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Women’s Caucus picks for Rhode Island Democratic Party Bylaws Committee ignored by party leadership

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The Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) Women’s Caucus is holding a meeting on Wednesday night to discuss, among other things, the RIDP Bylaws Committee and the reasons that Party Chair Joseph McNamara disregarded the Women’s Caucus’ picks for membership on that committee.

The RIDP Bylaws Committee is tasked with “updating the current bylaws of the State Committee” and is expected to begin their work soon. In early May, the Women’s Caucus Executive Committee voted to nominate Linda Ujifusa and Jill Sypole to sit on the RIDP Bylaws Committee. Both women are members of the Women’s Caucus Executive Committee.

McNamara disregarded the preferred nominees and instead chose “members from the various constituency group that make up the current state committee.”

In a series of emails between RIDP Women’s Caucus Chair Tracy Ramos and RIDP Executive Director Kevin Olasanoye, the two engage in a back and forth about the reasons for McNamara’s decision. Both Ramos and Olasanoye have announced their intentions to leave their respective positions. (An initial email from Ramos to McNamara was apparently not answered, leaving Olasanoye the sole respondent to Ramos.)

“Can you tell the Women’s Caucus Executive Committee why, despite our request, you chose to not include a single member of the executive committee on the party’s bylaws committee?” asked Ramos in an email to Olasanoye and McNamara.


Can we please ask a favor?

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Olasanoye replied:

“As you are aware, the committees on the State Committee are selected by the Chairman pursuant to his authority under the bylaws. In making the selections for the bylaws committee, the Chairman selected mostly state committee members (all but one member of the committee is on the State committees) and members from the various constituency group that make up the current state committee. That said, there are four active members of the Women’s Caucus represented on the bylaws committee, including [Representative Grace Diaz], a former co-chair and 1st Vice Chair of the Party, … Liz Perik, our party Treasurer, and Ann Gooding, … the party recording secretary, among others. Additionally, we tried as best as possible to ensure that there is gender balance given the makeup of the state committee, and I think the Chairman did a good job.”

The members of the RIDP Bylaws Committee chosen by McNamara are Felix Appolonia, Senator Louis DiPalma, Nathan Biah, Anthony DeRose, Representative Jay Edwards, Matthew Jerzyk, Bob Ritacco, Representative Patricia Serpa, and Representative Justine Caldwell, in addition to “all members of the State Committee’s executive committee.” The full list of Bylaws Committee members, as compiled by Lauren Niedel here, includes 12 men and seven women, what Olasanoye called trying as “best as possible” to ensure “gender balance.”

“With respect to caucus representation generally, and the Women’s Caucus request to have two members of the State Committee serve on the bylaws committee specifically, we made the determination that it would be inappropriate for caucuses to serve on the committee, since one of the items the committee will be discussing is the expansion of the state committee to include all caucuses,” continued Olasanoye. “As such, only one caucus chair (Anthony DeRose) is on the committee. He is also a current at-large member of the state committee and one of the few LGBTQ+ members on the state committee. During our deliberations on the topic of adding caucuses, I have advised the Chairman that Anthony should recuse himself so that there is no conflict of interest in the caucus representation debate.”

Though McNamara and Olasanoye “made the determination that it would be inappropriate for caucuses to serve on the committee,” as mentioned in the email quoted above, they did include the Chair of the RIDP’s LGBTQ Caucus, Anthony DeRose, ostensibly because DeRose is “one of the few LGBTQ+ members on the state committee.” When DeRose was appointed to RIDP Platform Committee last year, he failed to attend any of the meetings.

“As you might imagine, there was quite a bit of interest in serving on the bylaws committee from lots of people on the State Committee. We tried as best as possible to balance all the interests involved in making the selections and I am confident that the voices of all caucuses and constituency groups within the Democratic Party are well-represented on the committee. As I told you back in the spring when we made the announcement, I am committed to making sure whatever issues have been brought to my attention during my tenure as executive director with respect to the bylaws of the party would be fully debated on this committee and I am confident that the product the State Committee will have before it to vote on later this year will reflect the thoughtful debate and response to the concerns that I and others have addressed to the Chair,” concluded Olasanoye.

To which Ramos replied:

“Thank you for responding. It’s regrettable that neither you nor the chairman sought the Caucus leadership’s insight regarding the membership on the bylaws committee. As I noted in my email below, the two women we nominated are part of our Executive Committee and also are members of the state party committee.

“Further, and most importantly, I disagree with you that there would be some conflict of interest with members of the EC serving on the bylaws committee. To the contrary, I believe that the members of the Executive Committee are best equipped to help inform guidance for how caucuses can best be operated. For the past two years, as you know, the Women’s Caucus has been a tremendously beneficial force within the RI Democratic Party, and what a shame it would be to not give the caucus leaders a seat at the table that decides the party’s bylaws.

“I trust you and the Chairman will rethink your rationale and include members of the Executive Committee on the bylaws committee.”

The RIDP Women’s Caucus will be meeting Wednesday evening, July 31, 2019 from 6:30pm – 8:30pm at Sprout CoWorking, 166 Valley St, Bldg 6M, Suite 103 in Providence.

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

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