Turmoil as Brown withdraws bid for Democratic Party endorsement

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In one sense, there were no surprises at the 2018 Rhode Island Democratic Party State Committee Meeting on Sunday night. Everyone received their expected endorsement. In another sense, the evening was full of surprises.

The meeting was held to determine the Party’s endorsements for statewide offices. United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, United States Representatives David Cicilline and James Langevin, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and State Treasurer Seth Magaziner all received their endorsements. They are all incumbents. Former United States Attorney Peter Nerhonha was endorsed for Rhode Island State Attorney General. Peter Kilmartin, who currently holds that position, is term limited and cannot run.

This was all according to plan.

What wasn’t according to plan was candidate Matt Brown‘s decision to not seek the endorsement towards the end of his speech. “Now, I’ve been around a while,” said Brown, “And I understand that the incumbent Governor gets the state committee’s endorsement. I’m not here to contest that. Mr Chairman, I formally withdraw my nomination from consideration.”

“I am here to ask for your nomination,” said Governor Raimondo when it was her turn at the microphone. “I’m not afraid of the vote. I’m here to ask for it. I don’t expect it to come to me, I expect to earn it.”

In fact, the incumbent always gets the endorsement.

After Brown and Raimondo made their speeches, Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Joe McNamara asked for a motion for a roll call vote. That motion was made and seconded, but within seconds Michael Sepe of Cranston made a motion to table the roll call vote. McNamara either missed Sepe’s motion or ignored it. As Party Secretary Arthur Corvese began to call the roll for a vote, the room erupted.

Sepe approached McNamara and Corvese to press the case that his motion was ignored.

Raimondo, left seated; Brown, right, speaking

After consultation with parliamentarian Matt Jerzyk and Rhode Island Democratic Party Executive Director Kevin Olasanoye, McNamara said, “At that point, the motion was not recognized. We had already called for a vote.”

There were shouts of “No!” from many in attendance.

“Fairness, there’s transparency,” continued McNamara. “We’ll have a roll call vote.”

As Corvese rose to call the roll, some in the crowd repeated their objections. A man yelled, “This is insulting to us!”

“He withdrew his nomination. This is unnecessary,” said Jennifer Rourke from Warwick. “Someone needs to speak up.”

In the video, at the 5m mark, Executive Director Olasanoye can be seen talking to Rourke. Rourke said Olasanoye tried to silence her. Olasanoye says he was explaining the process to Rourke.

Corvese continued to call the roll. One person passed. Catherine Collette answered to her name saying, “I also pass because this is a waste of time and it’s very divisive!”

“Amen!” said a woman in the crowd, to applause. There were cries of “Shame!”

Corvese called Charlene Damiani, who answered, “Gina Raimondo, and I don’t know why we’re voting like this!”

Corvese continued to call the roll, and many in the room continued to express support for Raimondo, but control of the room was lost. Everyone seemed engaged in conversations. Many Raimondo supporters were accusing the Brown supporters of being afraid of a fair vote. Many Brown supporters maintained that the public vote for Raimondo, who was in fact contending for a endorsement in which she was unopposed, was akin to a loyalty oath.

The fact is that it wasn’t just Brown supporters who were upset, many Raimondo supporters objected to the roll call vote. They saw it as divisive and unnecessary. “You understand,” said a woman to me who an hour earlier had been outside holding a sign in support of Raimondo, “that I turned my back on the process, not the governor.”

I understood.

Many objecting to the vote turned their backs.

At the ten minute mark, McNamara made a play for control. “If you want to have a conversation, please do not do it here.” Was McNamara aware that virtually the entire room was engaged in a conversation, not just those opposed to the roll call vote? McNamara continued, “We are conducting an election and we want people to be able to voice their vote. Very basic democracy… Could the sergeant at arms please instruct people to have conversations outside.”

I heard someone say that progressives are afraid of democracy.

Lauren Niedel, who had nominated Brown, cast the only vote for Matt Brown. There were  three abstentions. [Edit: Niedel informs me that she has formally requested that her vote be changed from Matt Brown to an abstention.]

Then Raimondo received a standing ovation for her victory.

At the beginning of the event, Chair McNamara said a few words about the Rhode Island Democratic Party being an “extremely large tent.”

“We have more that unites us than divides us,” continued McNamara. “We have always had a liberal wing of the Democratic Party… The reason we are successful as a party is because we listen to each other, we respect each other…

“There is no litmus test for Democrats,” said McNamara. “People say we have two wings [in the Democratic Party]. I tell them it takes two wings to fly and that’s what makes us great.”

Later, as Secretary Corvese called the roll in what many saw as a move to put Brown and his supporters in their place, someone asked, “What about the two wings flying together?”

Like Sepe’s motion, that comment was either not heard or ignored.

Matt Brown issued a statement about what happened:

Tonight’s convention demonstrated the deep divide in Rhode Island’s Democratic party. What was engineered as a coronation for Governor Raimondo descended into chaos and protest as a group of women turned their backs on the rigged proceedings, chanting ‘shame’ at the fixed process.

Tonight’s debacle was befitting of an administration that has a troubling history of corruption and falsehoods. Party leaders held an endorsement vote between me and Governor Raimondo at the convention tonight despite my publicly stating that I did not put myself forward for endorsement. It was an outrageous, sham process.

“Insiders manipulated the process to stack the deck for Governor Raimondo, rather than mobilizing the party around our core Democratic values. This primary election will be a battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and Rhode Island’s future. I intend to win it.”

Raimondo also accused Brown of lying. “By the way,” said Raimondo, “There were a number of lies and mistruths in what Mr Brown just said. I’m not going to waste my time addressing them here, but especially the couple hundred thousand dollars. It’s just a lie. You shouldn’t lie. You shouldn’t lie. You should at least tell the truth.”

Raimondo was taking Brown to task for saying, “A week ago Monday morning. Governor Raimondo went to Boston for a campaign, fundraising breakfast where she collected $200,000 for her campaign coffers. That fundraiser was hosted by Partners Healthcare.”

Partners Healthcare is a Boston based company looking to buy Care New England. Brown maintains that Rhode Island’s healthcare infrastructure is at risk of being absorbed by Boston based companies and that Raimondo receiving campaign contributions from these companies renders her biased and compromised.

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About Steve Ahlquist 1030 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com


  1. Red Flag law, Paw Sox “deal”, Kristin’s Law and the ghost of Willie Horton, etc., etc., etc., . . . it will be a cold day in hell before I vote for Raimondo and most of these “Democrats”. It’s time for the “party” to roll over and die.

    • Fung would have not have vetoed either Kristin’s Law or the Red Flag Law, I believe. There’s not really enough difference between Fung and Raimondo to really move anyone from where they stand or to move the massive population that doesn’t vote into the polls.

      Jonathan Lewis from the Democratic Socialists makes the most salient point anyone has during this campaign season when he stated National Grid’s shareholders are sucking money out of the R I economy. It’s so true but the problem is far greater than National Grid. There is no here here anymore. It all belongs to someone out “there” – “shareholders” around the world.

      How many new developments downtown are structured as Real Estate Investment Trusts? How has law enforcement been outsourced to traffic light camera companies and speed camera companies out of state? How much education has been outsourced? How many mom and pop drug stores do companies like CVS put out of business? Where does CVS’ R I state revenues go now? Where did Hospital Trust, Fleet and Old Stone go . . . ? To Bank of America, of course . . . right on down to Charlottesville. . . . and where will Providence Water go and to whom?

      It’s the corporate dominated Republicans and Democrats responsible for our economic demise and bankrupted governments. What? One party is a shade less oppressive than the other? Big deal. The only thing the Democrats are capable of accomplishing here is putting people in jail for longer and longer terms, year after year. It’s pathetic.

  2. Correction: I realize this can be a bit confusing — Matt Brown did not withdraw his bid for the party’s nomination.

    The “nomination” happens at the primaries in September. The winner of the primary is the party nominee and will run in the general election. Matt Brown still wants that. What he claimed to withdraw from yesterday was for the party’s endorsement. To get the endorsement, a candidate has to be “nominated” for the endorsement at the party convention — hence the confusion between the two uses of the term nomination. Sorry for the boring post but I like things to be accurate.

    • You are correct. What is confusing is that there are nominations within the party for endorsements, but the ultimate goal at the meeting is an endorsement, not a nomination, which comes after the vote in September. I have attempted to correct that in my piece, but sometimes the candidates themselves confused nomination and endorsement. I should have been more careful, and appreciate your clarifications.

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