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Rhode Island Democratic Party passes bylaws revision over vocal objections from Women’s Caucus



I am urging you to vote no,” said Jill Sypole, “and the reason is this is not a democratic process and this is not my Democratic Party. I joined the Party hard after Trump got in… I am the Democrat you want to recruit! I am young, I have energy, I have given my time, I have given my effort, and what you are telling me today is to shut up!

The Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) meeting to vote on new bylaws that are meant to limit the independence, finances and voice of the RIDP Women’s Caucus quickly devolved into chants of “Shame!” and “Vote them out!” as RIDP Chair Joseph McNamara, who is also a State Representative serving District 19 in Warwick, rushed though a vote, preventing almost all substantive motions to amend.

Early on the the meeting Chair McNamara pretended to quickly call a vote on the bylaws, joking that “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.” Given how the meeting preceded, his joke, in retrospect, seemed in poor taste. Many were questioning whether the RIDP was truly concerned about democratic process and given the way the meeting panned out, many felt their questioning was justified, as they felt McNamara pushed the bylaw vote through with little regard for procedure.

Some of the proposed amendments brought from the floor and then tabled by the voting members of the RIDP were minor, like getting the name of the Young Democrats of Rhode Island correct in the bylaws. Others were more substantive, like Representative Moira Walsh (District 3, Providence)’s motion to allow the financial independence of caucuses. Correcting the name of the Young Democrats passed, while Representative Walsh’s motion was tabled.

The most embarrassing and regrettable tabling was the first one brought up by Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Leonard Katzman, who noted that Native Americans were left out of a list of minority groups the Democratic Party is interested in reaching out to.

“The Democratic National Charter, which the proposed bylaws reference, states that, ‘to encourage full participation of all Democrats, with particular concern for minority groups, Blacks, Native Americans… in all Party affairs.’ Native American wasn’t included in these bylaws changes,” noted Katzman.

Saying that he he was sure that this was an oversight, Katzman proposed a series of simple amendments towards improving the bylaws. Chair McNamara, however, limited Katzman to just one proposed amendment.

“Which one would you like to go with? That one[about Native American]?” asked McNamara.

“Sure. Why not?” asked Katzman. “This is a charade after all.”

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Instead of taking Katzman’s amendment seriously, a motion was made from the floor to table Katzman’s proposal. The motion passed by voice vote, with some laughter.

State Senator Samuel Bell (District 5, Providence) rose to call for a roll call vote, per Robert’s Rules of Order, but was ignored by Chair McNamara.

“Senator Bell, you’re out of order,” said McNamara. “Best practice is that we don’t do division on every vote. We’d be here all night.”

As McNamara pushed on, Bell objected.

“You can’t just shout out that this one passes and this one didn’t,” said Bell. “It makes a charade of Democracy and this is supposed to be the Democratic Party… If we’re going to break the rules why are we here, why do we care about bylaws?”

After the meeting, Bell said about the meeting, “This makes a charade of Democracy, and this is the Democratic Party. At least it’s supposed to be.”

The bylaws were moved by State Senator Louis DiPalma (District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton).

Former Newport State Senator J ClementBudCicilline rose to ask that the proposed bylaws be tabled, to give RIDP members more time to think about and improve them.

J ClementBudCicilline

Cicilline’s motion to table the revision to the bylaws was defeated 127 to 38 by a roll call vote.

Representative Walsh then brought an amendment.

“I just wanted to amend, to the section on caucuses, where the Women’s Caucus is required to give all of their funding directly to the Democratic Party, which then spends it at Capital Grille and Tommy’s Pizza,” said Walsh, referencing a report in the Providence Journal by Katherine Gregg that showed that the RIDP spends tens of thousands of dollars on meals for Party elites. “It’s just that the Women’s Caucus, whatever they fund raise, should be able to go to the Women’s Caucus,” said Walsh.

A motion to table Walsh’s amendment was immediately approved by having those in favor shout “Aye” and those opposed shout “Nay.” Walsh’s amendment was dead.

Senator Bell once more called for a roll call vote, and was once more ignored.

“I’m moving for division,” said Bell.

“Okay,” said McNamara, “I’ll overrule you.”

Abigail Altabef and others opposed to the new bylaws rose to give their two minutes of time to Leonard Katzman. This allowed Katzman to propose correcting the name of the Young Democrats of Rhode Island, a cosmetic change to the bylaws, but evidence that the bylaws were being rushed out and not properly being vetted. Corecting the name of the Young Democrats of Rhode Island was quickly approved.

Katzman brought up further issues with the bylaws, which give the Chair of the Party the unilateral power to choose the head of caucuses, which right now is done carefully and democratically by the RIDP Women’s Caucus. The new bylaws also prevent the Women’s Caucus from releasing their own press releases without the expressed written permission of the RIDP Chair.

Defending these changes, McNamara said that though diversity is the strength of the RIDP, “Our success comes from…”

“Women!” interrupted Women’s Caucus member Wendy Becker, to cheers and applause.

Here’s that section of the meeting in its entirety:

At this point someone rose to move the question, that is, force a vote on the bylaws, despite the fact that many people still hoped to speak on them. As RIDP Secretary Arthur Corvese, who is also a Representative serving District 55 in North Providence tried to take a roll call vote, cries of “Shame!” filled the room.

Seemingly frustrated, Corvese called for a voice vote, and declared that the “Ayes” had it.

This led to a ten minute discussion on the issue, which was to be immediately followed by a vote.

Portsmouth Town Councilmember Linda Ujifusa attempted an amendment, but since the RIDP had entered its discussion on the bylaws as they were, her amendment was ignored.

Person after person rose to declared their concerns not only about the bylaws, but the process being used to approve them.

“I would like to say that this is all on record, and anybody in Rhode Island can watch this,” said Representative Kathleen Fogarty (District 35, South Kingstown), refering to the cameras of UpriseRI. “And the process really seems to be very flawed here, today.”

Fogarty pointed out that the Women’s Caucus was blocked from having any input into the creation of the bylaws.

“We are absolutely getting no respect, no respect for the women in this state of Rhode Island,” said Fogarty, “I am embarrassed that people are going to watch this. We deserve respect!”

Jill Sypole

Jill Sypole rose to speak.

“I am urging you to vote no,” said Sypole. “and the reason is this is not a democratic process and this is not my Democratic Party. I joined the Party hard after Trump got in… I am the Democrat you want to recruit! I am young, I have energy, I have given my time, I have given my effort, and what you are telling me today is to shut up!

“You need to vote no, because you don’t want to lose me.”

Over cries of “Shame!” “We will not be silenced!” and “Vote them Out!”, the voting members of the RIDP present overwhelmingly voted for the new bylaws.

When District 40 Committeewoman Lauren Niedel-Gresh was asked for her vote she said to Corvese and McNamara, “No! And I object to this entire process. You are out of order!”

Senator Donna Nesselbush (District 15, Pawtucket) also voted No and objected to the process with cheers.

The final vote was 122 to 37.

The meeting then adjourned.

Members of the Women’s Caucus lined up outside the exit to shame those who voted to limit their independence, finances and voice, including Representatives Gregg Amore (District 68, East Providence), Christopher Blazejewski (District 2, Providence), James McLoughlin (District 57, Central Falls), and Marvin Abney (District 73, Newport).

Here is the rest of the video, from the beginning of the meeting, beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance:

Consideration of a motion to censure Chair McNamara for failing to endorse Belen Florez in the 2018 election. The motion failed.

Chair McNamara holds a moment of silence for Party members who passed away over the last year:

Secretary Corvese takes attendance:

Representative Moira Walsh, being ignored by Chair McNamara
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (District 15, Cranston)

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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.