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Women’s Caucus expelled from RI Dem Party offices and access blocked



Members of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus nominating committee were asked to leave the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) offices in Warwick after a disagreement with executive director Kevin Olasanoye and director of communications Ann Gooding. You can read Justine Caldwell’s account of the evening here.

At issue was whether a staff member of the Rhode Island Democratic Party should sit with the nominating committee while they interviewed applicants for the executive board of the caucus. Olasanoye told the nominating committee that a staffer would need to sit in on the interviews or be ejected from the party offices. The nominating committee decided to leave the offices and convened the meeting at Arooga’s, a bar on Route 5 in Warwick.

Fourteen women are on the nominating committee, including elected officials such as Rhode Island State Senators Gayle Goldin and Jeanine Calkin, Portsmouth Town Councilor Linda Ujifusa and Pawtucket City Councilor Meghan Kalman. They were at the RIDP offices to interview 22 women to prepare a slate of candidates for the caucus’ executive board. After coming up with a slate of candidates, the Women’s Caucus members would vote to approve or deny.

After the nominating committee left, Olasanoye directed his staff to call the applicants and cancel their interviews. He also blocked the nominating committee from access to shared documents on Rhode Island Democratic Party servers. The nominating committee called the applicants and conducted all but one of the interviews at Arooga’s.

Olasanoye directed all my questions to Gooding, who said in a statement:

“As the communications director and the person tasked with launching the Women’s Caucus in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential elections, I know this party has been deeply committed to doing whatever it can to engage women – and men – in becoming voters, party activists, and candidates. And as a lifelong Democrat who has personally been involved in advocating for equality and inclusivity for women’s rights for decades, I thought the actions of the nominating committee in asking me to leave the meeting and not allow any other staffer to attend were wrong. In fact, early this morning I received a note of apology from one of the organizers, and I appreciate that.

“The purpose of that meeting was to interview candidates for board positions in the new year. The Democratic Party remains steadfast in believing the process should be open, fair and transparent. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our party – in all its caucuses – remains that way.”

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Gooding would not comment on the Providence Journal‘s coverage, where it was stated, “Anne Gooding, the communications director for the RI Democratic Party, said the women walked out on their own and were never asked to leave.”

Several people who were in the room when Olasanoye issued his ultimatum told me Gooding was not in the room at the time.

“My statement speaks for itself,” said Gooding.

“The decision to refuse to agree to Kevin [Olasanoye]’s demand to have RIDP staff present at the interviews was based on a desire by the Women’s Caucus members to allow applicants the opportunity to speak freely about their goals and concerns – including those relating to the RIPD.” said Linda Ujifusa.

“We were given an ultimatum – either let a party staff member observe the interviews (without any prior notification that they wanted this), or we would have to leave,” said Senator Calkin. “We were told this over and over by the Executive Director – let someone sit in or we could not use the headquarters office.

“Our committee wanted to make sure that all of the candidates felt comfortable being able to answer questions openly, honestly and confidentially. It is unfortunate that the integrity of our process was questioned, and that the ED felt the need to have a staff member observe the interviews. There were about 20 women who still had to be interviewed at that point. And it is sad that the ED felt that their time and effort to prepare was not worth allowing us to continue.”

“There are many problems with what happened last night, but at the end of the day, I am deeply offended that the Party seems to think that a group of women require supervision or monitoring in order to work with ‘integrity,’” said Meghan Kallman. “I am troubled that the party would attempt to cancel our interviews without our permission, and would remove our access to nominating committee documents, both of which feel like very underhanded tactics. The whole thing is particularly absurd given the political moment that we are living right now. This sort of behavior reiterates why a women’s caucus is necessary, and I remain impressed and inspired by both my colleagues on the committee, and by all the phenomenal women that we interviewed last night.”

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.