Public Employee Unions May Decide the 2014 Democratic Primary

Monday, August 11, 2014


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Political insiders, candidates and union leaders agree:  public employee unions can wield a major if not deciding influence on election outcomes in Rhode Island, especially the Democratic primary for governor. 

“Increasingly and inexorably unions have developed extraordinary influence in Democratic primaries, and this year in the Rhode Island governor's race this will almost certainly be the case as well,” Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told GoLocalProv.  His clients have included President Bill Clinton, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

How do unions influence elections in Rhode Island?  

National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) Executive Director Bob Walsh spoke to the power public employee union endorsements have in influencing Rhode Island elections.

“I think that with over 11,000 members our support can make a difference in a close race. We will leave it to the pundits to determine how much of a difference we make,” said Walsh.  

“The great thing about Rhode Island is that it is easy to get involved with political campaigns in support of candidates that support your values. I don't know if we have any particular impact other than an active and involved membership and a good communication system with our members to ensure they understand which candidates will best support the values we share concerning children, public education and working families,” Walsh added.  

Rhode Island pollster Victor Profughi addressed the advantage public employee union support can lend to the candidates they throw their support behind.   

“With labor union support, you can be a successful candidate even with relatively little money,” said Profughi.

Former State Rep. Douglas Gablinske spoke to the importance of union ground support at the statewide level.   

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“On the statewide level public employee unions can add huge ground game.  The role unions play in elections is not much different than other special interest groups it is just that they come together and act in unison so that unified strength has a magnified impact particularly in a Democratic primary” said Gablinske.  

Gablinske served in the Rhode Island General Assembly for four years (2007-2010) as a Democrat representing the town of Bristol.  He was defeated in the September 2010 Democratic Primary to Richard P. Morrisson. Gablinske was one of six state legislators targeted in 2010 by Working Rhode Island - a coalition of Change to Win unions, AFL CIO unions, and independent unions.  

"The unions had a perfect storm with my election -- between them having had enough of me because I was a Democrat who was not marching to their drum orders, and my having voted for the statewide funding formula. They concentrated a huge effort and were able to focus a tremendous amount of ground support and resources into my race,” added Gablinske.  

How do unions decide which candidates to support?  

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“For federal races, our support is a decision made in conjunction with NEA nationally. At the state level, those decisions are made by member representatives of NEA Rhode Island, based upon those candidates that best support our values,” said Walsh of how the NEA reaches decisions regarding which candidate to endorse in a given election.  

Gablinske noted that an incumbent who was elected with public employee union support in a previous election cycle, but takes a policy position that is at odds with union interests while in office can expect that support to dissipate when he or she is up for reelection.   

"You can support the unions to a large degree and then you disagree once with them and they come after you. It is either 100 percent support or no support," said Gablinske.

“It makes for this unholy alliance between the Democratic party and the public employee unions.  Candidates trade policy positions on wages and benefits in exchange for votes,” Gablinske added.  

How will unions impact the 2014 elections?  

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Looking ahead to next month’s primary elections, while the number of union members in Rhode Island has been down in recent years – dropping by 4,000 workers last year based on the most recent data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- Schoen spoke to the impact labor unions may have on deciding which of the three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for governor will emerge victorious.

 “If [Providence Mayor] Angel Tavares wins the Democratic primary for Governor, it will be singularly because of the influence and power of public employee unions, pure and simple. And if Angel Taveras loses the primary, it will because a number of unions have broken away and given their support to Clay Pell--who private polling suggests is consistently cutting into Tavares' base of support,” said Schoen.

Taveras has been endorsed by the Rhode Island Alliance of Social Service Employees (SEIU Local 580) as well as the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters, Providence Fire Fighters IAFF Local 799, the American Association of University Professors URI Chapter, while Pell has the backing of NEARI and United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP).  

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Related Slideshow: 2014 Candidate Endorsements

Below are the lists of endorsements to date of the field of Rhode Island gubernatorial candidates, as well as candidates for Mayor of Providence. 

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Ken Block

Republican Candidate for Governor

Ian Prior
Helen Glover
RI Taxpayers
Doreen Costa

City/ Town Republican Chairs

Jim McGuire-North Kingstown
Steve Primiano-Barrington
Stephen Rawson-Burrillville
Michael Grossi-North Providence
Mark Dosdorian-Cumberland (President of the RIGOP Chairman's Caucus)
Michael Napolitano-Lincoln
Phil Hirons-Former Smithfiled Republican Town Chair, Former President of the RIGOP Chairman's Caucus


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Allan Fung

Republican Candidate for Governor

Governor Lincoln Almond (retired)

National Committeewoman of the RI Republican Party and State Representative (retired), Carol Mumford

National Committeeman of the RI Republican Party, Steven Frias

Republican candidate for Attorney General and current State Senator, Dawson Hodgson

Rhode Island Young Republicans

City/Town Republican Chairs

Nick Lima - Cranston

Chuck Newton - East Greenwich

Diane Allen – Exeter

Bruce Campbell - Foster

Ted Burlingame - Glocester

Amy Gallagher - Jamestown

Robert Matteo- Johnston

Pat Hagan - Little Compton

Antone Viveros – Middletown

Meg Rodgers - Narragansett

Bill McKernan – New Shoreham

Barbara Ann Fenton - Newport

Ted Soly – North Smithfield

Scott Rotondo – Pawtucket

Jeff Richard - Portsmouth

Paul Michaud - Richmond

Scott Klimaj - Scituate

Roland Benjamin - South Kingstown

Frank Nencka - Warren

Mike Penta - Warwick

Rob Priolo - Westerly

Rob Butler - West Greenwich

Lee Ann Sennick - Woonsocket


City/Town Republican Committees:



East Greenwich




North Providence





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Todd Giroux

Democratic Candidate for Governor

Statement from campaign:

"I refuse to let the words hope, change, trust and investment in RI to be muddled with party politics. Many political leaders and RI Voters of every campaign and party know I speak truth to power putting people first. Follow my personal facebook page and you will see a long list of ardent RI Voters who are of all Political Party and Independent voter engaged for the best America and fair rules of the road for banking, housing and human decency supporting my campaign."

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Clay Pell

Democratic Candidate for Governor

National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI)

United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP)

East Providence Democratic City Committee

Charlestown Democratic City Committee

Johnston Democratic City Committee

Victor Capellan, who served as deputy campaign manager for Angel Taveras during his 2010 mayoral campaign.

* According to website

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Gina Raimondo

Democratic Candidate for Governor

Barrington Democratic Town Committee

Cumberland Democratic Town Committee

East Greenwich Democratic Town Committee

Foster Democratic Town Committee

New Shoreham Democratic Town Committee

North Smithfield Democratic Town Committee

Scituate Democratic Town Committee

Tiverton Democratic Town Committee

Warren Democratic Town Committee

Bricklayers' and Allied Craftsmen Local 3

Ironworkers' Local 37

Plumbers' & Pipefitters' Local 51

Plasterers' and Cement Masons' Local 40

Roofers' and Waterproofers' Local Union No. 33

Sprinkler Fitters Local 669

Operating Engineers' Local 57 

Sheet Metal Workers Local 17

United Steelworkers Local 12431

EMILY's List

Women's Campaign Fund

Italian American Democratic Leadership Council

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts

Myrth York

Gov. Philip Noel

Sen. Donna Nesselbush

Rep. Grace Diaz

Rep. Anastasia Williams

Providence Councilman Luis Aponte

Providence Councilman Davian Sanchez

Providence Councilwoman Sabina Matos

Smithfield Councilwoman Suzy Alba

Woonsocket Councilman Garrett Mancieri

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Angel Taveras

Democratic Candidate for Governor

The Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters

The American Association of University Professors URI Chapter

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 328

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin

Retired Pawtucket Mayor James E. Doyle

Former Senator Rhoda Perry

Senator Elizabeth Crowley

Senator Daniel Da Ponte

Senator James E. Doyle II

Senator Gayle Goldin

Senator Maryellen Goodwin

Senator Roger Picard

Senator Juan Pichardo

Senator Leonidas Raptakis

Senator Adam Satchell

Representative Marvin Abney

Representative Joseph Almeida

Representative Gregg Amore

Representative David Bennett

Representative Stephen Casey

Representative Robert Craven Sr.

Representative John DeSimone

Representative John Edwards

Representative Deborah Fellela

Representative Frank Ferri

Representative Scott Guthrie

Representative Ray Johnston

Representative Katherine Kazarian

Representative James McLaughlin

Representative Helio Melo

Representative Mary Messier

Representative Michael Morin

Representative Tom Palangio

Representative Patricia Serpa

Representative Agostinho Silva

Representative Scott Slater

Representative Lisa Tomasso

Representative Larry Valencia

Representative Donna Walsh

Pawtucket City Councilman Jean Philippe Barros

Pawtucket City Councilman Terrence Mercer

Pawtucket City Council President David Moran

Pawtucket Councilor At Large Lorenzo Tetreault

Pawtucket Councilor At Large Albert Vitali, Jr.

Pawtucket City Councilman Mark Wildenhain

Coventry Democratic Town Committee

Hopkinton Democratic Town Committee

North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee

Pawtucket Democratic City Committee

Providence Democratic City Committee

Smithfield Democratic Town Committee

Westerly Democratic Town Committee.

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Lorne Adrain

Democratic Candidate for Mayor of Providence

Statement from campaign:

“Lorne has been focusing his efforts on identifying real solutions for Providence, not on political endorsements. As Mayor, Lorne will always put our neighborhoods and citizens ahead of politics.  He brings the fresh perspective and years of experience necessary to help create jobs and grow Providence’s economy, not politics as usual," said Adrain campaign spokesperson Steve Gerencser.

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Jorge Elorza

Democratic Candidate for Mayor of Providence

Phil West, Retire Head of Common Cause Rhode Island

Marie Langlois, Board Member of the Rhode Island Foundation

John Kelly, Meeting Street School Chief Executive Officer and President

Victor F. Capellan, Central Falls Deputy School Superintendent

Lorraine Lalli,  Roger Williams University School of Law

Stan Israel, Formerly of SEIU 1199

Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20)

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Daniel Harrop

Republican Candidate for Mayor of Providence

Did not respond to requests for comment.

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Brett Smiley

Democratic Candidate for Mayor of Providence

Myrth York, Former Senator and Democratic Nominee for Governor
Patrick Lynch, Former Attorney General
Rhoda Perry, Former Senator
Ray Sullivan, Former Rep. and Campaign Manager for Marriage Equality RI
Senator Gayle Goldin
Representative Edith Ajello
Representative Art Handy
Representative Frank Ferri
Representative Linda Finn
Margaux Morisseau, State Senate Candidate (District 21)
Lauren Nocera, Campaign Manager for Angel Taveras for Mayor 2010 and Former Chair of the Providence Democratic City Committee
Leah Williams Metts, Chair of the NAACP Youth Council
Eugene Monteiro
Jenn Steinfeld
Jen Stevens
Paula Hodges
Christine West

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Michael Solomon

Democratic Candidate for Mayor

International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 11

Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO

Local #23 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees

Ward 5 Democratic Committee

Ward 9 Democratic Committee

Ward 10 Democratic Committee

Joe Almeida, State Representative District 12

Luis Aponte, City Councilman Ward 10

John Carnevale, State Representative District 13

Carmen Castillo, City Councilwoman, Ward 9

Michael Correia, City Councilman Ward 6

John DeSimone, State Representative District 5 and House Majority Leader

Grace Diaz, State Representative District 11

Senator Maryellen Goodwin, Providence Democratic City Committee Chairwoman and Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip

Terrence Hassett, City Councilman Ward 12 & President Pro Tempore

Wilbur Jennings, City Councilman Ward 8

Sabina Matos, City Councilwoman Ward 15

Nicholas Narducci, City Councilman Ward 4 & Senior Deputy Majority Leader

Thomas Palangio, State Representative District 3

David Salvatore, City Councilman Ward 14

Scott Slater, State Representative District 10

Anastasia Williams, State Representative District 9

Seth Yurdin, City Councilman Ward 1 & Majority Leader

Sam Zurier, City Councilman Ward 2


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