Dan Lawlor: Fraud & Fantasy
Thursday, August 23, 2012
"They were, at least, agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key." -F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Anthony Gemma called a press conference Wednesday on Princeton Ave., across from the abandoned Temple Beth El Synagogue on Broad St in South Providence. The local corner store owner had no idea what the commotion was about, as dozens of reporters, Gemma staff, and the curious gathered to hear the noon announcement.
Some of us hoped for a flood of incrimination to wash away corruption in this state. Some of us expected to hear the rants of a delusional narcissist, making a last grasp at power. Anthony Gemma was not Providence's reckoning, but Anthony Gemma has left us with a whole lot of questions.
Ian Donnis once wrote, a bit overstated, "Beneath a thin veneer, Providence is a poor, violent city." That viewpoint overlooks so much wonder in the city - our greats artists, restaurants, creative thinkers, workers - yet echoes of its truth undermine the Creative Capital. Regardless of the truth or delusion of the allegations made today, the city does have real problems - including an official jobless rate that's exceeded 10% since 2008.
After walking out of black GMC SUV hybrid, Anthony Gemma shook a few hands, gave a man a hug, and then made a series of thus far unsubstantiated allegations, which he said can be checked:
Namely, Gemma alleged that in the South Side people were paid to vote, to vote multiple times, and to impersonate voters. Gemma alleged that numerous people are registered to vote at businesses and vacant lots, that vans of undocumented individuals, mostly from New Bedford, were driven in to vote, that mail-in ballots were compromised, and that the dead voted in the capital. He called this alleged voter fraud a "direct attack on our democracy," warning that "lives are on the line." He argued that key Cicilline associates engaged in a coordinated and massive voter fraud operation on the South Side of Providence.
Gemma said that, "For a decade, minorities in Providence have lived in fear.... under a cloud of intimidation."
As the press cried out for verification, names and support, Mr. Gemma answered a few questions than left. No law enforcement officials were there to verify his alleged claims of a State Police and FBI investigation. A group of people in the crowd came forward, including Ermenia Garcia, and announced that they had seen fraud at polling places from Botanical Gardens at Roger Williams Park to School One on the East Side, and Wilbur Jennings, Jr, a City Councilor, announced that he hadn't seen Mr. Gemma's information, but he believed it.
We seemed to be hearing the playbook of Chicago in the 1950s. Are these allegations true?
Steven Brown of the RI ACLU said at Netroots Nation, " There has not been one prosecution for voter fraud in decades ... What other felony have so many people seen but not reported?"
Mr. Gemma's words, if true, will join the annals of RI political history, and perhaps lead to more effective reforms than those enacted after the Credit-Union Crisis. He will be a hero. If false, he will be a simple charlatan - a trickster and media hound.
In Advice and Consent, a brilliant film from 1962, we are given a picture of the shaded dealings that follow in the politics of power. One Senator, convinced of principle, convinced of his right-thinking, is willing to go to extreme ends - because after all, the ends justify the means. The consequences are grave.
January 1956 was a month of actual voter fraud. The incumbent Governor, dynamic Democrat Dennis Roberts, essentially stole the election. Roberts lost in the November general vote to Republican Christopher Del Sesto, later to be of Johnson and Wales fame. The loss was so close, the Board of Elections went to the mail-in ballots. After the mail-in ballots were counted, it was still clear Roberts lost the election. That January, resolute, Roberts appealed to the RI Supreme Court, a group that he helped appoint, who in turn invalidated hundreds of mail-in ballots from soldiers overseas. Hours after the court ruling, Roberts was inaugurated. His disrespect of voters helped end his major political career. Time Magazine wrote a piece on it called "Roberts Rules of Order."
From 19th Century Republican Boss Brayton to 20th Century Democrat Governor Roberts to the Congressional race today, there are people who are tempted to use or achieve power in ways that don't make life any better in West Warwick, the West Side of Providence, or Woonsocket. I don't know if Gemma is pie in the sky, or is on to something, and I won't until we can see all the facts.
Fitzgerald said it better than I can: "It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people- with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe."
Mr. Gemma must bring forward law enforcement and other figures to back up these claims of massive, coordinated voter fraud in the South Side of Providence, and beyond. It would be a crime for us to be caught up in a politics of fantasy while real people are struggling and hurting.
Whether this fraud is true or fantasy, what a state of affairs.