beyond his ability to deliver. Voters are going to discount his accusations as pre-election demagoguery. He needed stronger facts to accuse a sitting Congressman of illegal activities right before an election.”
Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller said Gemma came off unprepared during his press conference.
“I think Anthony Gemma should be spending the few weeks left before the primary telling RI voters why he deserves to be the Congressman from the 1st Congressional district rather than launching accusations that he is not fully prepared to back up with the public,” Schiller said. “If he has witnesses, they should come forward; if he has real evidence of a crime, then all of it should be made public so the voters can decide if the charges are something they need to consider when casting their vote in the upcoming primary.”
Rep. Candidate, Councilman Back Gemma’s Claims
Gemma, who retained former Attorney General James O’Neil as his lawyer, defended not releasing the names of his witnesses by suggesting that they could be at risk if their names were made public. He also implied that other elected officials were connected to voter fraud, but refused to release their names.
Still, that didn’t stop some city residents from coming forward following the press conference. Laura Perez, a perennial State Rep. candidate, claimed she witnessed an underage person being trained to vote in 2006. She also proclaimed: “I hate David Cicilline.”
Ward 8 Councilman Wilbur Jennings also claimed he was a target of voter fraud in 2006.
“My election was torn apart by the Cicilline people,” Jennings told GoLocalProv. “I was a victim of the Cicilline administration.”
Quest Research pollster Victor Profughi said Gemma’s announcement might have done more harm than good. He pointed out that Cicilline won decisively in his 2002 Democratic primary and then cruised to re-election in 2006.
“Plenty of theatrics and no game changer,” Profughi said. “Neither shock nor awe. The approach may help sell a product but unlikely to impact this election positively. Even if some of the accusations should ultimately produce indictments, which I seriously doubt would rise to that level, the timing and the hype look very much like campaign gimmicks.”
Doherty the Winner?
Nevertheless, Republican Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty said he is “greatly troubled by the allegations of voter fraud,” against Cicilline. He said voters deserve an “immediate, clear and truthful response from their elected representative.”
“Having spent my entire adult life in law enforcement, I have learned the importance of knowing the facts and circumstances before reaching a conclusion,” Doherty said. “In my years as a criminal investigator, I relied on objective facts rather than emotion or intuition. I trust that our law enforcement agencies will conduct a thorough and competent investigation.”
Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report suggested Doherty may have been the biggest winner of the day.
“The problem for Rep. Cicilline is the danger that these allegations and whatever investigation may result becomes part of the overall narrative in both the primary and the general election,” Duffy said. “Doherty never has to utter a word about the allegations, but has tremendous credibility here.”
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