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Don Roach: Rhode Island, You Are To Blame

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Back in 2010, when I had just begun writing for GoLocal I made a video imploring Rhode Islanders to choose different representatives at the State House because (at the time) we were in pension crisis mode and our economy was still in the tank. Democratic leadership hadn’t solved the problems facing our state and I tried to get you to change your voting patterns to give new people a try. At the very least, it would create some balance of power at the State House so that one party doesn’t simply do whatever they want without accountability.

I begged you to not to reelect David Cicilline in 2012 because of how he left Providence. I began the ABC (Anybody But Cicilline) Coalition asking each of you to become card carrying members. My reasoning was that we couldn’t let a politician get away with the financial shenanigans that occurred under Cicilline’s leadership.

Each time, no one listened. We elected the same people back to office and nothing changed. I’m not arrogant enough to think every eligible voter reads my musings each week, but I am certain there are a fair number of you who are faithful readers each week (thank you). And at the risk of losing you, I’m disappointed that you continue to make the same electoral choices cycle after cycle.

In case you were focused on basketball over the past few weeks, Gordon Fox resigned as Speaker after his offices were raided by the FBI. The raid made national headlines and yet again, Rhode Island was in the news shining a light on Rhode Island politicians behaving badly.

But you know what? I don’t think Rhode Island voters are going to care. If we didn’t care before now, what about a little old FBI raid is going to change anything? What will continued lagging employment do? One word: nothing.

Yesteryear, I would have had more confidence that something could change that you’d read the same news I read and make different electoral decisions. I mean does it make any sense to elect the very same people who put us in this mess? No it doesn’t and yet we do…again….and again….and again. In 2014, I’m not going to fool myself because if the Rhode Island electorate has proven anything, it’s that it is fiercely loyal to picking candidates who have proven that they don’t know how to fix the mess.

I know what some of you are thinking and I’ve heard that argument before – even if we elect new people, these new politicians could be the same as or worse than what we have today. To that I say, I can’t guarantee that the next group of politicians will be better but I can guarantee that if we elect the same people we can expect more of the same. If you want more of the same from the past decade, elect the same people.

Once again, I’ll challenge you to try something different. Most of Rhode Island registered voters are Independent and yet the Democratic Party dominates. I’ve written about why that’s the case, but without balance at the State House we screw ourselves. This may come as a shock but most politicians are power hungry people who want to be in charge. In a one party system the people in power don’t have to be accountable to anyone because they have no challengers. The RI Democratic party faces more challenge from fighting themselves than from than Republicans.

Sure, we can blame Rhode Island Republicans for being “out of touch” and not change our voting patterns, but if we continue voting for the same people who haven’t solved our problems, we doom ourselves to unending Democratic control and excess.

I used to think words could persuade Rhode Island to think differently and try a new candidate or two. But, it seems that we’re hooked on the same mediocrity. If what I’m saying riles your feathers, prove me wrong by voting in different people in 2014.

I’d love to see it but won’t be holding my breath.

Don Roach can be reached at [email protected]. You can also follow Don on Twitter at @donroach34.


Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci resigned as Providence Mayor in 1984 after pleading nolo contendere to charges of assaulting a Bristol man with a lit cigarette, ashtray, and fireplace log. Cianci believed the man to be involved in an affair with his wife. 

Cianci did not serve time in prison, but received a 5-year suspended sentence. He was replaced by Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. in a special election. 

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Joseph Bevilacqua

Joseph Bevilacqua was RI Speaker of the House from 1969 to 1975, and was appointed as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1976.  It was alleged that Bevilacqua had connections to organized crime throughout his political career.  

According to a 1989 article that appeared in The New York Times at the time of his death:

The series of events that finally brought Mr. Bevilacqua down began at the end of 1984... stating that reporters and state police officers had observed Mr. Bevilacqua repeatedly visiting the homes of underworld figures.

The state police alleged that Mr. Bevilacqua had also visited a Smithfield motel, owned by men linked to gambling and drugs...

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Thomas Fay

Thomas Fay, the successor to Bevilacqua as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, resigned in 1993, and was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of directing arbitration work to a partner in his real estate firm, Lincoln Center Properties.  

Fay was also alleged to use court employees, offices, and other resources for the purposes of the real estate firm.  Fay, along with court administrator and former Speaker of the House, Matthew "Mattie" Smith were alleged to have used court secretaries to conduct business for Lincoln, for which Fay and Smith were business partners. 

Fay was fined $3,000 and placed on one year probation. He could have been sentenced for up to three years in prison. 

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Brian J. Sarault

Former Pawtucket Mayor Brian J. Sarault was sentenced in 1992 to more than 5 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering.  

Sarault was arrested by state police and FBI agents at Pawtucket City Hall in 1991, who alleged that the mayor had attempted to extort $3,000 from former RI State Rep. Robert Weygand as a kickback from awarding city contracts.

Weygand, after alerting federal authorities to the extortion attempt, wore a concealed recording device to a meeting where he delivered $1,750 to Sarault.

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Edward DiPrete

Edward DiPrete became the first Rhode Island Governor to be serve time in prison after pleading guilty in 1998 to multiple charges of corruption.

He admitted to accepting bribes and extorting money from contractors, and accepted a plea bargain which included a one-year prison sentence.

DiPrete served as Governor from 1985-1991, losing his 1990 re-election campaign to Bruce Sundlun.

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Plunder Dome

Cianci was forced to resign from the Mayor’s office a second time in 2002 after being convicted on one several charges levied against him in the scandal popularly known as “Operation Plunder Dome.” 

The one guilty charge—racketeering conspiracy--led to a five-year sentence in federal prison. Cianci was acquitted on all other charges, which included bribery, extortion, and mail fraud.

While it was alleged that City Hall had been soliciting bribes since Cianci’s 1991 return to office, much of the case revolved around a video showing a Cianci aide, Frank Corrente, accepting a $1,000 bribe from businessman Antonio Freitas. Freitas had also recorded more than 100 conversations with city officials.

Operation Plunder Dome began in 1998, and became public when the FBI executed a search warrant of City Hall in April 1999. 

Cianci Aide Frank Corrente, Tax Board Chairman Joseph Pannone, Tax Board Vice Chairman David C. Ead, Deputy tax assessor Rosemary Glancy were among the nine individuals convicted in the scandal. 

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N. Providence Councilmen

Three North Providence City Councilmen were convicted in 2011 on charges relating to a scheme to extort bribes in exchange for favorable council votes. In all, the councilmen sought more than $100,000 in bribes.

Councilmen Raimond A. Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield, and Raymond L. Douglas III were sentenced to prison terms of 71 months, 64 months, and 78 months, respectively. 

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Charles Moreau

Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau resigned in 2012 before pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. 

Moreau admitted that he had give contractor Michael Bouthillette a no-bid contract to board up vacant homes in exchange for having a boiler installed in his home. 

He was freed from prison in February 2014, less than one year into a 24 month prison term, after his original sentence was vacated in exchange for a guilty plea on a bribery charge.  He was credited with tim served, placed on three years probation, and given 300 hours of community service.

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Joe Almeida

State Representative Joseph S. Almeida was arrested and charged on February 10, 2015 for allegedly misappropriating $6,122.03 in campaign contributions for his personal use. Following his arrest, he resigned his position as House Democratic Whip, but remains a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

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Gordon Fox

The Rhode Island State Police and FBI raided and sealed off the State House office of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on March 21--marking the first time an office in the building has ever been raided. 

Fox pled guilty to 3 criminal counts on March 3, 2015 - accepting a bribe, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return. The plea deal reached with the US Attorney's office calls for 3 years in federal prison, but Fox will be officially sentenced on June 11.


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