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Ten Most Bizarre Moments of RI Primary Season to Date

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


With primaries in Rhode Island now less than a week away, there have been a number of surprising -- and oftentimes bizarre -- turns by the candidates and campaigns that were probably not anticipated way back when they make their official announcements for higher office.

From Clay Pell's car, to apologies both sincere and fabricated, to financial missteps and miscalculations, as in most elections, almost every campaign has had to deal with a curve ball (or two) sent their way that they didn't anticipate at the outset.

SLIDES: Ten Most Bizarre Moments of RI Primary Season to Date BELOW

So which ones are sticking points -- and which ones aren't?  Rhode Island voters will answer that question on September 9, before the victors reset their game plans for November, with a whole new set of minefields along the way.

Parsing the Big Picture

Rhode Island College Professor of Communications Val Endress addressed what she perceived as three of the election season's biggest surprises -- and their ramifications.

"Right out of the gate, the Fung campaign launched a negative ad—even before  establishing his credentials/credibility and giving voters the opportunity to get to know him," said Endress of what she dubbed, "Allan Fung's early misstep."  "This is very unusual; negative ads usually appear once the voters have had the opportunity to get to know the candidate.  Even more surprising was his disparaging of Block’s supporters by calling them ' Blockheads.'  The number one rule in campaigns is to never insult potential voters, even if they are loyal followers of your opponent."

Regarding former Mayoral candidate Brett Smiley's withdrawal from the race, Endress offered the following.

"The message he sent by dropping out so late in the race contrasted sharply with his clever political ad that emphasized his ability to create a plan and follow through.  I’m not sure voters will buy the argument that two candidates (Smiley and Adrain) withdrew strictly  for altruistic reasons, to lessen Buddy Cianci’s chances in the general election," said Endress.  "Smiley was an engaging candidate, and certainly one who had the attention of the media.  Sometimes races aren’t about winning but, for the first-time candidate, they can be about introducing yourself to the voters.  Smiley cut short that process by dropping out and may have damaged his credibility should he decide to run again."

Picking and choosing their battles -- who will prevail?

As for the beneficiary of Smiley's decision, Endress touched upon a recent revelation from the Elorza campaign.

"In an age in which candidates are assumed to be insincere until proven otherwise, why assign to a  speechwriter the first and only draft of something so personal as your feelings about recovery and redemption?  And to make matters worse, we learned that the words were self plagiarized from the speechwriter’s work for another candidate," said Endress. "The public is not naïve about the use of speechwriters, but this method of handling the use of speechwriters just confirms the public’s fear that even personal sentiments can’t be trusted to be sincere."

Radio host Ron St. Pierre, who talks with GoLocal every morning on WHJJ News Radio 920 about the day's Top Story, offered his on thoughts on the most notable elements of this

"Chris Young being so well behaved," said St. Pierre.  "No overturned debate tables or statues of the Madonna joining the fun?"

And for the two-time former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci waiting in the wings to face Republican Dan Harrop and the winner for the Democratic primary, St. Pierre said an oddity was Cianci "being so quiet even though he has no primary."

"He's gotta be busting at the seams," quipped St. Pierre.


Related Slideshow: Most Bizarre Moments to Date in RI 2014 Primary Season

The primary season has been long and unpredictable - here are some of the most strange events.

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Clay Pell's Missing Car

One of the most bizarre moments of the campaign primaries came early on when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell was found to have lost his car not once, but twice, back in the spring, prompting both media attention and satire -- and the twitter handle @PellKwanPrius is still chirping oftentimes snide and/or humorous remarks as if it were the beleagured car itself, which was eventually found.

The Pell campaign took a hunker-down-in-the-bunker approach, kept relatively quiet, and let the incident(s) die down.  With a recent surge in the polls, Pell might has proved that the best medicine might just be a positive message, deep pockets and lots of money to spend, when you have it.

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Smiley's Last Minute Exit

With a little more than two weeks until the primary, a joint announcement made by Providence Democratic Mayoral candidates that Brett Smiley was bowing out to support Jorge Elorza in an effort

Hardly a week prior, Smiley was boasting that he had bested his opponents in fundraising for the previous reporting period, announcing he had raised  $55,042 from July 1 to August 11, more than double the amount raised by both of his opponents combined. In comparison, Jorge Elorza raised $23,819 and Michael Solomon raised $2,710.

While Smiley and Elorza attested that no "deal" had been cut, the 11th hour bow out by Smiley was a nearly unprecedented move in recent Rhode Island political history.  And while Elorza's first hurdle is Solomon, watch to see how the pieces fall in City Hall should Elorza prevail in the general.

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$100K State Senate Race

How much does it take to win a Rhode Island State Senate Seat? 

It's hard to think that a candidate for a state senate race -- one of 38 Rhode Island state senators -- just got a windfall of $75,000, but that's just what Chris Wall got from the National Association of Realtors PAC on August 13.

Wall's largesse comes in a race that pits him against incumbent State Senator Gayle Golden, who 28 days before primary reported $13,814.96 cash on hand.  Meanwhile, Wall reported having nearly $20,000 cash on hand for the period ending August 11.   If you see more of Wall in your Facebook ads, you know why! Big money from out of state for a General Assembly race?

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Solomon's Ethics Tweaks

When Providence City Council President and Mayoral candidate Michael Solomon said that he would be amending years of Rhode Island Ethics Commission filings to reflect a city PEDP loan dating back to 1988, little did anyone know that there would be dozens -- at least 50 -- individual line item amendments to over ten years of reports.

Moreover, despite the amending filings, the Ethics Commission voted to move forth with an investigation into Solomon's disclosures -- and after the initial proverbial dust settled, City Council candidate Michael Long said that despite the multiple amendments made, there was missing information still, after the fact.  

Solomon offered a public apology for what he called a “clerical error” made in his ethics disclosure filings, and asked that they be put in the context of his record.  The voters of Providence will decide on Tuesday.

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Fung's Ohio Visit

The Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial primary took an interesting turn this summer...towards middle America, when GoLocal broke that Cranston Mayor Allan Fung shot his "Open for Business" ad...at a diner in Columbus, Ohio.

Taking a tip perhaps from the Pell camp's "how to respond to a missing car" playbook, the Fung team refused to address the situation at all, opting instead to remain tight lipped while opponent Ken Block held a press conference at a diner in Cranston -- which the owner said Fung had yet to set foot in, despite being a block away from Cranston City Hall.

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Elorza Steals Apology

In perhaps one of the more bizarre moments in a primary season already chock-full of them, GoLocal's Stephen Beale uncovered that Providence Mayoral candidate and former Housing Court judge Jorge Elorza lifted language that Central Falls Mayor James Diossa once used...to apologize for being caught stealing as a young man.

The Elorza camp decried the move as a staffer's error in judgement, as they said the same communications consultant had penned both letters, but opponent Michael Solomon jumped immediately on the issue, with his campsaying, "For weeks, Mr. Elorza has attacked Michael Solomon’s character over a clerical error on a financial filing, a paperwork issue. Plagiarism is a character issue and if Mr. Elorza was honest here, he would say anyone who had done this isn’t fit to be Mayor."

Will it matter, or will not?  The voters will decide on September 9.

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Block's Tax Refusal

Despite repeated scrutiny from his Republican gubernatorial opponent Allan Fung, Ken Block steadfastly refuses to release his tax returns. Granted, Senator Claiborne Pell and Representative Patrick Kennedy never did themselves, but that hasn't stopped Fung from hammering Block on the point at every turn.

Block spokesperson Jeff Britt said in April, "Ken Block, unlike all the other candidates, actually runs a company and has a S-Corp -- the way it works, all the company's income is charged to you personally.  So his competitor could go in and look at contracts, bidding strategies, it's not something Ken's going to do."

"Ken absolutely agrees that when Governor, he'll release his tax returns, because he won't be running the company, and subsequently filing for the S-Corp.  Ken believes elected officials should release income tax return information so that people know our politicians don't have conflicts."

Will tax returns -- and their release, or not -- continue to be campaign issues down the road?  Only time (and the Rhode Island electorate) can tell.

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Raimondo's 'Gansett Claim

You can't fault General Treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate from claiming credit for "bringing" Narragansett Beer back to Rhode Island (front office operations, mind you brewing takes place in upstate New York) -- it's nostalgia, it's feel good, and the folksy commercial harkens back to a day when the Rhode Island economy was humming along.

However, when she touted creating over 1,000 jobs in the state while a venture capitalist, one would think you might not point to the one that created...12, which is the approximate number of full time staff at the Ship Street headquarters.  Granted, that's 12 more employed people in the constantly bottom-dweller in unemployment Rhode Island, but even the usually even-keeled Clay Pell, who prides himself on not going negative, came precariously close.

"The often awkward Clay Pell got off the best zinger of the campaign to date with his "My campaign's created more jobs in RI that Narragansett Beer" response to Gina Raimondo's ad," quipped Ron St. Pierre.

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Taveras Bond Flap

In an election year, you would think that a Mayor -- and municipal manager -- would dot their "i"s and cross their "t"s -- but only after recent municipal bond refinancing offering in June by the city drew attention for all the wrong reasons.

The $17,465,000 Series 2014A tax exempt and $6,285,000 Series 2014B federally taxable general obligation refunding bonds had a preliminary financial statement posted on June 19, with a Moody's rating of Baa1 and a S&P rating of BBB -- but GoLocal Mindsetter forced Mayor Taveras' hand. 

"This bond offering overstates pension assets by $57 million and understates the ARC," said Riley at the time.  "Is the true nature of the pension obligation disclosed?  What will the UAAL be under GASB 68? What will the ARC be?"

After GoLocal's article -- and Riley's fingerpointing -- an addendum was filed to the initial bond offering in the days following to rectify the asset overstatement.

"This is absolutely due to the fear that they are being misleading and that we pointed it out," said Riley.  "Very odd that they made the addendum when they did."

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72% Spent Outside RI

As GoLocal's Arielle Confino pointed out, "While each candidate for Governor talks about creating jobs in Rhode Island, campaign spending reports show that they are actually great at investing their donors' millions in businesses in the District of Columbia, California and Virginia -- nearly three-quarters of the $8.9 million spent by the five gubernatorial campaigns over the course of the 2014 election cycle has gone to out of state political consultants, media buyers, and direct mail vendors.

“When you start talking about growing jobs and businesses and supporting the local economy, you need to look first to having your needs supplied by the people in the state that you are looking to take office in. Going elsewhere is contradictory and hypocritical,” said Richard Lallo from Colonial Printing, a family owned and operated business located in Warwick.


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