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Exclusive “signing parties” for endorsed candidates only further divides Rhode Island Democratic Party



Some Democratic City and Town Committee are holding “signing parties” that are exclusive to only endorsed candidates

As candidates work furiously to collect the signatures they need to get on the ballot, so-called “signing parties” are organized so that politicians and their supporters can get together and sign each other’s papers. In the wake of last week’s endorsement embarrassment, you would think that city and town committees would be sensitive to issues of fairness and inclusion.

Not so much:

“Hello Warwick Democrats,” writes Warwick Democratic City Committee Chairman Robert Farrell in an email sent to, among others, Representatives Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick), David Bennett (Democrat, District 20, Warwick), Camille Vella Wilkinson (Democrat, District 21, Warwick), Joseph Solomon Jr (Democrat, District 22, Warwick), Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick), Evan Shanley (Democrat, District 24, Warwick) and Senators Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) and Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick).

“I hope that you and your family and friends have a safe and happy 4th of July. As you know, this election season is going to be a hard-worked battle for us Democrats. On Thursday July 5, 2018 a “Signing Party” will take place at the Knights of Columbus. This event will be from 6pm till 8pm with a catered food available. The purpose of this event will be for “ENDORSED” Democrats to have their nomination papers signed and handed out for signatures to your ward or district committees. Only candidates that have been ENDORCED by their respectful committees are invited. The Warwick Democratic City Committee holds the endorsement of a candidate at a high level of accomplishment and respect and believes that he or she should be able to share a room, and talk about strategy without the worry of their respected opponent.

“Sorry to any candidates that have not been endorsed, if you need my help in other matters, I am always available.”

As a result, incumbent Senator Jeanine Calkin was excluded from the event, as was candidate Jennifer Rourke, who is challenging incumbent Senator McCaffrey. Robert Farrell has not responded to a request for comment.

The Burrillville Democratic Town Committee also excluded candidates who were not endorsed. Paul Roselli, who is running for an open state senate seat as a Democrat in District 23 (Burrillville, Glocester) was disinvited from the event.

Roselli writes,

“Given all that has taken place with the Rhode Island State Democratic Committee, the endorsement mess, lack of transparency with campaign contributions, its incumbent for all committees to open their doors to all. Over the past week, during this nomination process, I have been to an open signing party hosted by former opposition candidates, a Republican, many a Democratic friends, neighbors, businesses, and more. I personally signed as many nomination papers as possible as I believe that everyone deserves a chance to be on the ballot. Let the voters decide. When hostile and polarizing rhetoric is rampant on the airwaves and in the media every second of every day, we need every chance we get to come together to unify as a people and as a country. Let’s rise about this mess and move on.”

Not all Democratic committees behaved this way. The Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee held an open “signing party” that included candidates that were endorsed or un-endorsed, and even opened their doors to two Republican candidates.

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“This is something we have done for many years now,” said Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Leonard Katzman. “We are constantly discussing among ourselves what we stand for, what our platform is – but through it all we are guided by our core principles, our core values of diversity and tolerance and equal protection and treatment under the law, regardless of socioeconomic status, or gender identity or sexual orientation. We champion science and facts. We support public education and universal healthcare. We embrace these because of the values we hold, but core among them all  is the idea that we are a Democracy and for that to work people need to run for office and hold office and have intelligent discussions about their ideas.

“It’s basically a philosophy that says if you want to run for office, we will not shy away from rigorous debate, but we think you should have the right as an American to run for office,” continued Katzman. “I personally have signed the papers of Republicans and Independents. Once the nomination papers are filed we will support our Democratic Party slate and we will work for Democratic Party candidates. Just getting access to the ballot we feel should be a universal value.”

There are also practical considerations, said Katzman.

“After the elections, there will be some winners and there will be some losers. We will need to, after that election, work together, and engaging in petty, exclusionary activity doesn’t lend itself to having those conversations down the road.

“Not only is our openness philosophically good,” said Katzman, “It’s also practically good.”

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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.