“I look at it like this: I have a responsibility to everyone who steps on this property,” said Providence resident Joseph Casoli in a telephone interview. “Whether it be Dan McKee, whether it be Gina Raimondo, whether it be the homeless people, whether it be bus drivers, police officers – whoever steps foot on my property – and believe me, they all have, and many times all at once, I have to protect them.

“I have to protect them from getting hurt and I have to protect their privacy.”

Michael Earnheart

Casoli was talking about pictures on social media taken at a party held at his Langdon Street home in Providence on Saturday night. The pictures show Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee speaking with, or at least in close proximity to, Michael Earnheart, the endorsed and then un-endorsed Democratic candidate for the House Seat currently held by progressive Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence).

Earnheart, now a Democrat, was an outspoken MAGA sign wielding Trump supporter until he decided to run against Walsh. Amid a controversial series of endorsements by the Rhode Island Democratic Party, Earnheart stood out and the story of his endorsement and subsequent rescission of that endorsement scored national attention.

Casoli maintains that the pictures in question were taken by McKee’s Democratic challenger for Lieutenant Governor, Aaron Regunberg. Regunberg did not take the picture, and the person who did does not work for the Regunberg campaign, say multiple witnesses. Regunberg, like Walsh, is a progressive Democrat and the State Representative from District 4 in Providence. In an attempt to find out the context of the pictures, I put them up on social media (as did Rhode Island Public Radio reporter Ian Donnis) asking for clarification.

From sources both anonymous and public, here’s what I’ve pieced together:

The pictures were taken at a big, annual summer bash held by Casoli at his Langdon Street home. Around 200 people attended, including “lots” of elected officials and candidates. In addition to McKee, Regunberg and Earnheart, I have sources reporting that Senator Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence), Providence City Councilmember Nicholas Narducci (Ward 4) and Ward 4 Ward Committee Vice Chair Florette Ruggiero were in attendance.

According to Rhode Island Democratic Party Executive Director Tolulope Kevin Olasanoye, Councilmember Narducci wrote a letter of recommendation to Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Joseph McNamara on behalf of Earnheart. The contents of that letter have not been released.

Narducci was also wearing a McKee sticker at the party, say witnesses.

Casoli said Earnheart was invited to the party because, “he was a friend of mine.”

Earnheart wore a Daniel McKee sticker at the event. This does not mean much, said one attendee to me, because “there was a little girl handing out McKee stickers, so it wasn’t an exclusive thing to acquire one and put it on.”

That said, under the direction of people associated with the McKee campaign, Earnheart removed the sticker and attempted to place himself next to Regunberg so that a McKee associate could try to get a picture of Earnheart and Regunberg. After failing to get himself into a picture with Regunberg, Earnheart put the McKee sticker back on.

[Note: This characterization of events has been disputed by the McKee campaign on Facebook, who say there was no cooperation between the McKee campaign and Earnheart.]

After the party, pictures began to circulate on social media courtesy of UpriseRI and RINPR.

Regunberg, in a Tweet, accused Earnheart and McKee of “working together.”

The next day, McKee hit back, comparing Regunberg to President Donald Trump on Twitter and Facebook.

[Note: This piece originally said that “someone from [McKee’s] campaign actually did coordinate with Earnheart.” The McKee campaign disputes this.]

Though McKee says he does not support Earnheart, Earnheart’s actions at the party suggest that he supports McKee.

McKee was silent on Earnheart’s endorsement until after the endorsement was rescinded:

“Suppose someone was here without their wife?” asked Casoli. “There’s no way I would allow anyone to take pictures without my permission or without the permission of those people being photographed.”

Casoli is furious with Regunberg and will not be inviting him to future parties. “If that’s the length he wants to go to to become Lieutenant Governor, God help the State of Rhode Island,” said Casoli. To be clear, Regunberg did not take the picture of Earnheart and McKee.

In what may ultimately wind up being a minor issue in what has proven to be a contentious campaign for Lieutenant Governor, one thing is for sure:

Candidates do not want to be associated with Michael Earnheart.

Michael Earnheart did not respond to a request for comment.

[Updated July 16, 7:22pm]

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Trying to smear McKee because he was at the same event as 200 other people is ridiculous. There is ZERO EVIDENCE to say of the McKee campaign and the Earnhart campaign that “they’re working together.” I’ve been at political events for scores of candidates over the years. Sometimes there are undesirable people there, like that Chris Young guy. Sometimes that guy might even talk to you. It doesn’t mean you support them and it certainly doesn’t you’re “working together.” That’s completely absurd. And so I’m really really disappointed. I thought Regunberg was better than this. He should be out campaigning on his vision for the office, not making up baseless claims that McKee is working with Earnhart. That is SO much of a distraction from the issues that matter. And for the record, I’m 100% a Regunberg supporter. I’ll vote for him in the primary and I hope we all… Read more »